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 way.
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