Question: I recently dreamed that I desecrated Shabbat. Does this dream imply that I have transgressed a prohibition and that I must repent?
Answer: The great Acharonim discuss whether one who dreams about transgressing a prohibition is receiving an indication from Heaven that one has transgressed this sin or if one need not be concerned at all regarding such dreams.
Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi zt”l in his Responsa Chaim Be’yad (Chapter 52) writes that Rabbeinu Chaim Moda’i was unsure whether or not one who dreamed that he had sworn falsely requires atonement. Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi writes that in his opinion, such an individual does not require atonement for the dream and he proceeds to support this with several proofs. On the other hand, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l rules stringently on this matter in his Responsa Rav Pe’alim (Volume 2, Chapter 32) where he proceeds to rebuff all of the proofs offered by Rabbeinu Chaim Palagi. He concludes by writing that just as one who sees himself being excommunicated in a dream must be concerned with excommunication and annul it (see Nedarim 8a), so too, one who sees himself transgressing a sin in a dream must repent for this as well.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this issue in his Responsa Yabia Omer (Volume 10, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 58, Section 24) and brings many proofs that one need not be concerned regarding such dreams, as the Gemara (Berachot 54b) states, “Dreams speak nonsense.” One of the proofs he brings is from the words of the Ohr Zarua who writes that Rashbam testified in the name of Rashi that the fish named “Barbuta” is a kosher fish. Once, Rabbeinu Efraim ruled that this fish was permissible for consumption and he was later told in a dream that he had allowed people to eat a forbidden creeping creature. Rabbeinu Efraim then rescinded his ruling and said it was forbidden. The Noda Bi’huda (Second Edition, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 30) writes that in reality, dreams are nonsense and the fish is permissible although Rabbeinu Efraim was exceedingly righteous and ruled stringently as a result of his concern.
Maran zt”l continues to quote that Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar, the saintly author of the Ohr Ha’Chaim, forbade a certain species of grasshopper that would reach Morocco for consumption. There was an elderly man who disagreed with the Ohr Ha’Chaim and claimed that they were permissible; however, the man was shown in his dream that he ate forbidden creeping creatures. From that point on, this species of grasshopper no longer appeared in Morocco. On the other hand, Hagaon Harav Petachya Birdugo zt”l writes in his Responsa Nofet Tzufim (Chapter 13) that really, dreams are nonsense and these grasshoppers were permissible for consumption, for Moroccan Jews has a tradition permitting them. The fact that the elderly man dreamt that he was eating forbidden creatures was only because he thought about this when he was awake and he dreamt about what he thought about during the day. Hagaon Harav Petachya Birdugo adds that in the year 5541 (1781), there was a large swarm of these grasshoppers and the Jews stuck out their hands and ate them while relying on their tradition. This occurred several times after that as well.
Maran zt”l concludes this discussion in the following manner: “It is preferable for every person to accustom himself not to be concerned about dreams at all, for dreams speak nonsense.”
Let us now recount a related incident regarding Maran zt”l (printed in the introduction to his Taharat Ha’Bayit, Volume 2, page 14) in his own words:
“I remember that several years ago, I decided to minimize my public appearances on behalf of the Shas party, for when will I have a chance to take care of my own matters and if I do not do it myself, who will do it for me? That night I had a dream that Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l, the saintly author of the Ben Ish Hai, came to visit me in my home and his face glowed like the sun. He entered the library and sat next to a table where a Responsa Yabia Omer lay and he began to learn from it. When he finished, he told me, ‘Very good.’” He asked me, ‘Do you continue your public appearances where you expound on words of Torah and Mussar to the masses?’ I replied that during those days, I had been appearing publicly giving Torah discourses by the grace of Hashem and this was usually done together with Hagaon Harav Yehuda Tzadka zt”l (who was related to Rabbeinu Yosef Haim). Nevertheless, I complained to him that this hindered the preparation and editing of my Torah publications, as the verse states, ‘They placed me as watchman over the vineyards but I have not watched my own vineyard.’
Rabbeinu Yosef Haim answered me pleasantly, ‘Continue with this (authoring your works) and do not forsake this either (appearing and teaching Torah to the public), for Hashem has great satisfaction from one who brings merit to the public when they hear words of Torah and Mussar and repent fully before Hashem. Every individual who repents is considered an entire world.’ I awoke and behold, it was a dream.”