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