by Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer
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"Let Pharaoh seek a prudent and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt" (Bereishis 41:33).
After Yosef interprets Pharaoh's dream, he advises the king to chose a resourceful person to be in charge of the food collection. Pharaoh accepts the advice, and, telling the royal court that nobody is wiser or more capable than Yosef, he appoints Yosef. Rabbi Elya Lopian zt'l asks, why did Yosef insist on selecting a brilliant man? Obviously, in the face of wide-spread famine, the kingdom required someone to run the accumulation and storage efforts on a national scale. Any governmental figure would suit, why choose someone special? Rav Elya answers that during the seven years of plenty, it would be difficult to imagine the tough times ahead, and to really throw oneself into the task of preparation. Only a wise man, who lives with the future, could feel the imminent danger and prepare appropriately for it.
In a similar vein, the years of our lives are, Baruch Hashem, full of abundance. However, we must be wise and not forget that we are all approaching a time when there will be a famine; nothing, absolutely nothing, will be there except what we provide during our years of plenty. It is now, during our lifetime, that we have the opportunity to equip ourselves with all our needs. There is a famous story with the Vilna Gaon, who, lying on his deathbed, began sobbing. The people wondered why he cried: There was no doubt in anyone's mind the Vilna Gaon was going straight to the Heavenly Beis Medrash. He took hold of his tzitzis and said, "I cry because I leave a world where for a few pennies, the cost of some string, one earns eternal reward; in the World to Come this opportunity does not exist."
There is the story of a fellow who saved his country from war. His reward: he could enter the royal treasury and take whatever imperial jewels and gold he could grab in five minutes. The king saw how the man was preparing to race in and stuff his satchels, and was afraid how much he would take. He made inquries and found out the man loved music. So he sends an orchestra into the treasure-house, and as the man ran in, the band started playing. The poor fool got distracted by the song, figuring he'll just listen for a moment before getting to work. But one moment leads to another, and before he knew it, his time was up, and he left empty-handed. So too, we are born into this world with the opportunity to amass a literal fortune. But our lifespan is limited, the Yetzer Hora distracts us with pettiness, and we lose sight of the future. We must be like Yosef, to keep our future before us, which will motivate us to continuously snatch mitzvos.
Rav Shalom Schwardon zt'l elaborates on the above analogy. He writes that in the cycle of life there are years of spiritual abundance and spiritual famine. The years of abundance are when one is young and active, with the ambition to achieve and succeed. When he is aged, it is years of famine, without the drive and energy to accomplish. One must therefore be clever and realise his future when he is still young, in order to act quickly before it is too late. The famed baal mussar, Reb Itzeleh Blazer zt'l, in the last years of his life, was giving a talk in the Slabodka Yeshiva before Rosh HaShanah. He cried out to the bochurim, "Do not make the same mistake I did, telling yourself there is still time, I'll repent and correct my character when I'm older. That's what I did! And now look at me! I'm old and I don't have the strength anymore to change my ways! Don't wait! Do it now!"
Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer, Kollel Beis HaTalmud Yehuda Fishman Institute, Melbourne Australia
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