We live to follow and serve in the strength we have been afforded, but when all strength is gone and every option exhausted, we learn that HaShem is sufficient.
43:1 Now the ha-ra’av famine (hunger) was kaveid heavy in the land.
The reason this phrase is repeated at the beginning of this chapter is because “the land” in question here is not Egypt, as is the case in the previous chapter. The following verse qualifies the context for ba-aretz (In the land). Ha-aretz is a title synonymous with the land of Israel. We could read “Now the hunger was heavy in the land of Israel”.
2 When they finished eating the grain they had brought from Mitzrayim Egypt (Double distress) their father said to them, “Go back. Buy us a little food.” 3 And speaking toward him Y’hudah (Praise) said, “Ha-eish The man warned us firmly saying, ‘You won’t see my face unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy grain for you for food. 5 But if you won’t send him, we won’t go down, because the man said to us, ‘You won’t see my face unless your brother is with you.’”
Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son had already tried to convince his father and had failed (Gen. 42:36); Simeon the next in birth order, was now in Egypt (Gen. 42:24), and Levi, possibly due to his actions at Shechem (Gen. 34:25), had lost his father’s respect. Therefore, Judah, being next in birth order, with the consent of his brothers, speaks to Jacob for the good of the whole community.
Judah uses stronger language in describing the Egyptian Viceroy’s (Joseph’s) instruction to them than the brothers had used together (42:24). When the issue of returning to Egypt was last discussed they had plenty of food and may have hoped that the famine would let up and allow for a return to agricultural prosperity. Now however, they were again faced with the prospect of starvation. Judah had to convince Jacob that none of his sons would return to Egypt without their brother, because Joseph’s vow had been made using a euphemism that required the return of Benjamin or the deaths of the brothers.
The irony of the name Mitzrayim (Egypt: Double distress) is not lost on Jacob, who is facing the double distress of losing both Joseph and Benjamin.
6 Then Yisrael (Overcome in God) said, “Why did you do evil to me by telling the man that you have another brother?” 7 They said, “The man questioned particularly about us and about our relatives saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have a brother?’ So we spoke to him on the basis of these words. How could we possibly know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’”?
The name Israel is said to depict Jacob in his spiritual role as Patriarch of the Jewish people. Earlier in this account the name Jacob has been used, now Israel is employed. Jacob is a follower, Israel has overcome in God. In the previous chapters Jacob followed his vision, having seen food for his starving people in Egypt. He pursued that provision through his sons. Now he is faced with the possibility of losing the last of his favoured sons and the realization that this could potentially end the religious observance of Israel (remaining sons).
It is at this point that he must completely let go of his own ability to control the circumstances of his family’s predicament and allow God to be his overcoming strength. Thus, Israel (Overcome in God). This is not so much the difference between human effort and Godly strength, rather it is the lesson of every disciple, we live to follow and serve in the strength we have been afforded, but when all strength is gone and every option exhausted, we learn that HaShem is sufficient.
8 Then Y’hudah (Praise) said to his father Yisrael (Overcome in God), “Please, send the boy with me and we’ll get up and go, so that we’ll live and not die—we and you, and our children. 9 I’ll exchange myself for him (Benjamin). From my hand you can demand him back. If I don’t bring him back to you and place him before you, then the sin I’ve committed against you will be on me all my days. 10 If we had not delayed, we could have returned twice by now.”
Judah attempts to remove one of Jacob’s fears by taking sole responsibility. Reuben had previously offered the lives of his sons but Judah was making himself personally accountable. The Hebrew phrasing infers a life for a life exchange. Judah is saying that he will deliver Benjamin by any means including taking his place if he were to be unjustly imprisoned in the land of Egypt. Short of this he would bear the blood guilt of the sin of losing Benjamin. A sin that he sees as being committed against Jacob.
