During the famine Yosef collected all the money in both Egypt and Canaan. In the following year Yosef acquired ownership of all the land in Egypt (except the priests') for Paro, but it says nothing about land beyond Egypt. If those in Canaan had already spent all their money and the famine continued for several more years, what did they do? Did they all leave (or die)? Did they find some other way to eat and, if so, what was it?

Rashi on v19 says:

and give [us] seed-: [with which] to sow the soil. Although Joseph said,“and [for] another five years there will be neither plowing nor harvest” (Gen. 45:6), as soon as Jacob came to Egypt, blessing came with his arrival, and they started to sow, and the famine ended. So we learned in the Tosefta of Sotah (10:1-3).

But that doesn't seem like it helps Canaan -- Yaakov left there, after all, so if the blessing is location-dependent things would have gotten even worse in Canaan. And even if Yaakov's arrival ended the famine everywhere, it apparently wasn't immediate because the people sold their land after his arrival -- so Canaan is presumably still affected too.

  • 1
    even before yaakov left canaan people were going down to egypt to buy food. It stands to reason they would have continued doing so until their food started growing again.
    – Menachem
    Dec 23, 2012 at 23:37
  • Right, they were buying food, but then Yosef had collected all the money in Canaan. So what did they pay with? Dec 24, 2012 at 2:35
  • See the Ramban 47:18 - hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9597&pgnum=608 , who says a couple interesting things. 1) The famine only stopped in the land of Egypt, not Canaan. If it would stop everywhere, people would doubt Yosef's interpretation of the dream. people saw that it stopped in Egypt due to Yaakov, but continued everywhere else. (It also continued in Egypt after Yaakov passed away) 2) The Rambam also explains that the money lasted 5 years, and the last two years they sold their cattle to pay for grain.
    – Menachem
    Dec 24, 2012 at 3:33

2 Answers 2


A couple of Mefarshim address this question (link here):

Radak suggests that the Kena'anim went elsewhere (and presumably paid with their belongings, as they had no money left).

Netziv suggests that there were some edible crops growing in Kena'an, and that although they were really only fit for animal consumption, they began to eat them when they had no money left.

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    Netsiv explains why Pharo didn't seem to own any land in Cnaan great answer
    – user15464
    Dec 16, 2018 at 20:44

Dr. Yitzchak Meitlis suggests an answer in his book Parashat Derachim, pp. 126-130. Here's a summary:

The Netziv's answer is difficult because the Torah literally says: "But the famine in the land was severe."

Instead he suggests that an answer may be found in the differences of climate between the two countries:

Rain comes to Canaan (what is now Israel) mostly from the Icelandic Low. The winds carry the cold air and reach this area around wintertime, which is why it rains here in the winter. Egypt, on the other hand, barely gets any rain year-round. The primary water source in Egypt, to this day, is the Nile. Egyptian farming is based on canals that are ready to lead water during the rise of water levels from the Nile to the fields. It was only when the fields were soaked in water that the Egyptians sowed their seeds.

Summer monsoon rains in Ethiopia are what cause the Nile to overflow and water the fields. The rise in water levels typically happens around fall, circa Elul-time. During Tishrei and Cheshvan the water flows to the fields and soaks them, and only then are the locals able to sow their fields.

Having explained this, we can now understand what happened during the famine:

The famine started in Canaan because rain didn't fall in the winter. Meanwhile, in Egypt there was still produce because Egyptian farming was based on rain from the previous summer. It was only when the next summer's monsoons didn't come and the Nile didn't overflow during the fall and early winter of the next year that the famine came to Egypt as well. This can be seen in the verses as well:

"And the seven years of famine set in, just as Joseph had foretold. There was famine in all lands, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread." (Beresheet 41:54)

And only after does it say:

"And when all the land of Egypt felt the hunger, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do.”" (ibid. 55)

Therefore, the famine first began in the lands around Egypt, and only a later did it arrive in Egypt as well. That means that the famine ended in the same order, too:

During the winter, rains began falling in Canaan, while in Egypt the monsoons would only come the following summer. So only a year after Canaan once again had crops could the Egyptians eat their own crops. In the time between the end of the Canaanite famine and the end of the Egyptian famine, the Egyptians were forced to sell their land.

This explanation helps in understanding the following verse:

"Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread, and we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh; provide the seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste.”" (ibid. 47:19)

What good would sowing seeds be if there was no water? Rather, we may say that at this point the Egyptians heard that the rain had returned to Canaan and they knew that in year's time they'd also get monsoon water from the Nile and wished to ready the land.

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