Yosef’s Hakarat Hatov by Ely Winkler

(2004/5765) When Yosef is finally released from prison, he has to fix
his personal appearance before he sees Pharaoh. The
Chumash records how he changes his clothes and, of particular
note, shaves after his time in prison. Rashi comments that Yosef
shaves out of respect for the king. But do we not already know
this? Why is Rashi’s comment so necessary? In order to
understand Rashi, we might recall the statement of Chazal that
Yosef came out of jail to see Pharaoh on Rosh Hashanah.
However, if the forefathers kept all the Mitzvot, as we know they
did, how could Yosef have shaved on Yom Tov?
Rav Hershel Schachter quotes the Chatam Sofer who
explains that the Avot did keep the entire Torah, but they were
not completely bound to it; there were certain circumstances
under which they were permitted to override it. Thus, for
something obligatory such as respecting the king, Yosef was
allowed to shave on Rosh Hashanah. However, why is
respecting a king an obligatory event?
Rav Simcha Zisel Broyd, Rosh Yeshivat Chevron, lists a
few reasons why Kavod Hamelech could be considered so
important that it would allow Yosef to violate Hilchot Yom Tov
before visiting Pharaoh. The first reason is that Hashem gave
these human kings their kingship. Therefore, if the King of Kings chooses to give this person respect, how could we not? A
second reason Kevod Hamelech is so important is that it
enables us to increase our appreciation for Hashem.
Since we are just Basar Vadam, we need something more
than an abstract understanding to recognize what Hashem
does. Thus, by giving us kings, who are physical in form,
Hashem shows us, in a slight way, what He does. This issue of Kevod Hamelech has strong ties to one’s
general attitude. If one does not care about anything and makes
fun of things that he should be taking seriously, he will ultimately
become set in those ways and he will come to violate the entire
Torah. Fortunately, the same is true the other way. If one is
truly virtuous and recognizes the quality of good in everything, he
will come to follow the Torah. The only way to truly make
progress in life is through Hakarat Hatov, through seeing the
differences between good and bad and appreciating the different
levels of good. Every person has the obligation to recognize
what is really great and recognize the One Who controls it all.
The Chatam Sofer’s comments regarding the importance
of Kevod Hamelech seem to fit with another comment he makes.
In his Teshuvot, he says that letting Mitzvot such as Purim and
Chanukah, which are only Miderabanan, pass by without
recognizing them would be considered negligence on a Mitzvah
Mideorayta. Based on the Chatam Sofer’s comment mentioned
earlier, one could say that one who overlooks Chanukah would
also be ignoring everything that was learned from Yosef
regarding Kevod Hamelech. If one does not take note of the
miracle of Chanukah and the good that Hashem did for us during
this time in history, he would be disregarding the kind of Hakarat
Hatov that Yosef exemplified. Therefore, we must develop an
automatic response to the good things, or else we will lose our
place as true Torah students and Ovdei Hashem.
-Adapted from a Shiur presented at TABC and YU by Rav Daniel Feldman

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