The United States has Secretaries for foreign affairs (called the Secretary of State), defense, agriculture, the treasury, commerce, education, and more.

Similarly, Israel has ministers for foreign affairs, health, diaspora affairs, finance, internal security, agriculture, and more.

In Tanach, we find a few people described as שר צבא, the minister of the army, including יואב and סיסרא.

In the government of the pharaoh of Joseph's time, the only ministers we find are the minister of animal slaughterers (Genesis 37:36, Rashi), the minister of butlers (40:2), and the minister of bakers (ibid.). That the Torah saw fit to include mention of three food ministers and no others seems to be telling us something. Do any commentators discuss this phenomenon? What do they say?

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    R' Hirsch on 37:36 is all over it. I'll write an answer beli neder when I have the English translation in front of me, unless someone else does first. – Isaac Moses Mar 6 '19 at 19:40
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    Why would any other ministers be mentioned? Those were the characters relevant to the story at hand, so they were mentioned. The Jail Minister is also mentioned (39:21-23) because he is relevant to the story, but why should the Torah mention the Minister of Silly Walks if Joseph never interacted with him or he was not relevant for the development of the narrative? – Salmononius2 Mar 6 '19 at 20:28
  • It is not typical to me to answer a Pshat, so I'll add some Sod. I've read once some AriZ"l's Kabbalic explanations about different בחינות of every minister and the difference in their dreams. And the reason only שר האופים was left to live. Unfortunately I can't recall it. If you're really interested in Kabbole I can look it up. – Al Berko Mar 7 '19 at 9:09

Perhaps they weren't primarily food ministers although their titles reflected part of their job or their job's history. Their prominence in this part of B'reshis would be explained not by their connection to food but by their security roles. Security personnel fit naturally into events in which Par'o was in peril - first personal, as the victim of an unnamed chet, then national, with disturbing dreams foreboding famine.

From Views of the Biblical World (p.99):

The 'captain of the guard' (in Hebrew sar hatabbahim, lit. 'overseer of the cooks') was originally in charge of the king's kitchen; but the official designated by this title became ultimately also responsible for internal security and for the royal prisons

It cites the rav hatabachim who worked for N'vuchadnetzar as another example of a person in a similar nonculinary position, whose title M'tzudas David explains as (M'lachim II 25:8)

שר על ההורגים במצות המלך

, perhaps linking (a certain type of) "internal security" with butchery because these officers were tasked with killing people.

Rav Ya'akov Medan (Ki Karov Elecha p.377) explains more directly the circumstances that could give rise to overlap between the position of royal food server and royal confidant. Along the way he points out that the Par'o of Yosef was not the only one to retain such functionaries. (Notable others include Nechemya for Artachshast' and Ravshakeh [=רב of משקה] for Sancheriv.) So maybe their appearance there is not too surprising, albeit exclusive.

Many rulers in the ancient world were murdered in plots centering around a butler, a baker or somebody filling those roles. It wasn't a simple matter to slip poison into the king's beverage or food. The butler had to care for the king's life and his security, not just pour his drink and serve him the cup. . . The butler (and to a great extent the baker too) took on being a confidant of the palace, the person with unhindered trust of the king, aware and suspecting of all of his employees.


Obviously, our ministers serve the people, where Pharao's ministers served only him. Similar to the 7 רואי פני המלך in Meggilat Ester. Their purpose was to serve the king, not to run the country.

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    It's not obvious to me. Can you support the claim? – msh210 Mar 7 '19 at 12:22
  • @msh210 What are you asking about - our ministers or Pharao's? – Al Berko Mar 7 '19 at 18:58
  • The claim about Pharaoh's. – msh210 Mar 7 '19 at 19:57

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