The Diet of Strangers – The Family Moves Part One
Dec 28th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
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When a Shabbat guest expressed his discomfort over the absence of gefilte fish and potato kugel, being served instead with cold cucumber soup topped with (parve) sour cream, and asparagus and bean salad, “This is not what they ate in Europe!” I responded with, “Neither is potato kugel! Potatoes are an American food!” Seeing how discomfited a guest was by a change in menu, I wondered how Jacob’s family felt after settling in Egypt:
“So Joseph settled his father and his brothers and he gave them a possession in the land of Egypt in the best part of the land, in the region of Rameses as Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph sustained his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food according to the children (Genesis 47:11-12).”
Jacob and his family would have to live, albeit in the ‘best part of the land,’ as adventives, “For the Egyptians could not bear to eat food with the Hebrews, it being loathsome to Egyptians (43:32),” dependent on Pharaoh. Joseph could feed but not settle them without Pharaoh’s explicit command.
One thing about marrying an Argentine: The diet is not the same as that of Yeshiva Lane. I felt like a stranger at my own table for the first months when Debbie and I were married. My gut reaction to chocolate chili was, “It’s not Shabbisdike!” I, now, can sit in a restaurant in Buenos Aires and know exactly what to order and how to eat, but the second I step outside, I will clearly be a non-native when I stop and expect others to stop at a red light.
It could not have been easy for Jacob’s family to adjust to their new environment. There must have been some Argentine type strange meals. They would have to adjust to driving on the wrong side of the street. They would not be attending the same religious services as their Egyptian neighbors. Would they continue to eat meat, a piquant practice in a land of animal-worshippers?
I wonder whether Joseph’s feeding his family describes his supplying food, or menu; Joseph made sure that his family would have familiar foods, the Egyptian equivalent of potato kugel, on their table.
Why would I bother you with these meaningless meanderings? Because I suspect that whatever Joseph did was a strategic response to Pharaoh’s long-term objectives, and that Joseph’s response influenced Jacob and Joseph’s brothers:
Why did Pharaoh invite Jacob to move to Egypt?
Did Pharaoh desire to have a large family of “others” settling in his country even as he was dealing with all the instability caused by the famine?
Was he concerned that Joseph would leave? (Sforno)
Would the presence of Joseph’s family remove the stigma of Egypt being ruled by an ex-slave and ex-convict? (Ramban)
Was the family to be hostage to the Egyptian king?
Was the invitation a solatium to Joseph; “This is my way of repaying you for your years of suffering”?
Did Pharaoh wonder, as do we, why Joseph had not contacted his family since rising to power nine years earlier? Was he warning the brothers to treat Joseph with respect? Was he protecting Joseph?
There was no need for Joseph to feed the family once Pharaoh had them settle in Egypt; Joseph fed all the Egyptians, and how would the family benefit from moving to Egypt if they would not be automatically fed as everyone else?
Jacob was concerned. The brothers seem concerned only with Joseph’s position of power. This was not a simple matter of moving to Egypt for food. Who would be shaping the future of the Children of Israel; Pharaoh or Joseph?
No, I don’t think that Joseph simply supplied food; he provided a menu…
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