Parshas Vayeishev: The Significance of Dreams


dreamsAfter Yosef has a second dream which depicts himself demonstrating superiority over his brothers, Yaakov gets angry at him and challenges the validity of the dream because it included, as apparently was¬†understood and is explained by the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (Parshas 84 Siman 10), the fact that his mother Rochel would bow down to him (Bereishis 37:10). This would be, of course, impossible, because Rochel was no longer alive when Yosef had this dream. Rashi (Ibid. s.v. Ha’Bo) says that Yaakov’s intent with this criticism of the dream was to convince Yosef’s brothers to forget about the whole matter, telling them that just as it was obviously impossible for the part of the dream about Rochel bowing to Yosef to come true, so too the rest of the dream is likewise worthless. In truth, however, it is quite possible for part or even most of a dream to come true, even if some of it does not. In fact, the Gemara in Berachos (55a-55b) derives from this very incident that no dream ever comes true completely; even if part of a dream comes true, there is always some part of it which is meaningless and will not come true.

The implication of this Gemara, though, is that there is significance to what one sees in one’s dreams, and at least part of the dream may actually come true. On the other hand, of course, some dreams do not come true at all. Interestingly, the Riva, in his commentary on this Parsha (Bereishis Ibid. Pasuk 5), quotes a view that Yosef actually had a third dream which was not recorded in the Torah; he even suggests what this dream was about, as does the Bartenura, in his commentary on the Torah (Ibid.), who adds that it was not recorded because the brothers were not concerned about it. The Chizkuni, however, in his commentary on the Parsha (Ibid.), says that this dream was not recorded in the Torah because it did not come true. The question then is, what exactly is the significance, if any, of a dream, according to Chazal, and how seriously should one be concerned about what he sees in his dreams?

There are clearly authorities among Chazal who hold that dreams have no particular significance or validity, that is, they are not indicative of any sign or message being communicated by Hashem which may contain descriptions of future events. The Gemara there in Berachos (Ibid. 55b, and see Ibid. Rashi s.v. Hirhurei) says, for example, that one’s dreams at night simply reflect what one has thought about during the day; such a dream obviously does not represent any kind of revelation from Hashem. The Gemara (Ibid.) likewise states that the importance of a dream depends upon how it is interpreted; this too would indicate that the dream alone has no significance. The Tosefta in Ma’aser Sheini (5:6) states clearly and succinctly that dreams have no effect at all, either positive or negative. In commenting on the Gemara in Sanhedrin (30a) where this statement is quoted, the Ran (Chiddushei HaRan to Sanhedrin Ibid. s.v. Bo) writes that even where there are indications that some parts of the dream are true, there is still no Halachic validity to it. The Meiri (Beis HaBechirah Ibid. s.v. Mi) agrees to this point, adding that it is true because even if there are some parts of a dream which represent the truth, there is much nonsense mixed in, and therefore we need not be concerned with it at all.

In the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon (Parshas Mikeitz, Sheilta 29), this conclusion that dreams are Halachically irrelevant is reached as well; the Netziv (Ha’Amek Sheilah Ibid. Ot 15) writes that this seems to mean that in all areas of Halacha, one need not be concerned with dreams, although he quotes some who say that only regarding monetary matters are dreams considered irrelevant, while in issues of whether something is permitted or forbidden (Issur V’Heter), we do pay attention to the contents of dreams. The Sdei Chemed (Klalim, Maareches HaDalet Siman 45) discusses this matter at length. The Rambam (Hilchos Maaser Sheini 6:6, Hilchos Zechia U’Matanah 10:7) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat Siman 255 Sif 9 and Ramo Yoreh Deah Siman 259 Sif 6) rule without making distinctions that the contents of dreams have no particular effect or validity.

