Parshas Mikeitz (5775)
"Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt" (Genesis 41:33).
After Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh's two dreams to mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of hunger, he suggests to Pharaoh that he appoint a very wise man to oversee the operation of storing grain for the hard times ahead.
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, of blessed memory, raised an interesting point. If you want to set up a massive hunger drive for a third world country, what you need is someone with great organizational skills, someone highly efficient and capable of putting it all together. Why then does Joseph suggest to Pharaoh to hire a man full of “wisdom” and “discernment”?
The truth is, explains Rabbi Lopian, that for the kind of operation that Pharaoh had in mind, administrative skills and the ability to organize things aren't good enough. You see, when times are good and the stock market is thriving, it is quite difficult to get people to see the possibility that all this prosperity might one day come to an end. It takes a good deal of wisdom and foresight to realize the need to save up now when you still have it for the uncertain future - and to convince others of that as well.
Joseph is telling Pharaoh that he needs a person who has the ability to implant in the national conscience, in the years of economic prosperity, the feeling that rough times are not too far away. This way, people will take the necessary precautions and will save up for the future. That takes a lot of wisdom and strategy.
We could all use some of that wisdom in our own lives. In his Psalms, King David asks of G-d the privilege “levakeir b’heichalo - to ‘visit’ in His Sanctuary” (see Psalms 27:4). When you're visiting Disneyland with a “One-Day Ticket” and you want to see everything there is to see, you don't walk slowly - there's only so much time before the Fantasmic fireworks show is over and you have to go home! So too with life - we're just visiting on a “one-life ticket”. We have to take advantage of our “years of plenty”, when we still have energy and health and a zest for life, because those years don't last forever. But it takes a lot of foresight (in Yiddish it's called seichel) to plan ahead.
All the good things we want to do - maybe to learn to read Hebrew or to revive an old friendship or to explore more deeply what it means to be Jewish or whatever else it is that's on our spiritual "to-do" list - now is the time to do it before the “years of famine” set in.
In reality, there is an even greater lesson that we can learn from all this. You see, the world that we are living in, Olam HaZeh (lit. ‘this world’), only lasts for so long, before we die and go on to Olam HaBa (lit. ‘the world to come’).
Our Sages teach us that Olam HaZeh is the place in which we can learn Torah and do Mitzvos and grow spiritually, but that all stops when we die. At that point, we head to Olam HaBa where we receive the eternal rewards for all of our good deeds. So it turns out that this world truly is our “years of plenty” where we can accrue merits and attain spiritual heights – but we only have a small 70-120 year window to do so before our time is up and we head to the next world.
It is told that the great Torah scholar Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (known as the Vilna Gaon) cried on his death bed that in this world, for a few rubles one can purchase a pair of Tzitzis (ritual fringes) and fulfill G-d’s commandment to wear them, with all the spiritual advancement that comes with it, but in the next world these incredible opportunities for growth simply don’t exist.
However, as mentioned before, it takes great wisdom and discernment to realize in our years of plenty that the years of famine are coming – and to take advantage of the precious little time that we have in Olam HaZeh while we still have it.
May G-d grant us the wisdom and foresight to maximize every second of our visit to This World on our ‘one-life ticket’.