Friday, November 3rd 2017
In Parshas Vayeira, Abraham moves to Gerar, where Abimelech takes Sarah, who is originally presented as Abraham’s sister, to his palace. In a dream, G-d threatens Abimelech with death unless he returns Sarah to Abraham.
This week’s parsha describes one of the few circumstances dreams in the Toyreh. Dreams in the Toyreh may be prophetic or warnings. Thus, dreams are not taken lightly in the Toyreh.
The Babylonian Talmud states that dreams are important and that most details of a dream are purposeful, arguing that the absurdity in dreams is meaningful (Goldwurm, Berechot 55a-57b). In an iconic and profound passage, the Talmud states that “(Rav Chisda): . . . A dream that is not interpreted is like an unread letter. (Nothing will come from it, since dreams are according to the interpretation.)” (Feldman, Berachos 55). In plain language, the text states that dreams are in fact not meaningfully chafe but are meaningful. The text goes on to state, “A dream is not completely fulfilled, whether good or bad” (Feldman, Berachos 55). A dream can be prophetic, and “a bad dream [inspires one to repent. It] is better than a good dream. The sadness caused by a bad dream suffices [to annul it].” (Feldman, Berachos 55). Juxtaposed with this, “the happiness caused by a good dream suffices. [Maharsha—this itself is its interpretation.]” (Feldman, Berachos 55). Joel Covitz points out in his book Visions in the Night that, according to the Talmud, dreams may be one-sixtieth prophecy (Covitz 12).
Taking this into account, the Talmud points out that even the dreams of our greatest sages were not without parts that were often perplexing or meaningless. For instance, the Talmud states, when discussing Joseph’s dream foretelling his rise to power in Egypt, “[English translation, the prophet with a dream tells a dream; but the one with My word speaks My word of truth—How can the chaff compare to the wheat] Ha’Navi Asher Ito Chalom. . . . Mah la’Teven Es ha’Bar’—what do straw and wheat have to do with a dream?” (Feldman, Berachos 55). In the text, Yochanan provides a tangible answer: “Just like wheat always has straw with it, a dream always includes vain matters” (Ibid). Yochanan is stating here that not everything in a dream can be interpreted by even the best dream interpreters; some things, to us, will forever seem meaningless and should not be overanalyzed. Similarly, Berachiyah states in the text, “Even if some of it will be fulfilled, all of it will not be fulfilled” (Feldman, Berachos 55). This statement reiterates the earlier synopsis. The text concludes with “We learn from Yosef. In his dream ‘v’Hinei ha’Shemesh veha’Yare’ach’ (the sun and moon, alluding to his father and mother, bow to him)—Rachel was already dead at the time!” (Feldman, Berachos 55). The example of Joseph’s dream illustrates this theory in practice.