“I will guard him from heat, cold, evil beasts, and robbers. I will offer my life for his and do anything necessary to ensure his safety.” –B’chor Shor
Rav Meir Zlotowitz suggests that the reason Jacob was willing to listen to Judah’s petition was related to Jacob’s words “Upon me has it all fallen” (Gen. 42:36), implying that only a father could realize the magnitude of the loss of his two sons. Of all the brothers only Judah could identify with the loss of two sons (Gen. 38:7, 10). Therefore, when Judah offered to accept personal responsibility for Benjamin, Jacob granted Judah’s request to return to Egypt with his youngest brother.
11 Then their father Yisrael said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your vessels, and bring an offering down to the man—a little balsam and a little honey, gum and myrrh, pistachios and almonds.
As is the case in Genesis 37:21-30, Judah’s request prevails where Reuben’s had failed (Gen 42:37-38). There are of course a number of reasons for this, one of which is that the Torah is showing how Joseph, the dominant tribe of the North and Judah the Royal tribe of the south became more important than Reuben, the firstborn.
Rashi notes the Targum, which says “From the praises of the land” and interprets “From the praised produce of the land”. To this he adds that the produce born of the land gives praise to God. While not all of this produce was unique to the land of K’naan (Israel), it was produce that K’naan was famous for.
This selection of gifts included items that were not readily available in Egypt (Gen. 37:25). During a time of famine even a small amount of each of these precious commodities was a sign of great respect and a symbolic gesture of humility toward the Egyptian monarchy.
The balsam or balm carries with it the symbolism of healing. A symbol that will be recognized by Joseph as a voice of affirmation, but is yet to be understood by his father and brothers.
The gift of honey has particular significance because this is the first time it’s mentioned made in Scripture, and it’s being mentioned in relation to the land which will later be called the land of milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). Parts of the land of Israel (Ha-aretz) were famous for their honey production, such as in the region surrounding Ziph (Ez-Zeifeh. Located South-east of Hebron just below the Salt Sea [Dead Sea]: Josh. 15. 55; 1 Sam. 23. 14f., 24; 26. 2), subsequently called the honey of Ziphim (Misn. Machshirin, c. 5. sect. 9).
12 Also take in your hand a double portion of silver, and bring back in your hand the silver that had been returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother too—now, get up, go back to the man!
The instruction to “take in your hand” seems to be a practical one. Silver carried in bags or vessels with other goods might appear to be hidden and therefore an attempt to deceive the Egyptian officials, whereas silver carried in hand shows both openness and a willingness to repay any funds that may have been mistakenly returned to the Hebrew contingent.
14 May El Shaddai (God the All Sufficient Protector) grant you rachamiym mercy (compassion) before the man, so that he may release your other brother to you, along with Benyamin (Son of my right hand/strength). As for me, if I am shachol’ti made childless, shachal’ti childless I will be.”
The name Shaddai is a conjunction of she-dai, meaning “Who is sufficient/enough”. It seems that Jacob employs this name in order to remind his sons that regardless of the amount of preparation they put into their journey and the amount of silver and supplies they carry, it is because God is sufficient to meet the needs of His people that they can trust in His provision and mercy.
The double use of the Hebrew shachol’ti emphasizes the weighty grief of Yisrael. Radak explains that the first use is passive and the second active, meaning that Jacob is saying “I have been made childless and I must face the possibility that I will be made childless”. This is a statement of trust in HaShem that is similar to that of Esther when she was about to appear before the king uninvited: “If I have forfeited my life, so be it” Esther 4:16. Put simply, “HaShem gives and Hashem takes away, Blessed is the Name of HaShem” (Job 1:21). The repetition of this word is also an affirmation of the two children Yisrael has treasured most in his old age, the sons of Rachel: Yosef and Benyamin.
15 Then the men took this offering. They also took the double portion of silver in their hand, as well as Benyamin. So they got up and went down to Mitzrayim Egypt, and stood before Yosef. 16 When Yosef saw Benyamin with them, he said to the one over his house, “Bring the men into the house. U-t’voach t’vach Slaughter, slaughter an animal and hachen (make it firm) prepare it, for the men will eat with me at noon.
Jewish tradition teaches that “the one over his (Joseph’s) house” was his eldest son Manasheh (Targum Yonatan). This seems unlikely, given that Manasheh could not have been older than 9 at the time, having been born before the famine.
