Halacha for Friday 25 Kislev 5781 December 11 2020

Parashat Vayeshev - [How Much Credence Should be Attributed to Our Dreams?]

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat we shall read about Yoseph’s dreams, which hint that his father and brothers will bow to him, this caused Yoseph’s brothers to harbour enmity towards him. These dreams realised their potential, as we shall read in the coming Parshiyot.

At the end of the Parasha we meet the butler and baker’s and their respective dreams, these are interpreted by Yoseph. These dreams also materialized, as the baker was hung, and the butler reverted to serve Paroh.

And again in next week’s Parasha we shall read Paroh’s dreams, and these too are interpreted by Yoseph, which similarly come true.

All this leads us to the understanding that sometimes, there is substance in dreams. In contrast, the Prophet in Zecharia (10:12) says, “dreams speak lies”. So it begs the question how should dream be assessed in a person’s life?

It is related in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 30a) about a person who was distressed about money that his father had left him, but his father had died and not told him its whereabouts. In the night he was told in a dream the exact sum that his father had left him and where the money was located. But at the same time he was told in the dream that the money is Ma’aser Sheni [this is money which was used to redeem one of the tithes from the crops, so that the money may only be taken to Yerushalayim and spent on food there and not used for other purposes or spent elsewhere].

When he awoke in the morning, he found the exact money in the location that was told to him in the dream. So he asked the Chachamim if he may use the money [and not just within the restrictions of money which is Ma’aser Sheni]? The Chachamim replied that, “words of dreams make no difference,” the money has chullin status [no restrictions to it] with no sanctity and as such the son may acquire the money and do with it as he pleases.

Rambam rules (Laws of Zechiya U’Matana 10:7) that the words of dreams make no difference. Likewise, it is ruled in Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 255:9): If money was deposited with their father and their father died, and the children do not know where the money is, and it was told to them in a dream the sum of money and where it is and that it belongs to so and so and that they are Ma’aser Sheni, and the children went and found it where their father had told them in the dream and the exact amount - Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules - “the words of dreams make no difference and they may acquire the money and do with it as they wish.”

In contrast to this, we find the contrary elsewhere in the Talmud (Nedarim 8a), Rav Yoseph said, if he was ostracized in a dream, he requires ten people to release him. This means that someone had a dream in which he was ostracized, he requires ten people to release him from his ostracism. And so Rambam rules accordingly (Laws of Talmud Torah 7: 12). This implies that there is substance in dreams and that dreams do make a difference.

This apparent contradiction in the Talmud is addressed by Tashbatz (Rav Shimon ben Zemuch Duran 1361-1444, vol 2, siman 128). He answers this based on the Talmud in Berachot (55b), Rava asked one passuk states, “I will speak with him in a dream” (Bamidbar 12:6), implying that there is substance in dreams, yet another says, “dreams speak lies”? (Zecharia 10:12). Rava answers that there is a dream through an angel, this has substance, and there is a dream through a demon, about this it is stated they tell lies.

Based on this distinction, Tashbatz explains that in every dream that a person dreams there is a doubt if it came from an angel and has substance, or from a demon and has no substance.

Therefore, when it concerns financial matters the following halachic principle is applied, “one who wishes to extract money from another, the onus is upon him to bring proof”. And if there isn’t proof to the contrary, then it is assumed that it is from an angel and as such the person who holds the money is entitled to it.

But when it concerns prohibited matters (i.e. non-monetary matters) we are strict. Therefore when he dreamt about ostracism, he must be released from it, since we apply the halachic principle that when in doubt we err on the side of caution and are strict.

During the period of the Tosaphists, lived Rav Yaakov of Marvege (12th cen.) who composed the work “Questions and Responsa from Heaven”. In it are contained many halachic rulings based on questions that he posed in dreams and received responses. As a result, he ruled according to those responses.

Maran Chida in responsa Yoseph Ometz (82) relied on these halachic rulings, and for example he ruled, that [even Sephardi] women may  recite berachot on mitzvot that are bound by time, for example the lulav. He relied on the rulings of Rebbi Yaakov of Marvege who wrote the “Questions and Responsa from Heaven”. He added that if Maran the author of the Shulchan Aruch had seen these words that had been given from Heaven, for sure he would have ruled and instituted as such.

However, Maran Rabbenu Ovadia Yoseph ztvk”l in his work Yechave Da’at (1:68) rejects his words outright. He rules that one may not rely on rulings from dreams and concerning this it is stated that “the words of dreams make no difference” and “it [Torah] is not in Heaven” [see Devarim 30:12 and Talmud Bava Metzia 59b]. He continues that the rulings are only empowered to the Chachmei Yisrael to rule based on the halachic principles of determining halachot that have been passed from generation to generation. And that one may not rely, in any way, on halachic ruling given in a dream, even the dream of a great person. (This is expanded at great length in responsa Yabia Omer 1:41-2).

Shabbat Shalom!

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