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   by Jacob Solomon

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Joseph (in his capacity of Viceroy of Egypt, with his true identity hidden) said to them (his brothers, held in captivity on his charge of spying): 'Do this, and you will live. I fear G-d' (42:18).

Why did these words appear to make no impact on Joseph's brothers? 'I fear G-d' should have been the first ray of optimism in the whole story - that spiritually they were all 'on the same page'. But when they returned to Canaan and recounted to their father Jacob the details of what happened to them on their first descent to Egypt, they did not mention that the 'man who was the master of the land' (42:30) actually declared himself to 'fear G-d'. It was a detail that they either thought to be unimportant, or something that the brothers deliberately chose not to reveal to their Father.

This may be explained by the following. 'The fear of G-d is the beginning of all knowledge' (Prov. 1:7) is precisely that - the beginning. However the sentence continues with: 'But fools despise wisdom and discipline'. In the eyes of the brothers, a 'master of the land' who can turn the simple transaction of trading basic supplies during heavy famine into a spurious charge of: 'You are spies! You have come to find the weaknesses in the national defenses' (42:9) suggested that his 'fearing G-d' had not progressed far beyond the level of 'fools despising wisdom and knowledge'.

That is significant for the following reason. Throughout history, those who claim to fear G-d may be put somewhere on a spectrum between the following two poles. On one end is the Patriarch, Abraham. His respect for G-d was such that he would perform the supreme sacrifice when called upon without protest. He knew that the Creator has His own reasons for His demands, which are not always apparent to Man - His mere creation. At the other end, there are those who throughout the ages (and very much today) use 'fearing G-d' as a means of wrapping up their instincts to kill, maim, - and more commonly, power-lust, financially exploit, maliciously gossip, and self-aggrandize - all with the 'oily' sweet-smiled means of perverting the Holy Sources with an 'I'm doing this only for your own good', or 'it's Leshem Shamayim' (for the sake of Heaven). They lack the 'discipline' of emeth (truth, honesty) - to face up to their own poisonous lusts for the bindweed that they are, rather than fueling them by twisting the Holy Tradition to serve their own petty desires…

Perhaps that sheds light on the brothers' suspicions of the Viceroy's 'fearing G-d'. His seizing Simeon as hostage, and his unaccountable interest in 'your little brother' did not show his fearing G-d in the most positive light…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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