Question: When one has a bad dream, is there any substance to the dream such that one should worry about the contents of the dream or is there no reason for concern?
Answer: Indeed, we find that some dreams have substance in the Torah itself. Indeed, Pharaoh’s dream indicated the coming seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar, wicked king of Babylon, had a dream that ended up coming true. Even righteous people in the Torah had dreams with meaning. Both Yosef Ha’Tzaddik and Shlomo Ha’Melech had dreams that prophesied their futures. Based on this, we see that dreams do have some substance and cannot be completely disregarded. Indeed, even the Gemara and Poskim attribute a certain significance to dreams, as we shall explain.
On the other hand, not all dreams have substance, for all the things one thinks about, deals with, and hopes for throughout the day usually surface in one’s subconscious without any logical limitations when one sleeps. As a result of one’s imagination, one can dream about all sorts of nonsense, such as being able to fly like a bird, winning tremendous wealth, or becoming extremely poor. One should not be concerned about such dreams at all, for these are not the kinds of dreams quoted by the Talmud and Poskim and such dreams are completely meaningless.
The Gemara (Berachot 55a) states: “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon: Just as it is impossible that a pile of straw will not contain some refuse, so too, there is no dream without some nonsense.” This means that even regarding a dream which is true and is meant to convey some sort of Heavenly message, even such a dream contains some nonsense and it is impossible that it is completely true. Similarly, the Gemara states, “Rabbi Berachya said: Although a portion of a dream may come true, it will not come true completely.” This is especially true regarding dreams generated by one’s daytime thoughts which are completely null and void and bear no significance whatsoever.
Nevertheless, dreams can sometimes cause halachic ramifications as well. For instance, once it occurred that the great sage and the leader of the generation, Hagaon Harav Mordechai Bennet zt”l, Chief Rabbi of Nikolsburg, passed away in Lichtenstadt, a city neighboring Nikolsburg. The Jews of the city buried him there, in their town. The residents of Nikolsburg heard about this and became infuriated since they claimed that their rabbi should be exhumed and transferred to Nikolsburg for burial, the city he led and taught in for many years, alongside his family and rabbis, as befitting the honor of a man of his stature. The members of Lichtenstadt claimed that it was forbidden to transfer the bones of this great sage to Nikolsburg and this would actually constitute a disgrace to his honor along with the great prohibition of exhuming a deceased individual unnecessarily.
When this question was brought before the great Chatam Sofer, even after much deliberation, he could not decide the correct way to rule on this issue. He therefore writes in his responsa that he has not decided on this matter and as result of his doubt, the correct procedure is to allow the great sage to remain in Lichtenstadt.
Soon thereafter, however, the Chatam Sofer ruled that the great Gaon should be exhumed and reinterred in his native city of Nikolsburg. No one knew why the great Chatam Sofer changed his mind from what he had originally written.
Nonetheless, the Chatam Sofer’s saintly son, Hagaon Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (author of Responsa Ketav Sofer) writes in his biography of his father the reason why he changed his mind. He recounts, as follows: “The Chatam Sofer had a dream whereby he was approached by the Maharam Bennet who told him, ‘I request that you rule that my grave be transferred to Nikolsburg, for my rest will be more complete over there. The reason why I was first buried in the neighboring town is because when I was a young man, I was engaged to a certain young woman from that town for half a year after which I eventually broke off the engagement and she was terribly hurt as a result. It was therefore decreed in Heaven that I be buried there for half a year to atone for what was done to her. Now that this half a year has passed, please command the residents of Lichtenstadt to transfer me to Nikolsburg for burial.” This is why the Chatam Sofer ruled that the great sage’s body was to be returned to Nikolsburg.
Based on this, we see that, at times, dreams carry so much weight to the extent that the law will change as a result of the dream, such as in the above case. Although the letter of the law may dictate that the body should not be been transferred to another city, if the deceased comes to someone in a dream and notifies him that this is his wish, this should be taken into consideration.
Nonetheless, this only applies regarding dreams of those Torah scholars who are extremely great and are well-known for their piety. Indeed, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was asked about a woman whose husband had passed away and she claimed that her husband came to her in a dream and requested that he be transferred to a different grave in another place. He was asked what weight this dream carried. He writes that since this woman was not necessarily held in highest regards of righteousness and piety, her dream is meaningless and is probably the result of thoughts she had during the day as opposed to assuming that she merited that her husband come to her and tell her something real.
Based on this, the dreams of the average person are not very significant and do not require any great emphasis on them.
In the following Halacha, we shall discuss this matter further.