In the Torah portion of Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), Joseph, recently appointed viceroy of Egypt, takes steps to prepare the country for impending famine. He calls for the establishment of a food reserve. Large storehouses are constructed. "And he collected all the food... that was in the land of Egypt, and he placed food in the cities; the food, [and] of the field surrounding the city, he put within it" (Genesis 41:48).

Rashi explains how Joseph, knowing that every land preserves its own fruits, ordered that "they put into the produce some of the soil of the place in which it grew," in this way protecting against rotting.

What lesson can we take from this brief narrative?

We all need physical food to keep our bodies alive. At the same time, we must have spiritual sustenance, if our soul is to survive.

For the Jew, Torah study forms the substance of survival. To this end, we plant ourselves in the holy books. The fruits of our labor is the Torah knowledge we accrue.

As time goes by, our spiritual agricultural skills improve. Our scholarship grows and with it our own sense of importance. Ego and pride threaten to eat away at our integrity. Steps must be taken to protect the produce against rotting!

In our daily prayers, we ask G‑d: "May my soul be as dust to all; open my heart to your Torah." To keep our ego in check, a self-effacing psychological "dusting" is often required. Only from a position of humility, we can realize the latter part of our prayer — that our hearts be opened to the Divine wisdom.

However, there exists a scholar who insists on collecting his due honor. As he enters a room, he feels that people ought to stand up out of respect for him. When he is called before the Torah, only the choicest aliyah (reading) will do.

As far as "let my soul be as dust to all" goes, our scholar explains that he has his own spiritual inadequacies. When it comes to reaching out to his fellow Jew, for example, he is utterly inept. He would never try to interact with a Jew who is lacking in commitment to Torah, for fear that he might himself become entangled and corrupted. Awareness of this failing helps him hold his ego in check.

But Joseph won't accept this "imported" humility. In the words of Rashi, he insisted that "they put into the produce some of the soil of the place in which it grew." Joseph teaches us that to keep our produce from rotting, it won't do to apply just any "soil"; we must use the soil from the place in which our produce grew. Where your pursuit of Torah has gained you greatness, your humility and sense of inadequacy must come from the same place — from the realization whatever you have gained is a gift from G‑d, and that you must constantly challenge yourself to be equal to what you have been given.