Thursday, December 07, 2023

putting stock in dreams

Dreams play a prominent role in this week's and next week's parsha.  There has been some interesting discussion in the Torah world recently about dreams because of a fantastic story that has been making the rounds (see here, R' Asher Weiss' psak, here quoting R' Zilberstein).  There is a chozeir be'teshuvah who, on the advice of his very close rebbe, remained living in the south even though the community was not a religious one.  On the night of 10/7 his rebbe appeared to him in a dream and told him he was in grave danger and had to flee. He did not put much stock in a bad dream and attempted to go back to sleep, but his rebbe appeared to him again and forcefully told him that he must flee immediately.  Like we read in next week's parsha,  וְעַל הִשָּׁנוֹת הַחֲלוֹם ... פַּעֲמָיִם כִּי נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר מֵעִם הָאֱלֹקים.  Now he was awake and paying attention.  Having no one to really ask what to do and feeling that the dream was real, he got in his car with his family and took off, and as a result, his family escaped the events of 10/7 (no idea if he alerted others and what their reaction was, but let's be real -- would you pay attention if someone woke you in the middle of the night and told you they had a dream like that?)  But did he make the right decision?  Does the threat of sakana revealed by a dream allow for chilul shabbos or y"t?  Does the fact that after the fact we know his actions did result in saving lives excuse them?

This is a big topic, and I will just touch the surface regarding three points:

My initial reaction was that the individual is patur on chilul shabbos.  Menachos 64a tells us

 דאיתמר שמע שטבע תינוק בים ופרש מצודה להעלות דגים והעלה דגים חייב להעלות דגים והעלה דגים ותינוק רבא אמר חייב ורבה אמר פטור

A baby fell into a river on shabbos.  Someone was mechalel shabbos to go fishing and just happened to catch the baby into his net and save him.  We pasken like Rabbah and hold in this case the individual is not liable for chilul shabbos.  L'maaseh the fisherman saved the baby's life, whether or not that was his intention when he cast out his nets.  Here too, lmaaseh, the person who drove away saved his family's life, whether or not he intended or was justified in taking action l'chatchila.

Upon further review, however, the cases are not parallel.  When the fisherman cast his nets, the baby was already in danger and floating downstream.  The act of catching fish occurred simultaneously with the act of saving the baby.  When the person got into his car to drive away, there was no danger at that moment and no way (aside from his dream) that he could have anticipated the danger.  

Second issue: Kiddush 81b writes

דתניא אישה הפרם וה' יסלח לה במה הכתוב מדבר באשה שנדרה בנזיר ושמע בעלה והפר לה והיא לא ידעה שהפר לה בעלה והיתה שותה יין ומטמאה למתים רבי עקיבא כי הוה מטי להאי פסוקא הוה בכי אמר ומה מי שנתכוין לאכול בשר חזיר ועלה בידו בשר טלה אמרה תורה צריכה כפרה וסליחה מי שנתכוין לאכול בשר חזיר ועלה בידו בשר חזיר על אחת כמה וכמה 

It would seem that someone who intends to do wrong but things work out right still needs kapara.  

Does the fisherman in the previous case from Menachos 64 need kapara?  When the gemara there says  פטור does it mean exempt from chiyuv misa or korban for chilul shabbos but still requiring some kapara, or does not mean off the hook completely?  Does the fact that the outcome was a mitzvah of saving a life and not just eating a kosher piece of meat change things?  

Last point: how seriously should we take dreams?  Sanhedrin 30a

 הרי שהיה מצטער על מעות שהניח לו אביו ובא בעל החלום ואמר לו כך וכך הן במקום פלוני הן של מעשר שני הן זה היה מעשה ואמרו דברי חלומות לא מעלין ולא מורידין:

A father who comes to his son in a dream and reveals the location of $ but tells his son the funds are maaser sheni money is not believed about the funds being maaser -- dreams are not evidence.  As Rashi on our parsha puts it, אין חלום בלא דברים בטלים.  

R' Akiva Eiger in the gilyon sends you to a Shu"T Tashbetz because things are not so simple.  Nedarin 8:

אמר רב יוסף נידוהו בחלום צריך י' בני אדם להתיר לו

Why should a person who is put in נדוי in a dream pay any attention?  What happened to דברי חלומות לא מעלין ולא מורידין?

Tashbetz answers that it depends.  A dream that comes from a malach is likely true, but a dream inspired by a sheid is false.  The problem is that we can't really tell the difference, and so as a rule of thumb we treat everything as a safeik.  The gemara in Sanhedrin is talking about a safeik in dinei mamonos, and so we apply the rule that muchzak wins absent clear proof and so the son can keep the $.  The issue in Nedarim is one of issur v'heter, and so we invoke the rule of safeik issura l'chumra.  (See R' Chaim Kanievsky's comments in Derech Emunah questioning whether maaser sheni is really a safeik mamon and not a safeik issur.)

The Hafla'as Nedarim offers a different answer based on Ch haRaN.  When it comes to $, real proof is needed, and a dream is no more proof than nevuah -- lo ba'shamayim hi.  However, when it comes to נדוי, an umdena is enough proof.  Also, there is a concept of נדוי given by beis din shel maalah.  Therefore, it is an exception to the rule. 

According to both these views, dreams are not full proof, but are at least enough proof to create a safeik, and a safeik sakana is enough to justify chilul shabbos.

Ritva in Taanis 12 goes to the opposite extreme and does not see any value in dreams:

 אף על פי שבדברים בעלמא אמרו חכמי׳ דברי חלומו׳ לא מעלין ולא מורידין ואפי׳ בזה שיש צורך איסור מ״מ כשבא לו התעוררו׳ בחלום על עניני עצמו ראוי לו לחוש לדבר אם רואה עצמו נבהל ונפחד שזה ודאי הערה מן השמים הוא שבא עליו שיחפש במעשיו ויחזור בתשובה ועל הדרך הזה אמרו בנדרים בפ״ק במי שנדוהו בחלום שילך לפני עשרה דהיינו הלכתא ויתירו לו והטעם לענין שאמרנו כי הערה הוא מן השמים שעשה נסתרות והיה צריך לנדות או היו נגלות או שעשה עבירו׳ חמורו׳ שהוא נזוף לשמים ומתוך שיטרח בכל זה יפשפש במעשיו ואותן חכמים יורוהו דרכי תשובה ולפי׳ כל שרואה חלום שמפחידו ראוי לו להתענות ולחזור בתשוב

Ritva holds that a dream is just a psychological tool by which Heaven sends a person a message to wake up and do teshuvah.  To the extent a person is bothered by his dreams, he should do something in response, like accept upon himself נדוי, like the sugya in Nedarim.  Beyond that, a dream is not evidence of anything.  It certainly would not be a justification for chilul shabbos.

There are other issues to unpack, as we know that there have been shu"t written based on revelations in dreams, malachim have appeared to teach people torah.  Like I said, this barely scratches the surface. 


  1. Hm would this be a melacha sheino tzricha legufa

    1. driving a car for any purpose I think would be melacha she'aina tzericha l'gufa, assuming the issur is running a combustion engine, but how does that help?