The Torah gives us snapshots of Yosef’s career: An early rise to prominence in Potiphar’s home while he’s still a teenager, a leadership role during his 12 years in jail, and then 14 years as prince of Egypt and head of the Federal Reserve, steering the Egyptians through a major economic crisis. From the time he reaches his mid-40’s we barely hear from or about him until he dies approximately 65 years later.
It’s another 100 years before Yosef reappears on our radar posthumously, when Moshe (the next Jewish prince of Egypt) arranges for the homecoming of his remains. In the interim, Moshe’s first 80 years fly by in the pages of our parsha; we learn that he has an early retirement from his own tenure as prince of Egypt, and will eventually hold his own leadership position for 40 years until his death.
Yosef may have been an early exemplar of what’s come to be known in recent years as the FIRE movement: Financial Independence – Retire Early. It’s always important to maximize your earnings during your peak years (and beyond). The twist with the FIRE movement is the strategy and objective of accelerating your earnings dramatically in your 20s and 30s so that (like Yosef) you become wealthy enough that you can choose to retire early. Easier said than done, but so goes the FIRE theory.
I’d like to share a different takeaway from Yosef’s disappearance off the Egyptian (and Torah’s) stage in his 40s. Sometimes in our career we are invited to explore a new opportunity, and are hesitant for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we think we’re irreplaceable – how will the company and its clients survive without us? Maybe we are afraid to try something new. Or we don’t want to let go of our routines and work friendships. These may have been among the considerations and reservations that Moshe (and many other prophets) had when they were called by G-d. Maybe they wondered how serving G-d or country or taking on a new role would affect them and their families.
Yosef had committed 14 years of his life to what was likely a very demanding role in the public spotlight, with thousands, if not millions, depending upon him. Perhaps Yosef (with the aid of Mrs. Yosef) decided that it was OK to step down. Maybe he went back to shepherding or another career. Did he retire early and enable his sons and daughters-in-law to achieve prominence in their own careers by helping to raise his grandchildren? Regardless of what he did next, Yosef gives us “permission” to step back from a big role, make the most of roles that he didn’t apply for or select, and also to move on from one opportunity to another.
My father celebrated his semi-retirement a couple of years ago by embarking on the daf yomi cycle. (PGBM – Please G-d By Me!) In his merit, I offer one more suggestion inspired by an unnamed talmid chacham quoted in the footnotes to Shemu’os Rei’Ya”h (essays on Bereishis based on Torah taught by Rav Kook). Yosef was a carbon copy of his father in many aspects of his life (as Rashi notes at the beginning of Vayeshev), with one big exception. While Ya’akov was yoshev ohalim, spending much of his life (apart from 14 years in Lavan’s home) cloistered in the beis medrash, Yosef spent his peak years rising to greatness in Egypt. After 14 years at his peak (the same amount of time Yaakov had spent dedicated to Torah in the yeshiva of Shem v’Ever) Yosef may have felt that there was something missing in his life – something he needed to address with some urgency. While he likely didn’t quit and start doing the daf, and there’s no indication that he had (regular) communication with his father, maybe he too became a yoshev ohalim and spent the rest of his days immersed in Torah.
For those who may feel guilty that our career pursuits have left little time for Torah, I’m officially coining a new acronym: FIMT: Financial Independence – More Torah. May we be blessed with the career and financial security to be kovea more time for Torah, and may that time not have to wait until we retire.