Monday, December 13, 2010


I generally prefer to use a Chumash that has the English translation because I like to know what I'm reading, but all my fun insights always occur when I only have the Hebrew in front of me. Point being that two weeks ago an idea occurred to me in shul during Torah reading regarding bread.

When Joseph is described in Vayeshev within context of Potiphar, Genesis 39:6 states:

ו וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, בְּיַד-יוֹסֵף, וְלֹא-יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה, כִּי אִם-הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר-הוּא אוֹכֵל; וַיְהִי יוֹסֵף, יְפֵה-תֹאַר וִיפֵה מַרְאֶה. 6 And he left all that he had in Joseph's hand; and, having him, he knew not aught save the bread which he did eat. And Joseph was of beautiful form, and fair to look upon.

Genesis Rabbah to that verse explain that "lechem" or "bread" is actually a euphemism for "wife." Rashi states: כי אם הלחם: היא אשתו, אלא שדבר בלשון נקיה: or 'That is his wife, but [Scripture] speaks euphemistically [Gen. Rabbah 86:6].' Potiphar gave everything he had to Joseph so that all of it was under his control except for his wife. This reading is supported when you look at Yisro's question to his daughters in Exodus 2:20 as to why they did not invite the kind Egyptian home "to give him bread," again a euphemism for a wife (hence Tzippora).

Now, as someone who favors the Midda Kneged Middah (measure for measure) approach to Tanakh, it occurred to me that there is a great deal of elegance in Joseph being imprisoned for not sampling the "bread" of his master, i.e. his wife. For it is Joseph who is then released from prison to save the bread of Egypt and prevent everyone from starving to death in the hunger that ensues. As the verses in Genesis 41: 54-55 declare:

נד וַתְּחִלֶּינָה שֶׁבַע שְׁנֵי הָרָעָב, לָבוֹא, כַּאֲשֶׁר, אָמַר יוֹסֵף; וַיְהִי רָעָב בְּכָל-הָאֲרָצוֹת, וּבְכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם הָיָה לָחֶם. 54 And the seven years of famine began to come, according as Joseph had said; and there was famine in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.

נה וַתִּרְעַב כָּל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּצְעַק הָעָם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה לַלָּחֶם; וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה לְכָל-מִצְרַיִם לְכוּ אֶל-יוֹסֵף, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמַר לָכֶם תַּעֲשׂוּ.
55 And when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians: 'Go unto Joseph; what he saith to you, do.'

It's specifically bread that is mentioned in these verses. Not "ochel," food or "shever," corn, but "lechem," bread. It is only because Joseph refrained from eating the bread of his master (that is, sleeping with his wife) that he obtained the merit that enabled the bread of Egypt to be saved through him.


Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Well, if we're going to be exacting here - לחם isn't bread. It is sustenance. פת לחם would be specifically bread. The Alshich (as I seem to recall from about 30 years ago) has a great discussion of this word. לחם is what binds two bits together - like body and soul in the case of food. הלחמה is soldering or welding. מלחמה is combat, which originally brought two opponents into close, sometimes sustained, contact. Your get the idea.

moshe said...

Check out what the Ishbitzer says, in Mei Shiloach, about Yosef and Yehuda paralleling the sa'ar hamashkim and the sa'ar haofim (Yosef was the latter).

Shades of Grey said...

Rabbi Carmy (I think) also made reference to lechem meaning sustenance, or at least primary sustenance since lachma in Arabic (maybe? or some other language over there in the Middle East) means meat, which was that people's primary food source.

Nitpicks aside, that is really cool! Thanks for sharing!!

Noam said...

Excellent vort.
This would also give more meaning to what the Egyptians asked of Yoseph
ותן-זרע ונחיה ולא נמות, והאדמה לא תישם.
This begs the question, knowing there would not be any growth in the fields for an additional 5+ years, why would the Egyptians request seed?
But this might hint to children, in reference to the injunction not to have children in a hunger year.