Miketz – Less is Enough
In Pharaoh’s first dream there were seven healthy, robust cows – with a beautiful appearance – which were swallowed by seven gaunt and skinny cows. Yosef interpreted the seven cows of each type to represent seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, respectively. A simple approach explains the symbolism very naturally. The seven healthy cows were symbolic of seven years of plenty. When the harvest yields a good crop, and there is plenty of food to go around there will also be plenty of grazing for the cows. As a result they will be healthy and fat. The gaunt cows reflect a famine since there is little grazing and the cows have nothing to eat. Rashi, however, throws another idea into the narrative. Focusing on the words ‘beautiful appearance,’ Rashi notes that the cows appeared beautiful to one another. In other words, their contentment was such that they were happy with the good fortune of the others. This translates, in the interpretation of the dream, that in the years of plenty there would be so much to go around that people would not only be wealthy, they would also feel wealthy. Everyone would be content to allow others to grow wealthy without begrudging them.
There are many people in society whom we feel are wealthy. Generally, anyone who has more than me is wealthy. We live in a relative world. Mark Twain once said, “I always felt sorry for myself because I had no socks, until I met a fellow who had no feet.” Mr Goldstien, who I perceive to be wealthy, does not necessarily view himself as wealthy. The great sage Ben Zoma defines for us the meaning of affluence. “Who is wealthy, one who is happy with his portion.” (Avot 4:1) There is no objective definition of affluence. It is an attitude. The blessing of the years of plenty was that people would indeed feel wealthy. They would have the attitude which enabled them to feel rich. They didn’t need any more than they would have and therefore would not begrudge others for having more than them. Other people would appear beautiful to them just as the cows were beautiful in appearance.
Maybe this is a lesson we could attribute to the miracle of the oil on Chanukah. You don’t need an objectively large amount of oil to serve your needs. A little bit goes a long way, and if you have the right attitude the little bit will be enough.
R’ Yosef Zundel from Salant had two very great teachers, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin and Rabbi Akiva Eiger. But his sterling character, his great spirit and his generous heart were a legacy from his father. When he was a child he came home from school one brisk, autumn afternoon barefoot. His mother asked his sweetly, “Yossele, where are your shoes?” He answered innocently, “There was a boy in school with no shoes and he was trembling from cold so I game him mine.” Horrified, his mother asked him what he’ll do without shoes. Without hesitation Little Yossele said, “Oh, father will buy me another pair of shoes.” Little Yossele never begrudged anybody their good fortune. As an old man he would distribute money to the poor and lived to take care of the needs of others. His confidence in his father [in heaven?] to provide never waned.
Rabbi Yisrael of Salant was in shul on the day of his father’s Yartzeit. He was ready to step up and lead the service when he noticed another man who was observing the Yartzeit of his daughter. Rabbi Yisrael stepped down and offered the other man to lead the service. Afterward, his disciples asked Rabbi Yisrael why he had forfeited the honor of leading the service to the other man. The rules give the Yartzeit of a parent precedence over the Yartzeit of a child. Furthermore, the recitation of Kaddish and the leading of the service is a way to honor the parent and elevate his soul! How could the rabbi give up this cherished opportunity? Rabbi Yisrael smiled and said that the merit of kindness to another Jew is a greater way to honor his father’s memory than reciting Kaddish for him. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter had an attitude that enabled him to give to another without feeling that it creates a lack in his own resources. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was the oil in the Menorah that lasted for as long as it was needed.