Vayigash- weekly Torah portion
The best laid out plans, even those that are life savers at one time, may have less the desirable results later in time. Joseph’s basic plan was an excellent plan and had many positive ramifications in the short term. It entailed the collection of surplus of the foods grown during the seven year period of plenty as it is known that there are going to be another period of seven tough years of major shortage. These seven years of famine get there fast, “there was no food in all the land, because the famine was very severe”. It is time to report to Joseph and get back some of the food that was accumulated so that those who have worked hard for that during the good years will be able to take advantage of this surplus in the challenging years to come.
Depiction of Joseph reading to the Pharaoh.
Joseph had a different plan which I would like to suggest are a mistake which by the time we reach to read the book of Exodus will manifest as a sever mistake. When the people of Egypt approach Joseph to collect the food he demands payment for it and he “gathered all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they bought, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.” Naturally the time comes and “the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, ‘Give us food, for why should we die in your presence? For our money is gone’.” They have no money to pay while more and more wealth is gathered in favor of the Pharaoh. Joseph continues to demand, “Give up your livestock, and I will give you food for your livestock, since your money is gone.” It does not take long before all the horses, sheep, cows and donkeys are hurried into the Pharaoh treasure. Now they have no choice and in their desperation Joseph “bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every Egyptian sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them.” This description concludes with the words, “Thus the land became Pharaoh’s.” A few words loaded with sadness as not only the land became the Pharaoh’s land.
Joseph does not stop here because the famine is heavy and he takes note of the situation, ““Behold, I have today bought you and your land for Pharaoh”. Now they are a kind of salves to him and they admit this by saying, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” He now makes a demand, “here is seed for you, and you may sow the land. At the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh”. They will be working those lands, which belonged to them to begin with, and now belong to the Pharaoh, and will transfer twenty percent of the crop to the treasury of the Pharaoh. The people have no choice, they have no money, not livestock and no lands. They are broke. Opposite them stands a rich and powerful man. Maybe Joseph, just like Joseph, is smart and clever but also arrogant who cannot anticipate the consequences of his deeds in the future.
We know fair well these consequences as we read in the first chapter of the book of Exodus of the terrible impact of the more powerful and wealthy dynasty of the Pharaohs. “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This king may not have known Joseph personally but certainly enjoyed the fruits of his endeavors that provided him with the ability to be an absolute ruler of the land. All because of an excellent idea at the onset, stocking food matters for a possible future famine that got spoiled over time when that very idea was exploited in a bad way. The ruler tends to think that all his or her might are inherent to him, her or the family and therefore will continue to, many times, ruthlessly strive for more power and more wealth. Sometimes it also includes inciting one part of the populations against another part by instilling fear such as, “the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.”
Let us not make a mistake here, it is easy to fall into such traps. It happens to leaders, politicians, judges, people of statue, those of experience, and those who are not. The sin of hubris is always there lurking to get a hold of us, all of us. It will always be there around us waiting for an opportunity to creep in and distort our view of the world. It is so easy to fall with a quick response or declaration, a blind and thoughtless support of a leader, or the fixation with a share that will always appreciate. Today with the abundance of information available at the tips of our fingers, supposedly information all available to us to make good and learned decision based upon, the actual state of affairs is more difficult than ever before. If in yesteryears we knew that we live in a world where we cannot have all the information need to make a decision and still had to practice on making decisions after all, today we live in an era of the illusion of access to all of the information. We live in a world of magicians and illusionists and we must be able to see through them and the illusions they are masters of creating. We must be able to see what is truth and what is not and find the path that will take us through the problems of the present into a better place in the future. Otherwise, “Thus the land became Pharaoh’s.”
Reuven Marko, 22 December 2017, 5 Tevet, 5778