The gemara describes a brief ceremony which a person should perform if he has a distressing dream: “Rebbe Yochanan said, One who sees a dream and his soul is somber… should rectify it before three others. He should bring three others and say to them, ‘I saw a good dream’. And they say to him, ‘Good it is and good it shall be; the Merciful One will make it good. Seven times will it be decreed from heaven that it will be good, and it will be good.’ – Rebbe Yochanan adds that the person should say three verses of reversal, three of redemption, and three of peace. (Berakhot 55b, SA OC 220:1.)
As we saw last week, Rav Kook explains that just as the body has a mechanism to prevent ingesting poisonous foods, the spirit has a mechanism to prevent internalizing harmful ideas. A person with a healthy “immune system” has a natural sense of disgust which leads him to avoid poisonous views and a conscience which tends to automatically spit them out when he does encounter them. If he does swallow them, there is a final line of defense: a disturbing dream is like an upset stomach warning him that he has ingested and internalized something against his spiritual nature.
By urging us to perform a fast and/or a rectification after a bad dream, the Sages admonish us that we should under no circumstances ignore this spiritual warning sign. One danger of ignoring this is that the damaging ideas are “digested” where they can do terrible damage to the spirit. This danger is staved off by the fast.
However, even if this particular dream is a false alarm, it is still dangerous to ignore the warning signs. The reason is that ignoring the dream tends to weaken this spiritual defense mechanism. When a person accustoms himself to ignoring the warning signs, then they become weakened and don’t respond properly even when substantial danger is present. Rav Kook writes:
“When a person is unaccustomed to pay attention to his inner feelings, he will distract himself from what is occur- ring inside his heart, and concentrate instead on other matters which are often far worse from his pure inner feelings. Then he will lose the great benefit which he would have attained if he had paid attention to the cries of his inner soul. Therefore, a person should never trample with a bold step the longings of his inner soul… So when he sees a dream and his soul is somber, it is not good for him to neglect the longing of his delicate and exalted spirit, for this omission of turning towards his somber inner soul will bring him to cast behind his back also his instinct for good and his inner rectitude.”
It is also important that when a person decides to use his frightening experience as a stimulus to spiritual progress that his catharsis take place with others present. In this way his rectified path will be one that will harmonize with accepted custom, which is both a reliable guide to good as well as a recipe for friendship and peace which are important in themselves.
The repeated assertion that the dream is good is rooted in a person’s basic trust in HaShem; the assumption is that the disturbing aspects of the dream are actually meant to remind him of the good, since opposites have a strong association in our psyches. This is also the significance of the “three or reversal”. But even after this shift of perspective has taken place, there remains a trace of the original depressed feeling, which requires redemption; this explains the need for the “three of redemption”. And after this process of reconciling the bitter and the sweet, the disturbing experience of the dream with the conversely hopeful tiding which we trust the dream bears, the person has a unique apprehension of the encompassing harmony and peace in G-d’s ways, the “three of peace”. (Olat Rayah on hatavat chalom, pp. 339-342; this commentary appears also in Ein Ayah on Brachot 55b.)
Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.