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Parashat Miketz: A Meaningful Offering

Parashat Miketz: A Meaningful Offering

About the deep message in the offering Ya'akov sends to Egypt's viceroy. And a visit to Benei Beraq, the Biblical-Philistine-Mishnaic-Talmudic-Arabic-Haredi city in the heart of the Dan bloc, part of "the land flowing with milk and honey."

Yoel Yakoby

."קְחוּ מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ בִּכְלֵיכֶם, וְהוֹרִידוּ לָאִישׁ מִנְחָה:  מְעַט צֳרִי, וּמְעַט דְּבַשׁ, נְכֹאת וָלֹט, בָּטְנִים וּשְׁקֵדִים"

" … Take of the land's choice produce in your baggage, and bring it down to the man as a tribute—a bit a balsam, a bit of honey, wax, lotus, pistachios, and almonds" (Bereishit 43:11).

Praise of the Land of Israel Preceding Exile

The offering sent by the sons of Ya'akov, upon the latter's advice, gives them spiritual provisions for their journey—the fruits of the Land of Israel in the foreign land they are sent to. In a certain sense, this is the final praise we see of the Land of Israel (aside from hints in Ya'akov's blessings to his children), until the Jewish People reach Egypt, become entrenched there, are enslaved, and are subsequently promised that G-d will free them and bring them to "the land of the Cana'anites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Shemot 3:17). Several questions arise about this offering: why is there an emphasis on (at least regarding the sap and honey) the small quantity sent? Wouldn't it have been appropriate to send a respectable amount to the powerful Egyptian official? Also, in contrast to the great detail regarding the contents of the offering, its receipt is barely mentioned. This is in stark contrast with offerings we find in other contexts, such as the one Ya'akov sends Eisav. Here we see a greater significance in the actual sending of the offering by Ya'akov than its receipt by Yosef.

The Choice Products of Cana'an vs. the Grain of Egypt

It seems that the sending of the offering was more than merely an attempt to placate the seemingly ruthless ruler. It could be that Ya'akov wanted to convey a veiled message to the latter. Ya'akov saw here a struggle between the culture of Cana'an and that of Egypt. Life in the Land of Cana'an was much less stable. Droughts were common, as a result of the local climate, marked by a heavy dependence on rainfall—that is, weather systems that don't necessarily ensure that precipitation reaches the south east, through the Mediterranean, were the Land of Cana'an is located. The situation in its southern neighbor, Egypt, was much worse in terms of rainfall, but farming relied on a much more stable source of irrigation: the Nile. The waters of one of the largest rivers of the world is Egypt's lifeline, which provides much greater stability in providing food to Egyptian's populace, and as we see in our parasha, to the rest of the countries in the region, as well. There can be a famine in Egypt as well, especially when the Nile overflows and floods all of the surrounding fields. However, when this occurs after appropriate preparation, as was done here when Pharaoh (with Yosef's help) is forewarned, the years of plenty can counterbalance the years of famine. In general, it seems that famine was a rarity in Egypt, as seen in other instances, where it fared better and had more resources than were available in Cana'an.

The situation in Cana'an might be less economically stable, but precisely because of this it facilitates—even necessitates—a direct connection with G-d, something that the Egyptians might view as unnecessary. It seems that Ya'akov believed that Egypt's viceroy wanted to hint at Egypt's supremacy over Cana'an. Life in Egypt was far more stable, making it possible to sustain a large population for an extended period of time, in stark contrast to the precarious situation in Cana'an. Ya'akov interpreted the money returned to his sons together with their sacks of grain, as the Egyptian viceroy saying: "I don't need your money; just admit that the situation in Egypt is much better than the fragile conditions in Cana'an, and that you, the family of Ya'akov (who was famous in the area since the times of Avraham Avinu, who was considered an "Official of G-d"), who views your environmental conditions in Cana'an as optimal—confess that you have failed in your message to the world.

Ya'akov may have believed that this cultural clash was the basis for the grounds for suspicion as spies. While Ya'akov's sons might not represent a political entity, they do represent a culture in bitter conflict Egypt's. As an answer to the Egyptian ruler, Ya'akov sends the choice products of the land of Cana'an. In doing so, he hints that while Cana'an might not be stable in its staples, it still boasts excellent produce beyond basic sustenance. This is true not only in a physical sense, but primarily in a spiritual sense. In Egypt, perhaps one can survive, but is this everything that man can hope to achieve? To be an animal walking on two?! The truth is that a basic spiritual existence is possible even outside the Land of Israel; lofty levels of closeness to G-d can only be attained in the Land of prophecy. When the residents of the Land of Israel are on the appropriate spiritual level, everyone in accordance to what is expected of them, basic physical sustenance is also provided abundantly, and much more than that. This is why Ya'akov makes a point to senda small quantity: perhaps the Land of Israel doesn't boast the abundance of Egypt, but what it has is of a much higher quality and has a much higher potential, both physical and spiritual. This is also the reason that for the Egyptian viceroy (whose identity we know) the offering is not very significant, since he is intimately familiar with all of these ideas.

