There appear to be a few conflicting verses and commentaries on this topic.

  1. When Joseph intreprest Pharaoh's dreams he says, Genesis 41:28:

ה֣וּא הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּ֖רְתִּי אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים עֹשֶׂ֖ה הֶרְאָ֥ה אֶת־פַּרְעֹֽה׃

That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh: what God is about to do He has shown Pharaoh.

Then, Joseph explains to Pharaoh that there will be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine.

  1. When the brothers come to Egypt, Joseph says:

Genesis 45:6:

כִּי־זֶ֛ה שְׁנָתַ֥יִם הָרָעָ֖ב בְּקֶ֣רֶב הָאָ֑רֶץ וְעוֹד֙ חָמֵ֣שׁ שָׁנִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵין־חָרִ֖ישׁ וְקָצִּֽיר׃

For these two years has the famine been in the land; and there are yet five years, in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest.

What he tells his brothers concurs with how he interpreted Pharaoh's dream. 2 years have past another 5 years - a total of 7 years.

  1. But, later, we see that the Egyptians come at the 2nd year of the famine, and ask Joseph for food, Joseph says:

Genesis 47:23:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יוֹסֵף֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֵן֩ קָנִ֨יתִי אֶתְכֶ֥ם הַיּ֛וֹם וְאֶת־אַדְמַתְכֶ֖ם לְפַרְעֹ֑ה הֵֽא־לָכֶ֣ם זֶ֔רַע וּזְרַעְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

Then Joseph said unto the people: ‘Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh. Lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.

Q - If the famine was supposed to last another 5 years, what would sowing seeds accomplish?

A - Rash"i (among others) citing Tosefta Sotah* explains that when Jacob arrived, the famine stopped.

OK, that explains what happened, except for some puzzling contradictions:

  1. After Jacob dies, Joseph says, in Genesis 50:21:

וְעַתָּה֙ אַל־תִּירָ֔אוּ אָנֹכִ֛י אֲכַלְכֵּ֥ל אֶתְכֶ֖ם וְאֶֽת־טַפְּכֶ֑ם וַיְנַחֵ֣ם אוֹתָ֔ם וַיְדַבֵּ֖ר עַל־לִבָּֽם׃

Now don't fear; I will sustain you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.

Supposedly, the famine has ended long ago. Why does Joseph say "I will sustain you". If there's no famine, the family has food and doesn't have to rely on Joseph to sustain them. The family was wealthy and there was food available. Is this some implication that after Jacob died the remaining years of the famine returned?


2 Answers 2


Even though the famine ended when Yaakov gave the bracha to Par'o (Ramban) they still needed food during the growing season and they needed seeds to plant for the new season. Up until now, the famine had been so severe that they could not even manage a seed stock. Thus, had Yosef not provided another growing season worth of food, they would have starved. Had he not provided a seed stock, they would have had nothing to plant for the growing season and they could not have survived afterwards.

I recall seeing some meforshim also point out that after Yaakov died, the famine resumed and the remaining five years of the famine were completed. I do not recall where I saw this mentioned. Other meforshim speak of the bracha being brought by Yaakov to end the famine early as I explain below.

Rav Hirsch points out in Va'ychi 50:21

This is not to be taken as meaning that Yosef took his brothers' chief worry to be about the possibility of their material support being withdrawn or reduced. such a supposition is already refuted by וינחם אותם וידבר על לבם What this verse means is rather: "Once again have no fear that our father's death will make the slightest difference in my feelings towards you. The proof will be in your hands every day that I am and will remain exactly the same as before".

Update I should also point out that a dream interpretation is not a fixed prediction. It is usually what will happen if circumstances do not change. For example, a prediction of doom could be canceled if people do teshuvah. Here, the famine was interrupted because Yaakov Avinu brought a bracha to Egypt. Often, the dream is sent so that the dreamer can change the situation in order to fix a problem. The difficulty with this is that the attempt to change matters could cause the dream to come true.

  • Perhaps Joseph having everyone in Egypt to be circumcised lessened the decree of the dream as well..."When the famine in Egypt became severe, the Egyptians went to Joseph, crying, “Give us bread.” “Woe to me that I must feed the uncircumcised,” he exclaimed. “Go and circumcise yourselves,” he said to them." (Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)
    – code613
    Dec 17, 2015 at 3:11
  • @code613 Can you provide a link to this Midrash? I'd like to ask a follow-up.
    – DanF
    Dec 17, 2015 at 15:50
  • You might also add that a bad ne'vua can sometimes be overturned unlike a good one. So the forecast for 7 good years could not be changed (without showing Joseph as a false prophet) but the 7 bad years could end early if there was a change in the Egyptian people. Perhaps Pharaoh's generous attitude towards Joseph's family even though they were shepherds helped bring about the change?
    – CashCow
    Dec 21, 2015 at 13:04
  • @CashCow Agreed. However, this is a dream sent to Par'o rather than a nevua like the one sent to Yonah about Ninvei. Dec 21, 2015 at 15:27

The famine was not limited to Egypt. Other lands had to come and buy food from Egypt. Although the famine eased up in Egypt in Yaakov's merit, there's no reason to think it stopped all around.

In fact, Egypt is inherently different in that it doesn't depend on rain. Yaakov just blessed Pharaoh that the Nile should overflow. But nothing changed all around.

Yosef told his brothers to bring Yaakov to Egypt because the famine will last another five years. This was referring to Kenaan.

Although we might understand why the famine paused, Pharaoh and certainly the Egyptian common folk would think he was wrong.

  • 1
    While your thinking is logical, see if you can provide some source to support your 1st paragarpah. Re the last paragraph, I believe that Ramba"n on the 2nd or 3rd verse that I cited discusses this question about whether there was a concern about the Egyptians accusing Joseph of a false interpretation. Thus, the explanation that the famine returned, could be, partially, to prevent these people from doing exactly that!
    – DanF
    Dec 21, 2015 at 15:53

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