On the other hand, there certainly are sources which seem to indicate clearly that dreams do have a certain validity, and one should consequently be concerned with what one sees in one’s dream. The Abarbanel, in a lengthy discussion about dreams found in his commentary on the Torah (Beginning of Parshas Mikeitz), notes that elsewhere in the Torah (Bamidbar 12:6), dreaming is compared to receiving a prophecy; the Gemara later in Berachos (57b) indeed states that a dream in a small way is a form of prophecy, while the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah (Parsha 17 Siman 7) refers to a dream as undeveloped prophecy. The Rambam discusses this relationship between dreams and prophecy at length in his Moreh Nevuchim (Chelek 2, Perakim 36-38, 41-45). The Gemara there in Berachos (Ibid.) as well as on the previous pages (56b-57a) discusses the symbolism of different things that one may see in a dream, and what such a dream indicates for the future of the person who has the dream; an earlier passage in the Gemara there (55b) lists different categories of dreams which come true. The Beis Yosef, in his commentary on the Tur (Orach Chaim Siman 651 s.v. Katav Beis Hillel), quotes a dream by one of the Poskim which confirmed a Halachic requirement; the Taz (Orach Chaim Siman 585 end of Sif Katan 7) likewise cites a dream to explain a certain Halachic issue, as do other Poskim (See Encyclopedia Talmudis, volume 7 “Divrei Chalomos” note 48, 49). The Shittah Mekubetzes in Bava Metzia (107b s.v. Aval) cites a view that there were Amoraim who relied on dreams for Halachic decisions. Although the Rashba (Sheilos V’Teshuvos Ha’Rashba Chelek 1 Siman 408) writes that the purpose of dreams has not been revealed to us, and although the Shach (Choshen Mishpat Siman 333 Sif Katan 25) as well as the Noda BeYehudah (Sheilos V’Teshuvos Noda BeYehudah Mahadurah Teninah Chelek Yud Siman 30) disregard Halachic decisions rendered in a dream, it appears from the above sources that dreams do have some validity and significance in Halacha, at least according to some.

To resolve the apparent contradiction between the views among Chazal about dreams, the Abarbanel in Parshas Mikeitz (Ibid.) suggests that there are different types of dreams, one of which is indeed irrelevant and is the product of something physical or psychological in the person who has the dream. This type of dream indeed has no significance according to Halacha. Another type of dream, however, is one which contains a message from Hashem, to inform a person of something, protect him, or let him know about the future; this type is similar to prophecy, although this too may have some extraneous or nonsensical content. The way to tell the difference between the categories, he suggests, is to examine the orderliness and straightforwardness of the dream, as well as the impact it has on the person having the dream. The Sdei Chemed (Ibid.) quotes a view which suggests that a dream is to be considered significant and valid if it relates to the future, but if it relates to the past, it is meaningless; he says, though, that this does not seem to be a widely accepted opinion.

The Sdei Chemed (Ibid.) adds, however, that although many consider dreams to be meaningless, if a dream signals some kind of trouble or danger, it is of Halachic concern to us. The Gemara in Berachos (55b and see Ibid. Tosafos s.v. Sheva) writes that if one has a dream which makes him sad or perturbed, he should follow a prescribed ritual in the presence of three people, which is called HaTavas Chalom, and is printed in many Siddurim. The details of this are outlined in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim Siman 220 Sif 1); the Magen Avraham (Ibid. Sif Katan 2) writes that it is preferable to do this the morning after one has had the dream.

The Gemara in Shabbos (11a) indicates that one who has had a bad dream should fast what is called a Taanis Chalom in order to nullify any bad decree against him; he must fast on the day on which he had the dream, even if it is Shabbos. The Rivash (Sheilos V’Teshuvos HaRivash Siman 513) writes that one does not have to fast at all for a bad dream if it does not bother him, because it is not a Mitzvah to fast; the Rashba too (Sheilos V’Teshuvos HaRashba Ibid. Siman 132) writes that one has permission to fast (even on Shabbos) for a bad dream, but it is not obligatory. The Shulchan Aruch (Ibid. Sif 2), however, records the importance of this fast; the Ramo (Ibid.) adds that it must be done on that day, even if it’s Shabbos. Elsewhere, the Shulchan Aruch (Ibid. Siman 288 Sif 4) rules that one who does fast a Taanis Chalom on Shabbos must then fast another day as well to compensate for the fact that he fasted on Shabbos. The Shulchan Aruch (Ibid. Sif 5) then adds that some hold that one shouldn’t fast at all on Shabbos nowadays, unless one sees certain specific visions in one’s dream; the Mishnah Berurah (Ibid. Siman 220 Sif Katan 6) notes that the fasting is of value only if it is accompanied by sincere Teshuvah.

The aforementioned Gemara in Berachos (Ibid.) also refers to specific Tefillos (Adir BaMarom and Ribbono Shel Olam) which one should recite when the Kohanim recite Birchas Kohanim that will nullify the effects of any bad dream which one may not remember. The Shulchan Aruch (Ibid. Siman 130 Sif 1) rules accordingly. The Magen Avraham (Ibid. Sif Katan 1) writes that in Eretz Yisrael, where Kohanim recite daily, one should not recite these Tefillos daily, but rather only if one actually had a dream the previous night. The Mishnah Berurah (Ibid. Sif Katan 1) notes, though, that in our communities, where Kohanim go to Duchan only on Yom Tov, the entire Tzibbur recites these Tefillos, even those who had no dreams the previous night, because it is not possible that one had no dreams since the previous Yom Tov. He adds, though, (Ibid. Sif Katan 4) that on Shabbos, one should not recite these Tefillos during Birchas Kohanim unless he indeed had a bad dream that night.

{Tzemach Dovid/ Newscenter}