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Joseph placed his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded… (47:11)
The above introduces the final seventeen verses of the Parasha. The first two verses recount Joseph’s enabling his father and family to settle in Egypt in an honorable manner. However, the narrative then moves back two years (according to Rashi ad loc) and describes how Joseph ran the local and international economy during the years of famine.
There was no bread in all the land for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted because of the famine. Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan in exchange for the grain that they bought. Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house (47:13-14)
As the effects of the famine grew worse:
Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for each Egyptian sold his field, because the famine prevailed over them; so the land became Pharaoh’s. As for the (Egyptian) people, he moved them to cities - from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end. (47:20-21)Chronologically, this belongs to Parashat Miketz – at the end of Chapter 41, which describes the great hunger of Egypt and beyond during the famine. Why does the Torah recount the details only much later on – after Jacob arrived in Egypt? With that event, according to the Tosefta (Sota 10:3), the famine ceased. In addition, why does the Torah sandwich this narrative between relating what happened to Jacob and his family when they settled in Egypt? As the last verse states:
Israel (Jacob) lived in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions in it, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly (47:27)Moreover the middle section that focuses on the Egyptians appears atypical of the Torah’s general approach. That narrative seems to form a chapter in Egyptian history rather than the development of the Torah nation and the lessons and values learnt from it.
One key to understanding these seventeen verses may be found by looking at them from Jacobs’s point of view. In Pharaoh’s first and only recorded dialogue with Jacob
Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How many are the years of your life’?
R. Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the above in the following way. He notes that both Pharaoh and Jacob spoke of days and years as if they represented separate concepts. Pharaoh understood that many people who reach a very advanced age may have only lived a few of their days to the full – many people do not reach anywhere near their full potential. Seeing before him Jacob – a man of great stature – he asked him, “Tell me, how many meaningful days have you had in your long life”. In response, Jacob responded modestly, saying that his life was not comparable with the life of his ancestors. They lived more - in the sense that every day of their existence was living – and they could carry out their missions under more cheerful conditions.
By contrast the last seventeen years of his life appear to have been happy ones as he was united with his family. The final seventeen verses, when read together, show how Joseph contributed to his father’s final happy years. As a unit, it teaches us important lessons in how the Fifth Commandment – honoring parents – should be observed.
The first two verses – “…he gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded. Jacob sustained his father and his brothers… with food…” (47:11-12) exemplifies the material ways in which children should care for elderly parents. As the Talmud defines:
What is the meaning of honor – (as in honoring parents)? It means to provide the means by which they may eat and drink, be clothed, and personally accompanied where necessary (Kiddushin 31b)The return to the narrative of how Joseph organized the welfare of the hungry Egyptians and others illustrates another extremely important, but less obvious way of respecting parents – namely, bringing a good name on them. As banker of Egypt, Joseph would have had many chances to ‘put his hand into the till’. In order to emphasize Joseph’s loyalty and honesty, the Torah makes a point of saying that he ‘brought the money to Pharaoh’s house’ (47:14; Ramban on 41:18). There was no false accounting.
Coupled with his incorruptibility, he showed exemplary compassion to the Egyptians. When conditions became so acute that they had to sell their lands for food, ‘he moved them to cities - from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end’. On one hand he was concerned that if he let them remain in their own homes, each would cling tenaciously to their former properties as if they still owned them. He owed it to Pharaoh, to whom he served as banker and administrator that anyone’s association with a certain piece of state land was exclusively at the king’s pleasure. Nevertheless he showed compassion – he moved ‘the people’ – en masse to different parts of Egypt. Had he split up groups of people, he would have broken down the social and community structure with harmful effects to each person. Instead he moved entire communities so that old friends would remain together in their new territories (R. Nosson Scherman, ArtScroll Stone Edition of Genesis, pp. 266-7).
So Joseph did not just take care of his father’s material needs, but he gave him in the last years of his life what a parent wants most – real nachat. For Jacob saw the great positive qualities wisdom, honesty and compassion that he had instilled in his son being consistently used by him to better the welfare of peoples and nations – to the continuing good name of the family. As Rashi explains on the words ‘Joseph was in Egypt’ (Ex. 1-5), his conduct was exemplary even though he was in a spiritually unwholesome environment.
Because Joseph had cared for his father both materially and spiritually, this passage concludes with the words ‘Jacob lived in the land of Egypt’ (47:27) – he actually lived - in the sense of being able to fulfil his true potential under cheerful conditions. We may learn from here how people can raise the quality of their elderly parents’ lives in not just catering for their physical welfare, but in conducting their lifestyles in such a way that their parents may be truly proud of them. That would be one of the highest levels in observing the Fifth Commandment...
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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