Parashas Mikeitz

In this week’s parashah, we read about how Egypt enjoyed seven years of plenty, during which they stored a portion of their crops (as Yosef had advised them), and then Egypt and the surrounding areas, including Canaan, were struck with famine. The Torah relates (Bereishis 42:3):
Now Yaakov saw that there were provisions in Egypt, and Yaakov said unto his sons: “Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?” And he said: “Behold, I have heard that there are provisions in Egypt. Go down there, and buy for us from there, so that we may live, and not die.”
The Gemara in Taanis 10b, quoted by Rashi in his commentary on the above passage, explains that at the time Yaakov and his family had food, but Yaakov told his sons to go to Egypt and buy food anyway, so that they would not stand out among the Edomites and Yishmaelites. The Maggid asks why Yaakov’s family had food while everyone else did not. Later, as Yaakov’s sons prepared to return home after their trip, Yosef (in his position as viceroy of Egypt) ordered that their money be placed back in their sacks. On the surface, the Maggid notes, it appears that Yosef was embezzling from the Egyptian treasury; we have to analyze why he ordered that the money be returned.
The Maggid explains the matter as follows. Our Sages tell us that there were two reasons why Hashem brought the famine: (1) to induce Yaakov and his family to move to Egypt, after they ran out of food, and (2) to fulfill His promise to Avraham that his descendants would go out from Egypt with great wealth (all the money that Egypt collected from the sale of food ultimately ended up in the Jewish People’s hands when they left Egypt). Under the first reason, Yaakov and his family had to be stricken by the famine. But under the second reason, there was no need for Yaakov and his family to be stricken by the famine, for there would be no gain thereby. It is like a garment merchant who needs a garment for himself and takes one from his stock – there is no need for him to pay, for he would just be moving his money from one pocket to another. Similarly, everyone else in the area had to be stricken with the famine so that they would give over their money to Egypt in exchange for food, but this reason did not apply to Yaakov and his family, for the money Egypt collected from the sales of food was destined to become theirs.
When the famine first struck, it was not yet time for Yaakov and his family to move to Egypt. Thus, at this time, there was no need for Yaakov and his family to suffer from the famine, for neither of the above two reasons applied to them then. Therefore the famine initially did not affect them. There were affected by the famine only later, when the time came for them to move to Egypt. Thus, when the famine first struck, Yaakov and his family had food, and the only reason why Yaakov sent his sons to Egypt to buy food was to avoid standing out among the Edomites and Yishmaelites. And after they bought the food, Yosef ordered that their money be returned to them. He reasoned that if the money were kept in Egypt, it ultimately would be returned to the Jewish People, so he might as well return it to them right away.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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