כ״ד בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (February 3, 2016)

Gittin 52a-b: A Steward for Orphans

The Mishna on our daf discusses the responsibilities of an apotropus – a legal guardian appointed by a parent or by the courts to protect the interests of orphans – and specifically whether or not the apotropus will be obligated to take an oath that he did not mishandle their financial affairs. Among the rules that appear in the Gemara are limitations on the types of transactions that the apotropus can engage in, e.g. that they cannot sell real estate to purchase moveable objects.

The Gemara relates a story about a certain apotropus who lived in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who sold the orphans’ real estate in order to purchase slaves. After Rabbi Meir stepped in and disallowed the sale, he had a dream in which he was told, “I am here to destroy, and you come to build!?” (a reference to Malachi 1:4), indicating that there was a heavenly plan to drain the value of the estate. Nevertheless, the Gemara records his reaction as divrei halomot lo ma’alin ve-lo moridin, essentially rejecting any significance to dreams.

The idea of significance in dreams is one that is discussed at some length by – see, for example, the ninth perek of Massekhet Berakhot. There are certainly indications from stories in Tanakh that truthful, prophetic dreams informing people of future events do exist, and that they fall into the category of nevu’ah – of prophecy. The sages argue that although such prophetic dreams occur, there are also dreams that have no basis in fact whatsoever. Some dreams are simply an extension of daytime, waking thoughts, while others are imaginary fulfillment of an individual’s hopes and aspirations (see, for example, Yeshayahu 29:8).

A full discussion of dreams and their significance in Jewish law appears in the introduction to Rabbi Reuven Margaliyyot’s edition of the book Shu”t Min HaShamayim – the “Heavenly Responsa”.

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