Monday, Jun 10, 2024

Inspiration by “Spook”: What Happened to the Am Chochom Venovon?

Please forgive me, dear readers, but I am fed up. I just heard the third or fourth story in the last couple of weeks of how someone had a dream in which he or she was told that either dressing with tznius or not speaking loshon hora would be the key to all brochah, and not following this advice will hold back the geulah and bring ruin upon us.

More problematic than the actual baalei hachalomos, the dreamers, is the fact that thousands of people, primarily women and girls, are swooning over these dreams, talking about them and exclaiming, “Wow! Did you hear about that dream and that story?”


My dear friends, have we forgotten who we are? We, the nation who observe the Torah, are, as the Torah itself teaches us, the “am chochom venovon,” a wise, understanding nation. Since when do we use esoteric and absolutely un-provable material such as dreams as a primary source for hisorerus?


Even worse is the rehashing of these dreams and the dramatic retelling of these stories and their messages in public forums, with writers and speakers harping on the “message being sent to us from Shomayim” and how important it is that we don’t let this hisorerus pass without really making changes and kabbolos. Have we gone mad? Is this the only thing that can get people to actually become nisorer today? What has become of us?




Okay. Let’s try to calm down a bit and tackle this from a more coolheaded perspective. There are many problems in our society, and lack of tznius and rampant loshon hora are certainly huge ones. No one, and certainly not I, should minimize them. These are issues for which we need constant reminders and constant hisorerus. But it is critical that these values be cultivated, discussed in group discussions, and learned about from classical sources. That has always been the way our sages have taught us to do things and that has been the way that Jews have aroused themselves to more enhanced levels of observance of any mitzvah, and especially these difficult mitzvos.


Not only is “spooking” people – especially wonderful, young, idealistic people – into doing mitzvos or being better not the way of the Torah, but it may also be counter-productive in the long run.




Yes, it is much harder to keep on explaining why tznius is so important and why it is such a beautiful mitzvah even when it is hard. Yes, it is much harder to invest the time to explain why Hashem wants us to be a mamleches kohanim vegoy kodosh. Yes, it is harder to get students wowed by painstakingly giving them a deep understanding of what Hashem Himself said in His Torah with the words, “Velo yirah bechoh ervas dovor veshov mei’acharechaAnd Hashem will not see among you unseemliness and turn away from behind you.”


But it is an appreciation of mitzvos – whether it is tznius, loshon hora, Shabbos, etc. – that we, as parents and educators, must work on in order to reach our charges. It is a slow process, a difficult process, and a process that sometimes leaves one feeling like he or she has to battle the entire world. Yes, it is tempting to utilize a “quick fix,” with a real spooky incident about someone who had a dream, or with the protagonists of the dream relating it themselves, but let us stop for a second and contemplate if this is really the right thing to do.




Chazal teach us that dreams do not add or take away (Gittin 52). Chazal tell us, “There is no such thing as a dream without devorim beteilim” (Brachos 55).


But, one may ask, does not the Torah talk about dreams that actually had important meaning? Are there not many instances in the Gemara where we are taught about dreams that needed to be interpreted and were Divine messages?


The answer is that the concept is certainly true, but, in our times, we cannot and we must not use dreams as indications that Hashem is talking to us.


In sefer Orchos Rabbeinu from the Steipler Gaon (Part I, p. 288), a story is told of a person who went to the Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l, in a very troubled frame of mind. He kept dreaming that his dentures fell out. He told the Steipler, “I am afraid of the halacha based on Brochos 56 that if one dreams that his teeth fell out, he should fast.”


The Steipler explained that dentures are not like teeth. “Today,” he said, “is not like the times of the Gemara. Our dreams are the product of what we thought about during the day – nothing else! The fact that you dreamed this many times is also irrelevant. If one dreams this only one time, he begins to think about it during the day and dreams it again. Then he dreams about it again, thinks about it more, and dreams about it yet again.


“Nevertheless,” the Steipler continued, “I want to add that you have seen a good dream and that surely nothing bad will come of it. Everything is going to be okay. Don’t worry about this at all.”


Rav Bentzion Kook once asked Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv zt”l about dreams. He said that the Shulchan Aruch says that if one dreams about the tefillah of Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur, one should fast. Rav Kook asked Rav Elyashiv if this halacha as well as the other halachos in Shulchan Aruch about dreams apply today.


The moment he mentioned dreams, Rav Elyashiv quoted the Gemara Maseches Gittin: “Do not add or take away. Let the person make a hatovas chalom” (Shiurei Maran Hagris”h, P. 561). (Thanks to Rabbi Micha Chaim Golshevsky for these citations from a previous published Tales and Teachings from the Daf column here in the Yated.)


Thus, if someone dreams about tznius or loshon hora or anything else, it is entirely possible that he or she is obsessed with these topics during the day. It is very hard to tell.


Therefore, if a person would like to use a personal dream as a way to arouse themselves on a personal level to be better in one area or another, why not? Certainly, on a personal level, a person can try to improve based on experiences in his life.


But to go and make one’s personal dream a public affair? Perhaps the dream is a product of guilt or psychosis. How do we know?




Furthermore, is such hisorerus not rooted in real avodah going to accomplish anything in the long run?


We know that witnessing miracles is not what ultimately motivates people to be better ovdei Hashem. Rather, that is achieved through sustained avodah, working on oneself, internalizing what the ikkur is and what the tafel is, what is primary and what is secondary.


Doing mitzvos and fleeing from aveiros due to a lifetime of avodah and an understanding with yishuv hadaas based on the words of Chazal, the Shulchan Aruch and the sifrei mussar is a far more effective method in the long run for achieving growth in difficult areas of avodas Hashem.


Sadly, perhaps tragically, we have become a generation of ignoramuses to whom every “bubbe maysah” must be true. Every new segulah and every new superstition is given credence, while the “old style” – tefillah, Tehillim, learning halachos, and actually going through the painstaking process of actually working on oneself – is seen by so many as almost old-fashioned and outmoded.


By all means, everyone, in moments of hisorerus or even not in moments of hisorerus, should make good kabbolos – small ones – that one actually has a chance of keeping. However, this should be done with yishuv hadaas, not because one has become so spooked or wowed into doing something that he or she really doesn’t understand.




Dear parents, teachers, educators, speakers and anyone else, please, let’s discuss why Hashem wants us to act and behave as Torah-true Jews. Let’s discuss it and field questions without being afraid of the questions. Then, through discussion and through showing the sources – the pesukim in Chazal, the Shulchan Aruch, and classical sifrei mussar – in an age appropriate way, we can certainly go very far in creating strongly grounded, confident Jews who understand what is unique about them.


Certainly, we have instances in the Torah and in Chazal where dreams played an integral role. I do not mean to completely eschew this idea. But knowing what kind of dream is real and should be publicized is not for the simple people in our generation to decide, no matter how well intentioned they might be.


Momentary hisorerus may be effective temporarily, but over time it creates a society of spooked-out superstitious intellectual featherweights who do not cultivate the ability to truly and deeply engage with Hashem.


Please, enough harping on segulos, dreams, “special, auspicious times,” and unique numbers of and sequences of Tehillim or Nishmas or whatever.


Hashem truly loves all tefillos that are from the heart, regardless of how many or how few days they are said consistently, no matter what yehi ratzon is said afterwards, and no matter which legitimate tzedokoh one gives.


Rachmanah libah boi’yeh. Hashem wants our hearts. He really wants our hearts and our minds, not our mindlessness.



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