by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – December 9, 2010
In the Torah section of VaYigash, we read of the rapprochement – at first apprehensive and then joyous – between Joseph’s brothers and Joseph, the heart-warming reunion between Joseph and his father Jacob, the emigration of Jacob and Joseph’s brothers to Egypt and the steps taken by Joseph, Pharaoh’s viceroy, to fight the enormous famine that he had predicted when interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and that hit Egypt and its environs.
To spare themselves, Egyptians sold themselves and their property into servitude to and possessions of Pharaoh in order to be assured enough nourishment to overcome the frightening famine. “Only the land of the priests he did not buy” (Bereshit 47:22). The Egyptian priests’ lands were spared. They were not sold to Pharaoh.
With regards to the aforementioned verse, the medieval Torah exegete, scholar and thinker Isaac Abravanel wonders as to the point of mentioning this fact in the Torah. What importance is there for the Torah to mention Pharaoh’s sparing the priests?
In answer to his query, Abravanel explains that the Torah’s objective is to reinforce the importance of providing our priests (kohanim) and levites (levi’im) with the divinely prescribed tithes (trumot and maasrot) so that they could concentrate on their service to G-d. If the Egyptian citizenry did not complain or protest at the priests attending to their idols being absolved of any effort in procuring sustenance at this most difficult of times, then all the more so should we, children of Israel, be at peace with giving our own priestly clan the prescribed tithes from the lands that we nurture.
Some of us are more involved in the service of G-d than others. Some of us are critical to certain very important facets of His service, as instructed in the Torah. If we are true to G-d’s message set forth in the Torah, then we should gladly part with some of our possessions in order to fortify His message. If other peoples can, as pointed out above with regards to this verse, then certainly can we.