Parashat Vayigash – (pronounced – vah-yee-GOSH) is a particular favorite of mine. While there are many famous aspects of this parashah, I’m going to focus on a relatively obscure bit that has always interested me.
Joseph predicted a famine and proposed a program for surviving it in Genesis 41:33-36, when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph’s plan sounded painless: appoint an administrator to gather grain during the years of plenty as a reserve against the years of famine.
Now, in Genesis 47, we see what this program actually required. Once there was no bread “in all the world” (v.13) people bought grain from Pharaoh, and as a result, all the gold and silver in Egypt came into the king’s palace. The next year people had no money, so they traded their livestock to Pharaoh for food. The following year, they traded their land. That year, Joseph ordered a massive resettlement of the population. Every Egyptian family had to leave their home and move to a new location. Radak teaches that Joseph did this so they would understand that the new homes were a gift from Pharaoh. Rashbam, however, compares his policy to that of the evil Sennerachib in 2 Kings 18.
In the final year of famine, the Egyptians became bondsmen to Pharaoh in exchange for food and seed for the coming year. So by the end of the famine, Joseph had preserved the lives of the Egyptians but at a very high price: every commoner among them was a penniless slave living on land granted by Pharaoh, grateful to pay a heavy tax.
Harold Kushner points out in Etz Chayim that a generation later, the Egyptians would take revenge on Joseph by enslaving the Hebrews. Economic policy in the ancient world, as in ours, has both short term and long term consequences.
This d’var Torah appeared in a slightly different form in the CCAR Newsletter.