The Gemara relates how Rava's wife and children died, in addition to many other misfortunes, because of Bar Hedya's malicious interpretation of his dreams.
(a) Was it decreed Min ha'Shamayim that all these tragedies would befall Rava? Rava's reaction seems to suggest that he held Bar Hedya to be personally to blame for them. Even according to those who hold that Hashgachah Pratis is in accordance with a preson's Madrega, surely Rava was of a Madrega that such things wouldn't happen without a specific Gezeirah.
(b) Also, what was Rava's reason for cursing Bar Hedya? This would appear to be a violation of "do not curse," "do not take revenge," "do not hold a grudge," as well as the teaching of Chazal that it is improper for a Tzadik to case an evildoer to be punished (Berachos 7a), and the teaching that the spirit of Navos was evicted from Hash-m's presence for requesting that Achav be punished for killing him (Shabbos 149b).
A. In my estimation of all the questions that have been directed to me by Kollel Iyun Hadaf, this is the most difficult of all. I have learned this Sugya on many different occasions but each time it remains puzzling. So when I received Gideon's communication, I decided to look into it more thoroughly, and what follows is the result.
B. In essence, Gideon has asked two different questions, namely:
1. How does dream interpretation work?
2. How could Rava have reacted as he did?
C. There are, however, a number of subsidiary problems such as that asked by Tosfos on 62a as to the timing of the incident, and that asked by the Ritva and Tosfos ha'Rosh on our Sugya as to why Rava was never suspicious of Bar Hedya. We can also ask why Rava was concerned only about his wife and not about the loss of his children, and how Rava could have possibly been present at the demise of Bar Hedya in a far-away country. (See the text of the Bach and Ein Yakov on 56b.) Also, how do we explain the deeper significance of some of these dream interpretations, particularly the one about the letter Vav in the words "Peter Chamor" having been deleted from Rava's Tefilin, which surely was a past event and not a prediction about the future?
Moreover, why on earth should great Amora'im like Abaye and Rava want to go to a dream interpreter altogether? Who was he -- Jewish or non-Jewish? Either way, he was hardly a Navi or a person with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh. He was a professional dream interpreter. If he was a professor of the occult arts, why would seeking his services not constitute indulging in magic? Was his dream interpretation a secular discipline such as hypnotism, palmistry, or astrology?
D. Our answer, therefore, must take into account all of these disparate problems and try to ascertain the message of deeply Agadic material.
E. We now turn to Gideon's first question as to how dreams work. On this there is an enormous volume of discussion in the Mefarshim, both here in our Sugya and on the Chumash, on the dreams of Yosef, the butler, the baker, and Pharaoh. See, for example, the extremely lengthy Abarbanel on Parshas Miketz, the explanation of Ha'Kosev on the Ein Yakov, and that of the Etz Yosef, ibid.
It would take far too long to set out what they write here, but they should be learned methodically inside.
F. For our present purposes, let us quote the Maharsha in Chidushei Agados to Berachos 55b, who quotes the Ba'al ha'Akeidah as asking how could the dream interpreter change future events to suit himself? The Maharsha is not satisfied that the answer given there deals adequately with our Sugya. The Maharsha thus gives his own explanation. He subdivides dreams into three major categories: (1) dreams which are meaningless, without an interpretation, which are the dreams with which our Sugya is dealing; (2) those which have a reasonable interpretation but can be changed by re-interpreting (such as those of the butler and the baker); and (3) those which have an immutable divine message, such as those of Yosef ha'Tzadik, for which no amount of re-interpretation will be of any use, and only Teshuvah and Ma'asim Tovim can assist, and for them we make a Ta'anis Chalom.
G. Now while it is obvious that there are Gezeiros Min ha'Shamayim, that does not relieve us from doing our own Hishtadlus. This brings us to the old chestnut of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object: How can we have Bechirah?
