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There were seven years of plenteous harvests in Egypt, to be followed by seven years of famine (Genesis 41). Joseph was placed in charge of storing food from the plenty for use during the famine. But the famine years were not only in Egypt: Canaan had famine also (42:5). Two years into the famine in Egypt (45:11), Jacob came down to settle there, and, as Rashi (47:13, :19) describes,

since Jacob came to Egypt, blessing came with him[1] and they started to plant and the famine was ended. Thus we learned in Tosefta of Sota.

So why was there famine in Canaan before Jacob left?


(Someone suggested to me that the famine ended in Egypt when Jacob arrived because God's purpose in bringing a famine was to orchestrate Jacob's descent to Egypt and that purpose was filled on his arrival there. But that doesn't seem correct to me, as Rashi's language seems to imply that the famine ended not because there was no use for it any longer but specifically because Jacob brought "blessing" with him; the context in the Tosefta (Sota 10:3) seems to imply this even more strongly.)


[1] My translation of "באה ברכה לרגליו" as "blessing came with him" is per Rashi to 30:30.

  • I've checked the Bartinura, Mizrachi, L'vush, Taz, Maharal, and Sifse Chachamim to 47:19, and the commentaries to the Tosefta that are printed in the standard Bavli, all to no avail. – msh210 Dec 28 '14 at 14:56
  • No sources, but perhaps there wasn't an official "famine" in Canaan while Yaakov was there -- it just wasn't enough. Egypt was probably an exporter of grain even during normal years, so if Egypt was experiencing a famine there was shortage everywhere else even if their growth was normal. The only would be to fix things was to normalize conditions in the exporting country (or have sufficient surplus in Canaan). – Nic Dec 29 '14 at 15:35
  • @Nic, I thought of that, but that's why I cited 42:5, which seems to argue against it. Thanks, though -- and if you could find someone who says so, that'd be nice. – msh210 Dec 29 '14 at 15:41
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    have heard from Rabbi Nissan Kaplan that when a tzadik gives a blessing to someone, the beracha is far more powerful when the tzadik has hakaras hatov (gratitude). – ray Jan 12 '15 at 21:35
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    I am not understanding your question. The famine was in Canaan in order to cause Yaakov to go to Egypt. Had there not been a famine in Cannan Yaakov would not had sent his sons to Egypt for food. – Gershon Gold Jan 13 '15 at 2:14
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The seffer Chasdei David is a pirush on Tosefta. Here http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=19306&st=&pgnum=311 he explains first of all that the impact a tzadik has is to both alleviate problems and bring blessing. He goes on to explain and bring proofs to this. Towards the end of the piece he addresses the fact that even though there was no hunger in the Canaan in the days of Avraham, there was a hunger when he died which was in turn alleviated in the merit of Yitzchok. The reason he says that the hunger came back for that short time was to ensure that the loss of Avraham was felt. He says this is the same reason why the well was lost after Miriam's death and the cloud of glory after Aharon's, only to come back in the merit of Moshe. Unfortunately he doesn't address your question, but it seems to reason that it is not enough for the blessing of the tzadik to be a reality, it must also be recognizable that the blessing is in the merit of the tzadik. I would say then that had there been a hunger in the entire Levant and Egypt, but not in Canaan, people may have been bewildered at the wonders of the land and think it enchanted, but none would have pointed to Yaakov as the bringer of good tidings. Therefore, no blessing was given in his honor. However, when he arrived in Egypt the end of the hunger would be instantly recognizable as done in his honor. This then was worth the special blessing in his honor, for his honor.

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Three suggestions (none are perfect, or well sourced):

  1. Really, Jacob's merits should have prevented the famine, but God "overrode" the normal course of merit-working in order to make sure that Jacob and his family would descend to Egypt. (This is similar to the suggestion that you've heard, but I believe that saying it this way solves the issue of reading Rashi and the Tosefta, because the default is for the tzaddik to stop the famine)

  2. Merit isn't automatic, and is perhaps related to Jacob's spiritual state, which was much higher after being reunited with Joseph. Even though Rashi writes (45:27) that Jacob's divine spirit returned earlier, perhaps this was only on a basic level of 'divine spirit', but became much greater when he was actually in the same country as Joseph and became even happier. (This is admittedly hard to read into the sources though)

  3. While this may sound strange, it's possible that only the "coming" of a tzaddik brings blessing, and not his merely being there. This could be because the blessing is related to the actual influence that a tzaddik has upon the people of the land, which is much greater when he comes to a new place and his presence is thus felt and recognized more strongly (it's announced, or a change is noticed, etc.).

    Another explanation for this phenomenon might be that God wants to make the tzaddik's influence recognizable. If a famine is prevented from occurring due to his merits, nobody would necessarily know why the famine affected the nearby country and not theirs, and they might not even be aware that they were in any danger at all. However, if a famine begins, and stops at the arrival of a tzaddik, it's clear to everyone what caused the famine to stop. Thanks to this answer, I can say that this position is supported by a statement of the Chasdei David.

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Rashi on Bereshis 47:10 writes that Yaakov blessed Pharoh that the nile should rise to his feet. Perhaps this is what ended the famine, and only on Egypt.

  • Maybe, but Rashi 47:19 ("מכיון שבא יעקב למצרים באה ברכה לרגליו") really does make it seem (to me) like it was automatic rather than a result of his blessing. – msh210 Jan 12 '15 at 22:13
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In the Tosefta there is an indication that Yosef as well as the brothers were also sources of blessing (or at least inhibiting true 'exile' from occuring). Perhaps it was not just Yaakov but his reuniting with Yosef in Egypt that allowed for the confluence of blessing to override the decree of famine.

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    Source for first sentence? – mevaqesh Aug 17 '17 at 19:21

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