By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Then Yosef had a dream and told it to his brothers… (Bereshith 37:5)
Nowadays we consider most dreams meaningless. They are often based on
events that occurred during the day or on something we read before we fell
asleep, or they are influenced by something we ate. However someone whose
mind is filled exclusively with true thoughts during the day may have
dreams that are true, dreams that foretell the future.1
Most of us are not living on the level that all our thoughts are true.
Does that mean that we should disregard all of our dreams as false? In his
classic philosophical work, The Kuzari, Rav Yehudah HaLevi writes that the
Kuzari Ruler merited to have a true dream because his intentions were
pure, although his deeds were wrong. So too, if we strive with single-
minded determination to seek truth so that we can act on it through pure,
true deeds, this is also sufficient reason to merit true dreams.2
When someone has a nightmare, the Gemara recommends that he find a
positive interpretation for it. In general, the art of interpreting dreams
correctly has been lost to us. Since we are not skilled at dream
interpretation, we might assume that there is some untruth involved in
this practice of arbitrarily assigning a positive interpretation to a
dream. This is not the case though, because events foretold in dreams can
unfold according to the interpretation that has been assigned to those
dreams.3 Thus a person need not fear
that he is dabbling in falsehood when he interprets a dream in a positive
However, some Rabbanim are of the opinion that all dreams are absolutely
meaningless, as the Gemara says, “dreams speak falsehood and do not change
anything.”4 A man once came to Rav
Chaim of Volozhin and told him that he was about to embark on a journey,
and had dreamt that as he was crossing a frozen river the ice gave way
underneath him. Rav Chaim cited the above Gemara, and told the man to go
ahead with his trip. The next night the dream recurred, and the terrified
man returned to Rav Chaim, who again told him to ignore it. Reassured, the
man set off on his journey. Sure enough, as he was crossing the river, the
ice gave way and he was killed. When the bereaved family came to Rav Chaim
to complain, he told them: “Chazal determined that dreams do not make a
difference, and that is the reality. The fact that the ice broke as he was
crossing had no connection whatsoever to his dream. What’s more, if
someone were to come to me again under the same circumstances, I would
still tell him to go.”5
1 Orchos Tzzadikim, Sha’ar HaEmeth.
2 Sparks of Mussar, p. 119.
3 Brachoth 57a.
4 Gittin 52a.
5 The Rosh Yeshiva (Rav Shach) Remembers, pp. 51-52.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org