Could it be prophecy? What about a Divine communiqué of sorts? Has God come down from the heavens to personally address me?
No doubt that at one time or another, you’ve had a dream – a disturbing dream or maybe even a pleasant one. And then you ask yourself: Could it be prophecy? What about a Divine communiqué of sorts? Has God come down from the heavens to personally address me?
Let’s see what Judaism has to say regarding dreams.
Already in the book of Genesis we see dreams playing a prominent role in various capacities. Dreams also play a major role in the Torah’s development of Joseph, who dreams of ruling over his brothers. While his dream indeed came to pass, with Joseph becoming ruler over Egypt, it must be noted, however, that parts of his dream were indeed inaccurate, as the dream depicted his deceased mother bowing down to him as well! From here, we see that dreams will always contain components of irrelevance.
How Seriously Do We Take our Dreams?
What is the value of those images in dreams that may indeed contain hidden potential or some sort of premonition? Commentators note that not all dreams that the biblical figures ever envisioned were actually recorded, and that is simply because the vast majority of them never came true! So how seriously should we be taking our own dreams?
At first glance, the dominant view among scholars seems to be that dreams essentially have no validity – at least not from the perspective of prophecy. In fact, the Talmud explicitly declares dreams to be merely a reflection of what one has thought or experienced during the day. Talmudic commentators further caution those with mystical inclinations not to take their dreams too seriously and always to remember that dreams have no halachic significance whatsoever. Rabbi Menachem Meiri tells us that dreams are primarily nonsense.
Those who are convinced that dreams must hold some meaning or authority will be pleased to learn that some of the classical sources do indeed validate dreams as having some spiritual value. Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel, basing his views on the Talmud, declares that a dream is comparable to any other form of prophecy. There is also a Midrashic (rabbinic) teaching that defines dreams as “undeveloped prophecy.” Even the Aristotelian and otherwise rational Maimonides approaches the subject of dreams in relationship to that of prophecy. Neither can we ignore the many pages of no less an authority than the Talmud that are devoted to insights regarding the interpretation of dreams. Several rabbis throughout history had rendered halachic decisions based on what they saw in their dreams. We are told never to accept anything that a dead person may tell you in a dream, unless it’s advice on proper repentance for transgressions.
Although Rabbi Chaim Medini seems to side with those who reject attributing significance to dreams, he concedes that when danger is predicted in a dream, it should not be dismissed lightly. In fact, there exist a number of rituals and prayers that one can perform in order to cope with a bad dream; these are known as hatavat chalom (amelioration of a dream) and are printed in prayer books. It is even permitted to fast on Shabbat in order to ward off a disturbing dream. Note, however: if you fast on Shabbat due to an upsetting dream, you would also be required to fast another day during the week as a penalty for the sin of having fasted on Shabbat! One can also pray for the amelioration of dreams when the Kohanim (priests) bless the congregation (daily in Israel, on holidays in the Diaspora).
Bottom line from this writer: if you choose to subscribe to these ideas, then that’s great – prophesize away. If you’re not one for the supernatural – well, that’s fine, too. Regardless of what you believe or which authorities you choose to accept on this issue, all agree that one should not spend too much time delving into such matters. They’re simply not that important!