Rashbam: Dreaming of Meaning (Vayeishev)

While in a dungeon in Egypt, Joseph meets two fellow prisoners – the king’s former butler and baker. On the same night, they find themselves dreaming…

“And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream, in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were bound in the prison.” (Genesis 40:5, OJPS translation)

What are we to make of the odd phrase איש כפתרון חלומו, each man according to the interpretation of his dream? They do not know how to interpret their dreams, and turn to Joseph to help them out! Was their style of dreaming according to the interpretation (one fitful and foreshadowing doom, one restful and foreshadowing restoration)? That hardly makes sense. Rashbam, luckily, has a helpful comment.

איש כפתרון חלומו – חלום הראוי לפתרון הנראה שהוא עיקר ולא חלום של הבלים
Each man according to the interpretation of his dream. A dream suitable for interpreting, that appeared to have essence, and not a dream of nonsense.

Rashbam points out that not all dreams are worthy of interpreting. Most dreams are simply thought-clouds shifting shape throughout the night without any meaningful purpose. But these dreams of the butler and baker were significant and meaningful, if obscure. They woke up intuiting a need to interpret their dreaming.

How do you know which of your dreams are worth a closer look?