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December 22, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayigash

In this week’s portion we see a possible blemish on Joseph’s moral record.  The Egyptians offer to sell themselves into slavery (Gen. 47:19).  Joseph makes them sharecroppers, allowing them to farm independently as long as they pay a 20 percent tax to the king.  So far so good. More oddly, “he removed them city by city, from one end of the border of Egypt even to the other end.” (verse 21).

This compulsory relocation strikes me as a rather odd decision.  What motivated it?  Rashi says that it was to show the farmers that they no longer owned the land, and also “to remove the possible reproach that might be levelled against his brothers, viz. that they are aliens, since the Egyptians themselves now became strangers.” (Soncino Chumash paraphrase).

It seems to me that this attempt to eliminate the distinction between Egyptians and Hebrews failed; some time later, a new king enslaves the Hebrews because they might “join themselves unto our enemies” (Exodus 1:10)- in other words, because they are aliens.

What can we learn from this?  That attempts to erase people’s ethnic identities often fail- or at least that relocation isn’t enough to do the trick.  A relocated Egyptian still thinks of himself as an Egyptian.  Today, the world suffers from all manner of religious/ethnic strife- Sunnis vs. Shiites, Jews vs Arabs, blacks vs. whites, etc.   These groups are sometimes living where they have always lived; others (such as American blacks leaving the South) have engaged in mass migrations but nevertheless kept their ethnic identities.  (Not to mention the Jews, of course!)

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