Parshas Mikeitz #1
The Years of Plenty
“Behold, seven years are coming, of great plenty in the entire Land of Egypt” (Bereishis 41:29).
Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, dreamt two very disturbing dreams. In the first, he saw seven scrawny, underfed cows consume seven fat, healthy cows, and in the second, watched seven skimpy ears of grain swallow up seven full, plump ears. Pharaoh demanded an explanation, but his court magicians and wise men were unable to provide a satisfactory interpretation of the dreams. Then the chief wine steward made a rather surprising suggestion. He told Pharaoh about a Hebrew slave, imprisoned in the dungeons, who had an uncanny ability to interpret dreams. Why not call him in?
After twelve long years in jail, Yosef’s time had come; he was summoned for a royal audience, with spectacular results. Through Ruach HaKodesh, he was able to explain every detail of Pharaoh’s dreams (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 39). Egypt would soon experience seven years of great plenty, Yosef said, followed by seven years of famine so severe that the good years would be forgotten. Yosef also offered some sound advice: Pharaoh should “see to a wise and intelligent man, and appoint him over the Land of Egypt” (Bereishis 41:33), to oversee preparations for the bad years ahead. This talented administrator would implement a system to stockpile vast amounts of food during the years of plenty, which would feed the people when the years of famine struck. Pharaoh immediately appointed Yosef his viceroy, and Yosef went to work on the plan which would save Egypt from disaster (ibid. 41:1-40).
The Vilna Gaon calls our lives in this world our “years of plenty.” They are years of opportunity, when we can “stockpile” endless quantities of Torah and mitzvos. Every mitzvah we do in olam hazeh – learning Torah, honoring our parents, wearing tzitzis, keeping kosher, and more – will be rewarded in Olam Haba.
Olam Haba, the World to Come, is comparable to the “years of famine,” with no new growth. Once we are there, we can do no more mitzvos. It only makes sense to do everything we can during our “years of plenty” to prepare for the “years of famine” yet to come.
The Gaon’s final words just before his death reinforce this message. He held the strings of his tzitzis in his hand, and wept. He told his students that in this world, for a few coins we can acquire the priceless mitzvah of tzitzis. In Olam Haba there are no more opportunities to be had, for any price – in that world, we can never do another mitzvah.
Yosef advised Pharaoh to find a “wise and intelligent man” to accumulate vital reserves for the future. In our own lives, we should be the “wise and intelligent man,” who systematically piles up as many mitzvos as possible, preparing for the future. The extra effort now will spare us many future regrets.
Question for Discussion:
The Torah’s account of years of plenty followed by years of famine is more than ancient history – it is a lesson for life. We are surrounded with opportunities at every turn, just waiting to be collected and stored in our eternal warehouse. No less a spiritual giant than the Vilna Gaon wept at the thought that for him, opportunity was coming to an end. Why not pick up as many mitzvos as we can, while we can? What is an example of a mitzvah that is easy and effortless to do?Click Here To Respond