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DEADLY DISTRACTIONS

by Joshua Gottlieb    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

In this week's Torah portion, after interpreting Pharaoh's dreams and forecasting the impending years of plenty and famine, Joseph advises the Egyptian ruler, "Now let Pharaoh seek out an ish navon v'chacham, a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt" (Genesis 41:33).

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In this week's Torah portion, after interpreting Pharaoh's dreams and forecasting the impending years of plenty and famine, Joseph advises the Egyptian ruler, "Now let Pharaoh seek out an ish navon v'chacham, a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt" (Genesis 41:33). Upon considering the context in which Joseph is speaking, this verse is difficult to understand. Joseph was merely telling Pharaoh to put someone in charge of collecting grain during the years of plenty. Why should this job require an ish navon v'chacham, a discerning and wise man; it should rather demand an orderly and organized man?

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, a great teacher of mussar (Jewish ethics) of the past generation, explains that during years of plenty, there is a general tendency to be wasteful with food. In order to gather up sufficient quantities of food during the years of plenty, it is necessary to feel the effects of the coming years of famine at the present time. For this a discerning and wise man was needed. Our rabbis tells us that a chacham (wise man) is one who sees the future. This means that he not only understands the future consequences of his present actions, but he also sees those consequences as if they were occurring today. Therefore, only a discerning and wise man would be a suitable person to place in charge of collecting grain for Egypt, for only he could see the famine as if it were happening today and thus be motivated to collect the proper amount of grain to adequately prepare for the years to come.

We, too, must realize that we have our own years of plenty and famine. This world, where we may work on ourselves to become greater people, represents our years of plenty, whereas once we enter the World to Come and it is too late to attempt to rectify our actions, we have commenced our symbolic years of famine. Our job, then, is for each of us to make ourselves into discerning and wise people, to view this world as if the next one has already come upon us, and in this way we may serve Hashem to our utmost potential.

There is a famous story involving two countries long at war with one another. One day the king of one of the countries proffered a contest: Anyone who could devise a way to end the war would be rewarded with five minutes to gather up anything he wanted from the king's treasure house. Sure enough, a denizen in the country came up with an idea to end the war. As promised, a date was set on which he was to receive his reward. Meanwhile, the king began to feel depressed about the fact that he was going to lose so much money. A plan was concocted whereby the king would have music played in the treasure house to distract the man from focusing on collecting his reward.

The big day arrived. As the man stepped into the treasure house, he was stopped in his tracks by an incredible sound: His favorite CD, on surround sound speakers, fully captured his conscious mind. After about a minute, he managed to force himself back to the task at hand. As he once again began to gather up the magnificent jewels that surrounded him, he heard an even more spellbinding sound streaming from all sides. Time continued to pass while he enjoyed the fine music. Finally, he snapped out of his trance to resume collecting his reward. But then a third sound began to flow over him. Despite his inner commitment not to abandon his present task, he simply could not resist the beautiful, surging melody, By the time he was able to pull himself back down to earth, he had precious little time left. He hurriedly began grabbing at everything in sight, but he knew it was hopeless as even now, the king's guards were coming in to remove him.

This story clearly reflects the course of our everyday life. We are all aware of the point of our existence, and deep down each of us is striving to reach that point by becoming greater in our service of Hashem. However, we are inevitably thrown off track by our worldly desires and distracted by our material goals.

The Talmud (Tractate Kedushin 30b) states that Hashem told the Jewish people, "I have created an evil inclination and I have created the Torah as a remedy." Not only are we forewarned about the impending danger of the evil inclination trying to push us off the correct path in life, we are even given foolproof advice as to how we may fight back against it. Isn't it time, then, that each of us becomes an ish navon v'chacham, discerning and wise people, facing up to the continuous spiritual challenges of life by focusing on the future Day of Judgment as if it was happening today? It is only in this way that we can build ourselves up in this world and thus, at least in part, prepare for our ultimate goal - eternal life in the World to Come.

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Joshua Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a junior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.

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