12/05/2013

Shabbat Vayigash

Candles Dec 6th 4:08pm
Havdalah Dec 7th 5:03pm

One of the amazing features of Yosef’s economic response to the famine was to nationalize the land of Egypt and set its people to work the land that now belonged to Pharaoh. This way the Government had the responsibility to ensure its people did not starve and had a vested interest in their productivity.

Even more surprising was that he did not take away the lands of the priests. This is amazing since under the Law of Moses the priests had no tribal land allocation. The role of the priests was to serve the community, not become a wealthy aristocracy. But sadly during the first thousand years of Jewish history, despite this, the priesthood did indeed turn into a wealthy and corrupt aristocracy (as the story of Hanukah illustrates).

So why did Yosef allow the Egyptian priesthood to retain its lands? There are two possibilities. One is that he needed to have then on his side. They were such an important power group in Egyptian society they could have blocked him, the way that Ayatollahs were able to undermine the Shah.

Secondly it might be that if he wanted his religion to be respected, he had to show respect himself to the Egyptian religion. Showing respect to another religion, regardless of how different or opposed to one’s own, is diplomatically a wise policy. It does not mean one is validating the other or accepting it, just that if one wants one’s own religion to be respected one must accord respect to others. That after all is what distinguishes American society from so many other regimes in the world today.