I started thinking today about how bloated we've all been. (As a society, of course - not just from overdoing it on latkes this past week.) We've been living so prosperously for quite some time – years of plenty, you might call them, but now we seem to be heading into leaner times.
Wouldn't you know it, this week's Torah portion, Mikeitz, tells the story of Pharaoh's dream of seven fat cows being consumed by seven lean cows, which Joseph interprets as seven years of abundance preceding seven years of famine. (If you missed the story in Hebrew school, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote some pretty nice songs on the subject.)
Now everyone likes being full, but there's full to satiation and there's full to excess, and it seems like our society has been experiencing the latter – people living beyond their means, stocks and real estate seemingly greater than their actual value. So much so, that this time last year some people were literally eating gold.
With fullness, especially excessive fullness, comes complacency. Large, extravagant meals usually precede long, lazy naps. Who, once he's filled up his belly to the max, wants to go out and do much of anything? Joseph's advice to Pharaoh, to prepare for the seven years of famine, was to fill up storehouses with food – to actively prepare at the height of plenty. But in our times many people's storehouses have become depleted. There's a security one feels in stockpiling, but then again, that security often leads to arrogance. If you know where your next meal is coming from, you have no to reason to pray for it or even be particularly grateful when you eat it.
That's why once Joseph's descendants left Egypt and headed for the Promised Land, they were never able to stockpile their food. The mann (manna) they ate fell from the sky every single day, and any extra portion a person tried to save for later would become inedible. This system of only having food on the day that they needed it forced the B'nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) to daven (pray) for their food each and every day and acknowledge the Source of all sustenance.
People seem to be down in the dumps these days. There's not a part of the world, a field of jobs, or a sector of society that isn't somehow affected by this economic turmoil. Even our enemies are suffering. Success and thriving is something we all want and will hopefully see some day soon, but a society climbing upwards can sometimes claw its way there. Hopefully the lean times we're in now will prepare us to be less complacent, more grateful to God, and more compassionate to each other, the next time we're at the top.