Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Egyptian land grab - the real story.

There are a few very interesting verses in Divrei Hayamim 1:7:20 that when understood shed light on a slew of odd verses in Chumash. What I am going to write is based on a comment by Professor Yehudah Kill Z’L, author of various parts of the Da’at Mikrah Nach, where he quotes the Pirush on Divrei Hayamim by a pupil of Rav Sa’adyah Gaon and the Pirush on Chumash by R. Yehudah Hachassid.

כ וּבְנֵי אֶפְרַיִם, שׁוּתָלַח; וּבֶרֶד בְּנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ, וְאֶלְעָדָה בְנוֹ וְתַחַת בְּנוֹ.
20 And the sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah--and Bered was his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Tahath his son,
כא וְזָבָד בְּנוֹ וְשׁוּתֶלַח בְּנוֹ, וְעֵזֶר וְאֶלְעָד; וַהֲרָגוּם, אַנְשֵׁי-גַת הַנּוֹלָדִים בָּאָרֶץ, כִּי יָרְדוּ, לָקַחַת אֶת-מִקְנֵיהֶם.
21 and Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son--and Ezer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.
כב וַיִּתְאַבֵּל אֶפְרַיִם אֲבִיהֶם, יָמִים רַבִּים; וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶחָיו, לְנַחֲמוֹ.
22 And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him.
כג וַיָּבֹא, אֶל-אִשְׁתּוֹ, וַתַּהַר, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ בְּרִיעָה, כִּי בְרָעָה הָיְתָה בְּבֵיתוֹ.
23 And he went in to his wife, and she conceived, and bore a son, and he called his name Beriah, because it went evil with his house.
כד וּבִתּוֹ שֶׁאֱרָה, וַתִּבֶן אֶת-בֵּית-חוֹרוֹן הַתַּחְתּוֹן וְאֶת-הָעֶלְיוֹן, וְאֵת, אֻזֵּן שֶׁאֱרָה.
24 And his daughter was Sheerah, who built Beth-horon the nether and the upper, and Uzzen-sheerah.

כה וְרֶפַח בְּנוֹ, וְרֶשֶׁף וְתֶלַח בְּנוֹ--וְתַחַן בְּנוֹ.
25 And Rephah was his son, and Resheph, and Telah his son, and Tahan his son;
כו לַעְדָּן בְּנוֹ עַמִּיהוּד בְּנוֹ, אֱלִישָׁמָע בְּנוֹ.
26 Ladan his son, Ammihud his son, Elishama his son;
כז נוֹן בְּנוֹ, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בְּנוֹ.
27 Nun his son, Joshua his son.

Here is a report about a personal tragedy that Ephraim suffered when his sons were killed while tending to cattle. They were killed by the locals in Gath, an area in the land of Israel (Canaan at the time). He then gave birth to a daughter who consoled him by building two cities again in Israel. The author of Divrei Hayamim, Ezra Hasofer, records an old document for posterity. What were Ephraim’s children doing in EY while they were still in Egypt in apparent bondage? Do not tell me that these people lived extraordinarily long lives and Ephraim and daughter was alive when they were settled in EY 300 plus years later. Beside it not being mentioned anywhere we find that Yehoshua who brought the Jews to EY was the seventh generation from Ephraim (verses 25-27) suggesting normal generational continuity. So what was going on?

Apparently when Yaakov descended to Egypt he retained his properties in EY. By settling in Egypt these properties came under the control of the Egyptian government based on the laws promulgated by Yosef compensating the government for arranging for food during the drought. (See the end of Vaygash, which explains the relevance of that report). Yosef and his family were responsible to administer this land and periodically traveled to EY to oversee it. Apparently on one of these trips, the tragedy occurred and eventually Ephraim’s daughter took over her brother’s role.

These verses also seem to be the basis for the Midrash that the children of Ephraim wanted to leave Egypt early and were decimated.

This sheds light on what was really going on in Egypt. The government was very suspicious that these new settlers would one day leave and retake possession of those properties, removing Egyptian control. That is why Yosef had to ask special permission to accompany Yaakov’s bier and received it on condition that he leave the children and cattle behind as guarantee.

ח וְכֹל בֵּית יוֹסֵף, וְאֶחָיו וּבֵית אָבִיו: רַק, טַפָּם וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם--עָזְבוּ, בְּאֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן.
8 and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house; only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

That explains the slow erosion of the good relationship between the Israelites and the Egyptians. It was in Egypt’s interest to try to distance the people from their original land.

י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ: פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ.
10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalls us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and go up from the land.'

The biggest fear of the Egyptians was that in case of war the Israelites would leave and take their property rights with them. That explains later on the stubborn refusal of Pharaoh to let the people leave.

The idea that the Israelites maintained contact all along with EY comes through in other verses. Just one example:

לט וַיֵּלְכוּ בְּנֵי מָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה, גִּלְעָדָה--וַיִּלְכְּדֻהָ; וַיּוֹרֶשׁ, אֶת-הָאֱמֹרִי אֲשֶׁר-בָּהּ.
39 And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorites that were therein.
מ וַיִּתֵּן מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַגִּלְעָד, לְמָכִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה; וַיֵּשֶׁב, בָּהּ.
40 And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
מא וְיָאִיר בֶּן-מְנַשֶּׁה הָלַךְ, וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת-חַוֹּתֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא אֶתְהֶן, חַוֹּת יָאִיר.
41 And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the villages thereof, and called them Havvoth-jair.
מב וְנֹבַח הָלַךְ, וַיִּלְכֹּד אֶת-קְנָת וְאֶת-בְּנֹתֶיהָ; וַיִּקְרָא לָה נֹבַח, בִּשְׁמוֹ. {פ}
42 And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name. {P}

In the middle of a listing of cities built by the 21/2 tribes that settled across the Yarden we find this listing of cities built by Yair son of Menashe, a much earlier generation. Clearly Yossef’s sons were active in EY all along.

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