PHARAOH’S SUBSIDY – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon – Vayigash, Gen.47:13-20
Depression, recession, famine – all hit Egypt at once. Those seven years of plenty that Pharaoh dreamed about in fact got submerged in the following seven years of misery. For his government, unemployment was not the issue. Hunger was. Since his government consisted primarily of Joseph, that was who had to deal with the hungry people. He sold them the food he had stored away during the prosperous years. Now they ran out of money, so they gave up their cattle. When they ran out of cattle they gave up their land. So, in effect, they lost whatever liberty they had, and became servants to Pharaoh.
By modern standards, Pharaoh’s policy is familiar. Tax the public when times are good, then subsidize them when economic disaster hits. Make them dependent on the administration, and they lose their liberty. Now you’ve got them.
Joseph managed to rescue his father and family from starvation by immigrating them to Egypt, but once he and his generation were gone, the succeeding Pharaoh enslaved his descendants. And while Joseph was in power, he developed the soup-kitchen administration that resulted in the Torah’s simple statement: “The land became Pharaoh’s.” Of course life was much simpler in Joseph’s time. He didn’t have to go through intermediate stages like health-care plans and national security administrations. He just fed the starving peasants.
We can learn many other things from this week’s Torah reading – like the value of family loyalty, like bringing your loved ones to a better place, and forgiving past wrongs they might have done to you. This year perhaps Pharaoh’s subsidies are worth considering.