Saturday, December 22, 2012

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ: 47And said Pharaoh to Ya'acov


And said Pharaoh to Ya'acov How many are the days of your life?  ח. וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יַעֲקֹב כַּמָּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ:

What is happening in this parsuk? Yosef brings his father Ya'acov who is at this time one hundred and thirty years of age to meet Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. It is a very emotional time for both Yosef and Ya'acov. The father and son have been separated for 22 years. Ya'acov is to spend 17 years in Egypt before he is niftar. He will be in the care of his son Yosef just as Yosef was in his father Ya'acov's care for the first 17 years of his life.
The question that Pharoah asks of Ya'acov is crude and unseemly for the ruler of a country to ask in conversation with an elderly man - father of his  chief minister, second only to himself.
It indicates several things about the relationship between Yosef and the Pharaoh and how Pharaoh views those around him. We should remember the corruption of the morality of Egypt. They built great edifices to death and were obsessed with death. They had a crude understand of spirituality and life after death and indeed often when a Pharaoh died his favourite concubines, servants and wives were slaughtered and interred with him. The Pharaohs often married their sisters or half sisters, thus a lot of inbreeding and many of the Pharaohs showed physical signs of inbreeding with resulting genetic disorders. This has been studied by anthropologists.

Even then there was a grossness about Egyptian culture and despite the extravagance and sophistication, it was a crude culture and one that lacked refinement. This statement by Pharaoh to the elderly patriarch of the Hebrews is rude and stupid. It shows Pharaoh to be either completely stupid or so arrogant and wrapped up in himself as a 'God King' that he forgets or does not feel it is appropriate for him to show respect to an elderly man who is the father of his chief minister. No wonder Yosef is appropriately clever in his dealings with the Pharaoh and even when bringing his brothers before Pharaoh, he brings the five 'weaker' ones of the eleven and cautions them to say that they are shepherds so that the 'Egyptians will distance themselves from the Hebrews'.
It must have been a very stressful occupation for Yosef to be the chief minister in Egypt where court intrigues were deadly and par for course. Many among the nobles and priest hood would have been extremely jealous of Yosef and one wonders if dealing with the treachery of his brothers stood him in good stead and helped to watch his back constantly.
The question also reveals Pharaoh's lack of subtlety and sophistication in dealing with his courtiers. In other words, he was probably quite stupid and easy to read or so arrogant that he did not care to see either Yosef or his family as the equals of the Royal family in Egypt. Yosef was a very clever and aware man,  a person with great depth and understanding of people and the situations around him.

No comments: