Don't Just Stand There--Do Something!

Preventing the brothers from taking positive action during the famine, fear also paralyzes us, rendering us incapable of addressing our most pressing spiritual, familial, and societal problems.

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Provided by KOLEL--The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning, which is affiliated with Canada's Reform movement.

At the end of last week's parashah, Joseph is in prison on false charges, after resisting the advances of his Egyptian master's wife. This week, there is a remarkable change in his situation: he is brought out of prison to interpret Pharaoh's dreams, which warn of famine in the future. When he proposes a kind of nationalization of the Egyptian economy in order to deal with the upcoming famine, he is made Egypt's "Prime Minister" in order to implement the plan.

The famine reaches up in to the land of Israel, so Jacob sends his sons down to Egypt to buy food; there they encounter Joseph, who recognizes them, but they think they are dealing with a high Egyptian official.

Joseph sets in motion a plot to unite all the brothers in Egypt--he accuses them of being spies, and demands they bring Benjamin, the youngest, who had been left with Jacob. They go back to Israel and get Benjamin, but Joseph is still plotting a test for them; he plants a cup in Benjamin's bag, to make it appear he stole it, thus giving him a pretext to take the youngest brother as a servant.

In Focus

"When Jacob saw that there were provisions to be had in Egypt, he said to his sons: 'Why are you looking [like that]? I hear that there are provisions to be had in Egypt. Go down and provide for us from there, that we may live and not die.'" (Genesis 42:1-2)

Pshat

The famine that Joseph predicted, based on Pharaoh's dream, has begun, and reaches all the way up to the land of Israel, where Jacob and his family live. He directs the 10 oldest sons to go down to Egypt to buy food, keeping the youngest, Benjamin, at home.

Drash

Jacob asks a bizarre question of his sons: "lama titra-u?" which presents a challenge to properly translate and understand. Hebrew has a form for verbs which makes them reflexive, which means that the action of the verb happens to the subject of the verb, and this case, Jacob's question is framed in the reflexive form of the verb "to see." Alternatively, sometimes the reflexive form expresses reciprocal action, two or more people doing the same thing to each other. So what could lama titra-u in a time of famine mean?

Rashi thinks it means "why do you make yourselves conspicuous?" or "why do you cause yourself to appear a certain way?" Rashi thinks Jacob is warning his sons not to make the Ishmaelites or the descendants of Esav jealous or resentful, which could happen if they think that the Israelite clan has lots of food while everybody else goes hungry.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.