The story in this week’s parasha is interesting in that Joseph is asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows and the seven skinny cows. Joseph says something interesting after explaining that the dream means seven good years of harvest and seven bad years of harvest. He says:
וְעַתָּה֙ יֵרֶ֣א פַרְעֹ֔ה אִ֖ישׁ נָב֣וֹן וְחָכָ֑ם וִישִׁיתֵ֖הוּ עַל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
34 יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה פַרְעֹ֔ה וְיַפְקֵ֥ד פְּקִדִ֖ים עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְחִמֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּשֶׁ֖בַע שְׁנֵ֥י הַשָּׂבָֽע
וְיִקְבְּצ֗וּ אֶת־כָּל־אֹ֙כֶל֙ הַשָּׁנִ֣ים הַטֹּבֹ֔ת הַבָּאֹ֖ת הָאֵ֑לֶּה וְיִצְבְּרוּ־בָ֞ר תַּ֧חַת יַד־פַּרְעֹ֛ה אֹ֥כֶל בֶּעָרִ֖ים וְשָׁמָֽרו
וְהָיָ֙ה הָאֹ֤כֶל לְפִקָּדוֹן֙ לָאָ֔רֶץ לְשֶׁ֙בַע֙ שְׁנֵ֣י הָרָעָ֔ב אֲשֶׁ֥ר תִּהְיֶ֖יןָ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וְלֹֽא־תִכָּרֵ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּרָעָֽב׃“
“Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.
34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years.
35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.
36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
It is a little strange that, after interpreting dreams, Joseph should suggest setting up a wise and discerning man to oversee such a program of saving the harvest for the skinny years. After all, isn’t that obvious?
RAbbi Ysrael Yaakove Lubchansky, a pre-WW 2 Chassid taught that Joseph had to suggest that since to ignore need in the midst of plenty is human nature. When people are prospering they tend not put things away for a ‘rainy day.’ It is easy to become immersed in the fantasy that all the good things we have been blessed with will last forever. But we know that it never happens. As that famous song “Dust in the Wind” goes: ‘all your money won’t another minute buy.” It takes a wise and discerning person to plan for the future.
But if everything we have will turn to dust, what can we possibly save for the future. In traditional Jewish terms, the ultimate future is the Olam HaBah – the world to come sometimes thought of as the existence after death or the real world sometime in the Messianic Age. The things of value that we store for the ultimate rainy day – the World to Come – are those things that have lasting and eternal value. In other words, mitzvot.
What else will last but our connection with God and the acts of goodness and kindness we do with each other? What we build will all disappear but the effects of our love and good deeds, mitzvot and doing the work of God is something that we Jews believe will have enduring – eternal – value. To see that truth takes a wise and discerning mind and a wise and discerning heart.
(Gen 41:33-36 ESV)