In this week’s Torah reading, Yosef successfully inteprets the two dreams of Pharaoh and says they are actually one single dream; i.e., two vehicles for delivering one and the same message. The Almighty, says Yosef, is letting Pharaoh know what is about to happen and the double revelation indicates the imminence of these events. There will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.
Yosef then outlines a wise plan for dealing with the coming years of hardship and Pharaoh subsequently elevates Yosef to a position in Egypt second only to Pharaoh himself.
Egyptian society at that time from Pharaoh to the lowliest citizen had a distinct culture of self-gratification. Pleasure ruled the day and prudent forethought was far from their mentality. They wanted what they wanted and they wanted it right now! Sound familiar? Pharaoh and his people lived for “today”, granting themselves every form of immediate gratification that was available to them. They were not a society that planned ahead, that prepared for difficult days. They were not in any way prudent or wise.
Pharaoh is the archetype of the self-serving, the one intent on personal gratification at all times.
Yosef by contrast is the archetype of self-discipline. Yosef’s plan was designed to counteract the culture of the day by teaching the Egyptians the concept of delayed gratification, of thinking beyond the now, and of discipline. In this plan which he presented to Pharaoh and which Pharaoh heartily endorsed, we see one of the principles of good leadership. Wise leaders teach people to help and better themselves. In creating a system where the people of Egypt were required to save for the future, Yosef was training them in an important aspect of successful living.
This principle applies in the natural for sure; but it also applies spiritually. In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, we read, “This world is a lobby for the world to come; prepare yourself in this world that you may enter the banquet hall of the King.”
A mentality of immediate gratification is a serious hindrance to growth in spirituality because it is the very antithesis of a disciplined life. Take just one example: you wake up early in the morning, having had sufficient sleep. You feel a inner tug to get up to pray, to meditate, to read and/or study Torah. Laying in the warm and cozy bed, you have a choice: immediate gratification in the form of rolling over and going back to sleep or the opportunity to make another investment in your relationshp with Hashem by getting up to begin your day spending time with Him in prayer.
The tzaddikim of the generations were men and women who developed the art of self-discipline, understanding that a habit of self-gratification is preeminently foolish on this earth and for the sake of the world to come. The wise man is described in Proverbs 12:11 in this way:
He that tills his ground shall have plenty of bread; but he that follows after vain things is void of understanding.
It requires discipline to ’till one’s ground’ both naturally and spiritually. One does not reap a harvest simply by planting a seed in the ground. It must be watered and nourished in order to produce fruit.
We are no different. Hashem planted in each of us a beautiful soul. It is our responsiblity to care for it, water it with prayer, nourish it with ever increasing knowledge and understanding of His Torah so that we will be what David, the sweet singer of Israel, described in Psalm 1:
He shall be like a tree planted by springs of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he will succeed.
In tune with Torah this week – to take an honest look at our daily routine and determine whether or not we live in a mentality of self-gratification or of godly discipline and make whatever changes may be required in this ‘lobby of the world to come’ in which we presently live.