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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
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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).

Stockpiling

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?

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Parshas Mikeitz #2

At the End

“And it was at the end of (miketz) two years, and Pharaoh had a dream” (Bereishis 41:1).

This passuk appears to be a simple recounting of the events leading up to Yosef’s release from prison in Egypt, a process which began with Pharaoh’s dreams. Chazal tell us that these words teach an important lesson, derived from a passuk in Iyov: “He sets an end (ketz) to the darkness” (Iyov 28:3). Hashem had predetermined how many years Yosef would remain in the darkness of the Egyptian dungeon. When the time came, “at the end of two years,” Pharaoh had his dream (Bereishis Rabbah 89:1), setting the wheels in motion for Yosef’s release and rise to power.

Rav Gedalia Schorr, rosh yeshivah of Torah Vodaas, writes that this midrash explains why Pharaoh had his dreams at that particular point in time. It would seem that Yosef was released because of Pharaoh’s dreams. However, we learn from Chazal that Pharaoh dreamt his dreams then, specifically because it was time for Yosef to be freed, and the dreams would be the means which freed him. Yosef’s impending liberation brought on Pharaoh’s dreams, and not the other way around.

Rav Schorr traces a similar phenomenon through a series of redemptions in our people’s history. Yosef’s was the first; the time was right for liberation, and his period of darkness ended with Pharaoh’s dream.

The next was the Jewish people’s liberation from Egyptian bondage: “And they cried out, and their cry went up to G-d, because of the [hard] labor… and G-d knew” (Shmos 2:23, 25). It appears from the pessukim that Hashem heard the nation’s expression of bitter anguish, and was moved to redeem them; but the process actually began in reverse. Because the time for geulah (redemption) was rapidly approaching, Hashem took heed of their suffering – and it was precisely then that they were inspired to cry out for salvation.

Rav Schorr writes that “the same is true of all the redemptions.” It may appear that one factor or another was the catalyst for geulah, “but everything is because of the reckoning of “He sets an end (ketz) to the darkness.”

Ready for Redemption

Another miraculous redemption took place at the time of the Chanukah story. Chazal teach, “And darkness: this is Greece, who brought darkness to the eyes of Israel” (Bereishis Rabbah 44:17). This darkness too had its cutoff, designated in Heaven. The Chashmonaim were able to defeat the mammoth Greek army only because Hashem decreed that this period of darkness had reached its end. The greatness of the Chashmonaim lay in their awareness that this was an auspicious, Divinely ordained opportunity. They acted on that opportunity; they were the “vessel” ready and waiting to receive Hashem’s help, and were privileged to bring about the geulah.

In our own long years of exile as well, there have been many times that were auspicious for redemption. Hashem was ready to send the geulah, but there was no “vessel” ready to receive it, and tragically, the opportunity was lost (Ohr Gedalyahu, Likutei Devarim al Parshas Mikeitz, p. 65).

Question for Discussion:

We live in an era that is ripe for the long-awaited geulah. We need to take advantage of the opportunities these times present, and become the “vessel” ready to receive the geulah. What can we do to turn the potential for geulah into reality?

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