The Sages say that the expression Ut’voach t’vach implies that the one over his (Joseph’s) house was to expose the incision in the neck of the animal so that the brothers could see that it had been slaughtered according to the tradition of their fathers, a tradition that would later be included in halakhic ruling regarding the Torah instructions for the slaughtering of animals (Chullin 91a Rashi).
Radak explains that noon is known as the time for royal dining. The time when many ancient royals enjoyed their main meal.
The Sages say that Genesis 43:16, which employs the phrase “Slaughter the animal and make it firm, prepare it”: infers that the preparation was done in honour of the Sabbath and that the meal was served at noon on the Sabbath. A day which Joseph observed long before the Torah was given at Sinai (Daat Zkenim).
17 So the man did as Yosef said, and the man brought the men into Yosef’s house. 18 But the men were afraid, because they had been brought into Yosef’s house. They said, “It’s because of the silver that was returned to our sacks the first time that we are being brought in—in order to wrestle us to the ground and fall on us and take us as slaves, along with our donkeys.”
It seems that the brothers’ guilt feeds their fear. They were probably concerned about the loss of their donkeys because they were their only means of delivering supplies back to Jacob and their families in K’naan.
19 So they approached the man who was over Yosef’s house and spoke to him at the entrance of the house. 20 “Please, adoniy my lord!” they said. “We came down the first time to buy grain for food. 21 When we came to the encampment and opened our sacks, behold, there was each man’s silver at the opening of the sack, the full amount of our money. So we’ve returned it in our hand.
This response seems to merge the details of the two discoveries of silver: the singular portion of silver first found in one of their sacks and the silver subsequently found in all their sacks upon their return to K’naan.
The reason for including the details regarding the silver discovered at the encampment on the way, may be to show that they could not have returned at that point because they had not yet retrieved their brother and had been warned by the viceroy (Joseph) not to return without him.
22 In addition, we’ve brought down other silver in our hand to buy grain for food. We didn’t know who put our money into our sacks.” 23 “Shalom lachem Peace to you all,” he replied. “Don’t be afraid. Eloheichem v’loheiy Your God and the God of your father has given you hidden treasure in your sacks. Your silver had come to me.” Then he brought Shimeon out to them,
The man who was over Joseph’s house (possibly Manasheh, or a member of As’nat’s family, because if this one had been a servant the text would read “the servant who was over Joseph’s house” rather it reads, “the man”), makes a point of comforting the brothers by saying that it has been their God Who has engineered events to bless them. Something that Joseph later expresses to his brothers. Whoever the one over Joseph’s house is, one thing is certain, he is aware of the God of Israel. Joseph is clearly teaching his Egyptian household about the merciful God of Israel from Whom he has received his name and calling.
24 and the man brought the men into Yosef’s house, gave them water and they washed their feet. He also provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 So they prepared the offering for Yosef’s coming at noon, for they had heard that they were going to eat there.
This verse seems to indicate a progression in their approach toward Joseph’s house and their entry into it. Thus it seems likely that the conversation recorded prior to this was held the courtyard or entry room to the house, which is considered part of the house.
In their fearful state Joseph’s brothers had expected to be pounced on, beaten and confined, and in truth that is what they deserved. However, they were instead given water to wash their feet. One recalls the actions of Yeshua during his final Pesach meal with His disciples. Joseph’s brothers had expected their donkeys to be taken from them. However, they were instead given fodder with which to feed their donkeys. Through the actions of the governor of Joseph’s house (Manasheh: forget), the brother’s sins are forgotten and Mercy is shown to triumph over judgement.
“He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve; nor repaid us according to our iniquities.” –Psalm 103:10
26 When Yosef came home, they brought him the offering in their hand into the house, and they bowed down to the ground to him.
For the first time all of Joseph’s brothers, including Benjamin, bow down to him in fulfilment of Joseph’s first dream (Gen. 37:7).
