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Higher Office; Lower Status

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

As the Yosef saga begins to wind down, with Yaakov and his family arriving in Mitzrayim and settling in at the Goshen Valley Inn, Yosef is called on once again to fulfill his ‘sustainer’ role and feed the starving Egyptians. After a harsh first year, they have already given all their money to Yosef and now arrive begging (for their lives) for some bread. Yosef, the ever-savvy businessman, asks them what else they have to offer him. Animals? Sounds good to me, “and Yosef gave them bread for their horses, sheep, cattle and donkeys”. Funny thing though, the famine continued (who knew?) and once again they approached Yosef (sans money and animals) and once again begged for their lives. This time, knowing Yosef’s game, they immediately offer themselves and their land to ‘be acquired’ by Yosef. “Why should we die…let us and our lands be slaves to Pharaoh”. Interestingly, (although for another dvar Torah), Yosef doesn’t respond to the ‘slaves’ offer but quickly accepts the lands. ‘And all the Land of Mitzrayim was bought for Pharaoh,’ Boy, is Pharaoh patting himself on the back for this one! Talk about backing the right horse (and sheep and cattle and donkeys)!

 

However, the following verse is our topic. After the report of Yosef’s acquisition of all the land (and his subsequent resettling of all the citizens of Mitzrayim) it states: “only the land of the priests he did not acquire, because it was a law for priests from Pharaoh that they would get their share (of food) [no matter what] from Pharaoh. Therefore they did not sell their lands.” At face value this seems a bit extraneous. Who cares? We were just given a detailed description of the massive amounts of power and control Yosef gleaned for Pharaoh, all the money, animals and land of Mitzrayim were now his, and we need then to hear that, by the way, there was some land he couldn’t get? Weirder still, it says it again! In a further description of Yosef’s strategy, where he demands that a fifth of all grain produced by the people on ‘his’ land goes to Pharaoh (47; 24-26), it concludes by saying “Only the land of the priests themselves were not given to Pharaoh.” Once was superfluous, twice is already just plain bewildering!

 

First off, we can easily assume that if the Torah has placed something seemingly ‘misplaced’ in our paths and did it twice, we’re supposed to react to and learn something from it. It’s too blatant to ignore. What we’re seeing from this description is the basic system set up by Pharaoh and the Egyptian culture in relation to their religious leaders. Because they were priests they did not have to sell their land. In other words: because of their religious privilege they received materialistic advantages. If we see it through this simple formula, it’s easy to comprehend the glaring contradiction! They were the holiest of men and therefore they became the strongest landowners…well, that’s not right! And this is exactly what we’re supposed to understand. For now we can study God’s priest-structure and realize the brilliance of such a system. It is specifically the tribe of Levi (Kohanim) who is the only tribe not to receive a territory in Eretz Yisrael; rather, they are to be given particular cities in the other Tribes’ territories. Why? As God, Himself, states: “I will be their inheritance’. In a Godly system, the priests, the highest level of spiritual representation, the nation’s bridge to God, are specifically not to own any land, for their focus is the spiritual. Pharaoh offers his holy men wealth (the antithesis of their focus); God offers His holy men God (and not land) - the perfect conditions for spiritual focus. It is only through these repeated, seemingly extraneous verses, that we can amply contrast the faulty religious systems of the outside world with those of God.

 

 

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