The answer is, we have Bechirah, but Hash-m is above the dimension of time and has Yedi'ah of how we have exercised that Bechirah. But Bechirah we had. So it is incumbent upon us to go to the doctor for our medical needs and to the dentist for dental care, and to a security company if necessary to protect our houses, all this in addition to our Tefilos, Torah learning, and Mitzvos. So Rava and Abaye, when confronted with dreams of category (1) above, felt it necessary to go to a professional, experienced, and recognized dream interpreter to assist them in preparing for whatever lay in store for them Al Derech ha'Teva.
H. When Rava subsequently realized that Bar Hedya's professionalism was totally impugned by his avarice, it became clear to him that he was dealing with a Rasha and that, of course, was unacceptable. Just as Yosef ha'Tzadik was punished by Shamayim with an extension of his prison term because he relied on the butler who was a Rasha (or at least totally unreliable; see Chazon Ish, Emunah u'Vitachon 2:6), so Rava realized that Bar Hedya had to be removed from his post before he caused further damage to his clients.
I have found a number of suggestions among the Mefarshim as to why Rava took the action that he did, on the basis that he now knew that Bar Hedya was a Rasha, as stated in the Gemara, "Rasha b'Didach Kaima." Indeed, we cannot be sure that he was even Jewish. Among those Mefarshim are:
1. The Ateres Paz (Choshen Mishpat #1). He writes that "Yehei Ra'ava" is an expression of Tefilah, and not one of Klalah, and Tefilah is only Grama d'Grama. There was also no problem of "Anosh l'Tzadik Lo Tov" (Mishlei 17:26), as Bar Hedya was a Rasha. He brings there various other proofs to show that this is not called Nekamah.
2. The Nofes Tzufim (Yoma 56a). According to the Ra'avad and Rivash, a Talmid Chacham is not permitted to be Mochel on Bizyono (to forego his disgrance, distinct from Kevodo, his honor, which he may forego). The Gemara in Yoma (23a) states that "any Talmid Chacham who is not Nokem v'Noter like a snake" is not a Talmid Chacham. Obviously, the Gemara there limits this principle to particular circumstances. Those circumstances do, however, apply here.
3. The Ben Yehoyada (Berachos there) and B'Simchas Libo (Shemos, p. 467). Rava was able to be Mochel for any Tza'ar caused to himself but not to his father-in-law, Rav Chisda. That is why he refers to his wife not as his wife, but as the "daughter of Rav Chisda."
Another possibility (which I have not seen in the Mefarshim) is that Rava prayed that this charlatan be stopped from ever doing anything similar to anyone else and he couched his prayer in the terminology of Midah k'Neged Midah. As to all the mundane matters, Rava felt able to be Mochel, but when it came to Dinei Nefoshos, he drew the line. If so, you may ask, what about his children? It is possible that since they were her children, too, they were included in his words about her.
I. While we cannot simply explain away this Gemara as Agadic hyperbole or allegory, as it is styled as an event which actually happened (see the attached comments of Avnei Shayish, by Rav S. Y. Steiger, 5688, who leaves the whole issue as a Chidah Stumah, which is where we came in at the beginning!), nonetheless the detailed events surely have a much deeper meaning, and to conclude with an example which will also answer our question above (in C) about Rava's Tefilin, here is what Shemen la'Ma'or by Rav Nisim Moyal of Kiryat Gat writes (pp. 65-67):
If Rava's Tefilin were Kosher, then what was the point of showing this to him, and if they were Pasul, then how could Hash-m have let him wear Pasul Tefilin all his life? The dream of the braying donkey had a deeper significance. This was a Divine hint that Bar Hedya the Rasha was utilizing Kochos ha'Tum'ah represented by the unclean animal, the Chamor No'er. The letter Vav represents life and truth (in Zohar I: 241). (I also once heard from Rav Weinberg that this is why, in Tehilim 34, "L'David b'Shanoso," all of the Alef-Beis is represented in the acrostic at the beginning of each verse with the exception of the letter Vav. Since, in the incident related in this chapter of Tehilim, David ha'Melech was not telling the truth because of Piku'ach Nefesh, he left out the letter which represents truth.) Bar Hedya was signing his own death warrant by telling Rava that the Vav of life and truth was deleted from the "donkey," i.e. from himself!