27 Then he asked if they were well, and said, “Is he well—your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?”
The order of Joseph’s questions seems strange. He first asks if their father is well and then if he is alive. This can be explained by the fact that Joseph may have asked the first question and then, before the brothers could answer, had the terrible thought that his father may have passed away. Alternatively he may have simply been nervous and muddled his words.
Perhaps a better explanation is found in Daat Zkenim, where it is suggested that Joseph first asks after Jacob “Is he well” and then asks about his sabba (Grandfather) Isaac “The older father”, whom the brothers may also have told him about, and who’s death occurred around this time. Of course, the text doesn’t explicitly state that the brothers had spoken to Joseph about Isaac, but on the other hand, he may have simply slipped up by revealing his knowledge about Isaac’s existence. He was certainly showing superior knowledge when he had his staff seat the brothers according to their birth order.
28 “Your servant, our father, is well,” they said. “He’s still alive.” Then they knelt and bowed down. 29 Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benyamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother whom you mentioned to me?” Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Yosef hurried out because his rachamiyn compassion grew warm and tender toward his brother so that he wanted to cry. So he went into an inner room and wept there.
If the assertion concerning Joseph’s unusual question is correct, then the answer of the brothers “Our father is well” applies to Jacob and the second phrase “He is still alive” applies to Isaac. If Isaac was alive at this point in time, he must have passed away between this encounter and the coming to Egypt of Jacob’s household (46:26-27).
Joseph had already seen Benjamin but at this point he notices Benjamin’s features and sees the resemblance to his mother (Zohar; Haamek Davar).
Benjamin is 31 years old at the time of this meeting. Joseph hasn’t seen him for over 13 years.
Jacob had blessed his sons saying “May El Shaddai (God the All Sufficient Protector) grant you rachamiym mercy (compassion) before the man” (v.14). Now, Joseph is filled with rachamiyn mercy and compassion for Benjamin.
31 Then he washed his face, came out, and controlled himself. “Serve the food,” he said. 32 So they served him by himself, them by themselves, and the Egyptians who were eating with him by themselves (for Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews because it was an abomination to Egyptians).
Joseph probably ate separately because of his exalted status and possibly because he was keeping Hebrew eating practices that would have been seen by his Egyptian staff as abhorrent and reported to Pharaoh. The reason for the Egyptians eating separately from the Hebrews is stated.
Shepherds (Hebrews) were regarded as abhorrent to the Egyptians (Gen. 46:34; Exodus 8:22), and the sheep seems to be the singular exception to the Egyptian worship of various animals. Egyptians despised sheep and their herders in much the same way as Jews came to despise pigs and their keepers.
Radak’s assertion that Egyptians didn’t eat the meat of sheep because they were considered a deity is untenable, given that Egyptians consumed the meat of a number of other animals to which they attached worship practices, and that those who herded sheep would have therefore been considered holy and respected rather than abhorred.
The fact that the Hebrews were detestable to the Egyptians at a time when Israel consisted of less than seventy souls (Gen. 46:26), is a testimony to Israel’s God given reputation and prominence in the land of K’naan.
33 They were seated before him, the firstborn according to his birth-right and the youngest according to his youth. The men looked at each other in astonishment.
The ten eldest brothers were born within seven years of one another, making it difficult for a stranger to guess their exact birth order. Thus the brothers were astonished to see themselves seated in order from Eldest to youngest.
34 Then portions were brought to them from before him—and Benyamin’s portion was five times larger than any of their portions. Yet they drank and celebrated with him.
Benjamin’s portion is half the number for completion. Half of Joseph’s prophetic dreaming had been fulfilled. Joseph gave Benjamin a significantly greater portion in order to test the brothers to see if their hatred for the sons of Rachel still consumed them. In response to this the Torah states “Yet they drank and celebrated with him”. They were not angered by the special treatment shown to Benjamin. To the contrary, they celebrated it. This shows true repentance and a genuine humility on the part of the 10 eldest sons of Jacob, and stands in stark contrast to the meal they had eaten when they had sat down after throwing Joseph into the well (Gen. 37:25; 42:21). Only the repentant can receive salvation.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.