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"[Joseph] gathered food to last seven years… and he placed food in the cities… Joseph accumulated huge, uncountable amounts of grain" (41:48-49).
The Meshech Chochma raises an important point. Why did Joseph take the interpreted and predicted seven years of famine as a given? Why did he not, instead, persuade the people of Egypt to avert the decree by repenting, and thus the famine would never take place - as Jonah was to do with the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10). Instead he took the drastic action of putting copious amounts of food in storage for when it was needed.
The Meshech Chochma answers that the famine was not a negative decree. Being well-prepared for the seven years of hardship and developing the capacity to access huge quantities of stored food would do Egypt a favor. It would strengthen Egypt's position. It would improve Egypt's leverage with surrounding nations, in depending on Egypt's food lifeline (41:57). And through Joseph, Pharaoh was to become the ultimate banker and mortgager in the entire region (47:14, 20).
This argument could be strengthened for following reason. Fragments of mainly secondary sources (such as Manetho, quoted by Josephus) indicated that during the period of Joseph, Egypt appears to have been occupied and ruled by the Hyksos, an invading or infiltrating (historians are divided) non-Egyptian force that undermined and eventually took over the earlier Middle Kingdom of the Pharaohs. Thus the Pharaoh of Joseph's day was in the relatively insecure position of the outsider, the foreign invader. (How far the Hyksos' origin was Indo-European as opposed to Semitic is disputed by ancient historians.) Indications of distinctly Hyksos characteristics appear in the text. For example, there is an indication in this week's parasha that they introduced the Egyptians to the chariot (c.f. 41:43). And the blessing to that Pharaoh was that he was thus able to consolidate his rule over his "foreign" nation.
Perhaps this principle underlies the message of Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles. There, Jeremiah outlined a code of conduct to the newly-exiled Israelites: "Build homes… plant orchards… seek the welfare of the city… and pray for the welfare of that city, for its peace is your peace" (Jer. 29:5-7).
And indeed, it was only later on that the fortune of the Israelites in Egypt began to turn for the worse. Then new king that "did not know Joseph" (Ex. 1:8) was a real Egyptian. It seems likely that his dynasty - the beginning of the New Kingdom - was the one who finally defeated the previous Hyksos regime.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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