Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mikeitz- When To Put Yourself In a Bad Situation

This week's Parsha tells us of how ten of the twelve sons of Yaakov had to travel down to Egypt. There was a famine in the land of Canaan and the only grain to be found was in Egypt. However, the brothers were reluctant to travel to Egypt. In fact, the only reason they went down to Egypt was because their father, in essence, forced them to travel there. So, what exactly was going on?

The verse opens up by telling us (Breishis 42:1)

א. וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב כִּי יֶשׁ שֶׁבֶר בְּמִצְרָיִם וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב לְבָנָיו לָמָּה תִּתְרָאוּ:
1. Jacob saw that there was grain being sold in Egypt; so Jacob said to his sons, "Why do you appear satiated?" 

The Radak explains what is going on in this verse a little more clearly (here):

"Because, Yaakov saw people of the land coming back with grain. So, Yaakov asked them, "Where are you getting this grain?" 

The people would reply, "From Egypt." 

Therefore, Yaakov went to his sons and said, "Why are you appearing like you have grain here while other people are traveling to purchase grain while you just sit here?!?!" 

Yaakov was annoyed that his sons were refusing to travel down to Egypt to purchase grain while their supply was running out. He demanded that they take action and not just sit around and wait until their whole family died of starvation.

However, this seems strange. Would the brothers really put their lives and the lives of their families in danger just so they wouldn't have to travel? For this the Daas Soferim comes to tell us what they were thinking (here):

This land (Egypt) did not have a good history with their (the brothers') family. When Avraham went down there because of a famine in Canaan they stole his wife and eventually they banished him from the land. Yitzchak (Isaac) was commanded never to go there.  

The brothers did not want to put themselves in a bad situation. They knew that there was danger for them waiting in Egypt because of their families awful history in that country. However, Yaakov saw the bigger picture. His sons were right, Egypt was dangerous for a nice Jewish boy. It was filled with heathens and unrighteous Idolaters. Even though Yaakov knew there was a level of risk to his sons' spiritual and physical well being, the benefits outweighed the risks. The journey to Egypt would bring back grain and sustenance for Yaakov and his family to survive on. It was true, going to Egypt was a risk, but not going to Egypt meant certain death.

The brothers kept hoping that the famine would go away before their food ran out. However, Yaakov knew that one can not rely on a miracle to save them. Therefore, he ordered them to go to Egypt in order to feed his family. Yaakov was telling the brothers that relying on a miracle from G-D to support you and sustain your family is not appropriate. One must make all the necessary arrangements and then G-D will help provide.

Going to Egypt represented a difficult task and the brothers needed to rely on G-D to protect them and help them stay out of harms way. This is just one example of when one must put themselves in a bad situation and should pray to G-D for protection and strength to withstand the test of temptation or to be protected from real physical danger. However, when it is necessary to put yourself in a difficult situation it is inappropriate to reject the opportunity, as Yaakov points out by chastising his sons for doing just that. 

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