#64 - Sanhedrin 30-36
When Dreams Don't Count
What is the impact of a dream on a legal matter?
This question arises in our gemara in regard to someone who has a revelation in a dream regarding the location of money he inherited from his father. He was told the exact location and amount of money but that it was maaser sheini (second tithe of produce which can be redeemed for money) money which could not be spent outside of Yerushalayim.
The dream came true as he found the money at the designated location and in the amount revealed. When the Sages were asked whether he must relate to this money with the restrictions of maaser sheini he was told that dreams cannot determine the status of money and he is therefore free to use it without any restriction.
The source for downplaying the significance of dreams is a passage in Yirmiyahu (23:28) in which the prophet relays Hashems sharp distinction between the true prophet who receives Divine communication and the false one who can only relate his dream. It concludes with the words "What is the straw doing with the grain, says Hashem." What connection do grain and straw have with dreams? asks Rabbi Yochanan (Mesechta Berachot 55a). He quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochais explanation that just as it is impossible for grain to be free of straw so is there no dream without meaningless details.
Even though a dream is considered to be a sixtieth of prophesy and this particular dream came true in regard to both the location and amount of the money, we still assume that the detail about its status may be that "straw" which every dream contains.
In Mesechta Nedarim (8a) we find a dream being given credence in the case of someone who was the subject of a cherem (excommunication) and required a minyan of scholars to release him from it. Whether this extends to someone who dreamed that he took a vow is the subject of a dispute between Rashba and Ran to be found in the commentary of Rabbeinu Nissim on our gemara.
There is an interesting sidelight to be found in the commentary of the Siftei Cohen on Shulchan Aruch Choshen Misphpat (333.25) in which he dismisses a halachic opinion which one author claims was revealed to him in a dream because in halachic matters dreams dont count.
Breaking the Fast
The importance of providing tzedaka (charity) for the needy is stressed in many places in the Talmud. In our gemara we are introduced to a new and startling dimension.
It is based on the passage (Yeshayahu 1:21) in which the prophet contrasts righteous Yerushalayim of the past in which justice was so prevalent with the city of his day in which there was so much bloodshed. Rabbi Elazar quotes Rabbi Yitzchak as seeing in the term "tzedek", literally translated as justice, a reference to "tzedaka" and deducing from it a warning that a community which fails to provide its needy members with food to eat at the conclusion of a public fast day is considered as virtually slaying them.
Rashi explains that it was the custom for the community to provide the poor with ready-to-eat food with which they could break their fast. Failure to provide this nourishment, to which the needy looked forward all day long, that very night, was tantamount to murder even if it was indeed given to them the following day.
The concept is similar to the statement of the Sage Mar Zutra (Mesechta Berachot 6b) that the principle reward for fasting is the tzedaka which is given to the poor who fasted that day.
A simple reading of our gemara would seem to indicate that prolonging the hunger of the needy fasters is what endows the withholding of tzedaka with a dimension of murder. But Iyun Yaakov offers an interesting perspective. The gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) compares embarrassing one publicly to murdering him. The hungry poor who fail to receive the food they expected from their community will be forced to go begging elsewhere for their desperately needed meal and suffer the embarrassment that goes with such activity. The community which indirectly brought such shame upon them is therefore considered to be guilty of virtual murder.