Parashat Vayigash: Yosef's Talent

[Tal Chermon]

In this parashah, we again encounter Yosef's organizational talent. It reached its peak as he rearranged the agrarian and economic policy of the Egyptian kingdom. Since Egypt was the pivotal point of the ancient world, this amounted to changing the entire economic structure of the time. The Torah elaborates in detail on all the economic steps taken by Yosef during those depressed years. He accumulated all the money in Egypt, he bartered food in exchange for all the Egyptian livestock, he bought their land in exchange for food, he transferred the people to the cities and imposed a system of taxation.

Question: Why does the Torah inform us of all the intricacies of Egyptian agriculture? What difference does it make to us?
Answer: It is of great import because we see that Yosef created a just and equitable state of affairs. The economic and social significance of Yosef's actions was that all means of production were nationalized and then justly and equally redistributed. Firstly, he collected all the money, then all the cattle and finally all the land. He abolished private ownership. After nationalizing all means of production, he moved the people into the cities, thus breaking up the clan framework and creating a new socio-economic structure. Yosef then distributed the means of production that he had acquired to the people for their livelihood. He devised a progressive tax of their produce which was handed over to the king while the rest remained as ample sustenance for their families. The Egyptian masses, deeply grateful for this new order, praised Yosef by saying: "You have saved our lives" (Bereshit 47:25). The Egyptians for their part were willing to forgo their freedom and to completely submit themselves to the king so they suggested: "Let us, with our land, be serfs to Pharaoh" (ibid. v. 19). Yosef did not accept their advice because slavery was contrary to his plan for social justice and therefore, "Yosef bought [only] the land of Egypt for Pharaoh (ibid. v. 20).

In order to achieve ones goals one has to wait for a ripe opportunity. Had Yosef tried to introduce his innovations, at a time of plenty when private property was flourishing, it would have been foiled because of fierce opposition. He was aware of this and thus waited for the right moment to realize his vision of social and economic justice.

Yaakov Avinu acted the same way with Esav. He knew that chronologically Esav was the firstborn but he also knew that it was he, Yaakov and not Esav, who was destined to perform the firstborn's mission of building the spiritual basis of the world. But to confront Esav and request the birthright would definitely not work, so he bided his time. One day Esav arrived home from hunting famished and exhausted. He said to Yaakov: "Fill me up with that red stuff" (ibid. 25:29). This was the ideal opportunity to accomplish his plan for true justice. The ways of the world are tortuous and complicated and they are strewn with obstacles that prevent truth from emerging smoothly. The man of virtue has to follow events waiting to seize the opportunity when circumstances are ripe, to illuminate the world with truth and to establish practical procedure for its accomplishment.