Actions and Not Ideas

It could be that Yosef "played the game" here too. He wanted to bring his brothers to the realization that just as the Land of Israel is destined to be theirs, the expectation of them is also that much higher. It is true that in regular circumstances, when one brother is preferred, it causes the very human feeling of jealousy. However, they are expected to rise above this, to contemplate the matter and understand that jealousy is inappropriate, since "a person cannot touch anything prepared for his fellow even the slightest bit." The offering did not make such an impact on Yosef, since he knew that his brothers were familiar with the concept; the question was, though, whether or not they internalized it.

The favoritism shown first to Yosef, is shown now to Binyamin—both by Ya'akov, who initially refuses to send him down to Egypt, and by Yosef before his revelation. The whole affair with the goblet, found in Binyamin's satchel, was also meant to test the brothers if they instinctively blame Binyamin (as do people who do not internalize this lesson) or if they would be able to accept the situation without pointing fingers. The brothers pass all of these tests with flying colors, and prove that the concept latent in the offering did not stay in the realm of ideas, but was very much applied in practice.

Benei Beraq of Milk and Honey

"Rami bar Yeḥezkel happened to come to Benei Berak. He saw those goats that were grazing beneath a fig tree, and there was honey oozing from the figs and milk dripping from the goats, and the two liquids were mixing together. He said: This is the meaning of the verse “A land flowing with milk and honey” (Shemot 3:8). Rabbi Ya’akov ben Dostai said: There are three mil from Lud to Ono. Once I rose early in the morning and I walked in ankle-deep honey oozing from fig trees." (Ketubot 111b).

Not everything is "milk and honey"

The area described in these statements as representative of the Land of Israel, flowing with milk and honey as described by the Torah, is found—of all places—at the epicenter of modern Israeli real estate. It seems that this area is valuable not only for towers and apartment buildings, but also agriculturally. Later on, the Gemara cites the words of Rabba bar bar Chana, saying that he saw that the Land of Israel flowing with milk and honey is 22 parsa'ot long and 6 parsa'ot wide. Rashi explains that his intention is that this is the total area of all the places in the Land of Israel that are actually flowing with milk and honey. From here we see that not all of the Land of Israel flows with milk and honey.

This statement has practical implications. Rabbi David Abudraham explains why among the praises of the Land of Israel listed in birkat hamazon, this quality of flowing with milk and honey is absent, while a different praise—"a precious, good, and extensive land" is not only mentioned, but if one omits this phrase, one has not fulfilled the obligation. He explains that this is probably based on the Gemara above. Since the Prophets stated that the entire land was "precious, good, and extensive" in several places, we need to recall these praises to strengthen our longing for the Land of Israel. On the other hand, the "land flowing with milk and honey" refers only to specific areas in the Land of Israel, but not to all of it, while we are supposed to long to return to every part of our holy land, and not only to those specific places.

Benei Beraq – Ibn Ibraq – Hiriya – Benei Beraq

In modern Benei Beraq, goats and fig trees are hard to come by; albeit, the colony founded in the Fourth Aliya, which thereafter became the city of "Torah and Hassidut" as we know it today, started off as an agricultural colony. Benei Beraq is mentioned in biblical sources as a city in Dan's portion. Since the tribe of Dad had difficulty keeping a stronghold on the areas in its portion, especially the localities included in what is known today as "the Dan bloc," Philistines lived in the area at the time. Ancient Benei Beraq, whose Jewish history actually begins at the end of the Second Temple period, was not located at the site of the modern city bearing the same name. In other words, it turns out that Rabbi Akiva did not live on Rabbi Akiva street at the heart of Benei Beraq, in contrast to another outstanding Torah giant, Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz better known as the Chazon Ish, who did live on the street posthumously named after him. Tel Benei Beraq is traditionally identified as the grounds of the Ariel Sharon Park, the new name of the spot formerly known as Hiriya, near Mesubim junction. This junction (lit., "reclining") is named after the sages who were reclining around the Seder table in Benei Beraq one Seder night (some claim that they were planning for the Bar Kochba Revolt at that time).

As an aside, the word "Hiriya," which might have a negative connotation for some because of the famous landfill located onsite (until it became a beautiful park), actually has a positive ring in Arabic, something along the lines of "good." Hiriya was the name of the village that existed in the area until 5708 (1948). The village was originally called Ibn Ibraq, but the fact that the pioneers of Benei Beraq purchased the lands from the villagers and founded a colony there with a similar name brought the Arabs to find an alternative name for their village.

Following the attack of the Arab villagers on the neighboring Ef'al, the residents either fled or were evacuated by the Hagana forces. The village grounds were divided among the surrounding settlements (a safari was built on part of this area), and the village center was buried under Mesubim junction. The city of Benei Beraq was founded in 5684 (1924) by a group of Chassidim from Warsaw, led by Rabbi Yitzchok Gerstenkorn. In 5693 (1933), the Chazon Ish moved to the colony—then an unknown figure who made Aliya from Lithuania, who rapidly became the leader of the recovering Charedi Torah world, reestablishing itself in the Land of Israel. The Chazon Ish, together with the Ponevezh yeshiva rebuilt there (after being destroyed in the Holocaust) by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Kahaneman, helped shape the pronounced Charedi-Torah character of Benei Beraq as we know it today.