J.J Gross

The mystery of the fruits and nuts that Yaakov sent to Yosef in Egypt (Miketz)


יא  וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיהֶם, אִם-כֵּן אֵפוֹא זֹאת עֲשׂוּ–קְחוּ מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ בִּכְלֵיכֶם, וְהוֹרִידוּ לָאִישׁ מִנְחָה:  מְעַט צֳרִי, וּמְעַט דְּבַשׁ, נְכֹאת וָלֹט, בָּטְנִים וּשְׁקֵדִים.

11 And their father Israel said unto them: If so, then do this: take of the choice fruits of the land in your vessels, and carry down the man a present, a little balm, and a little honey, spicery and ladanum, nuts, and almonds; (Bereishit 43:11)

There are a hundred mysteries in Parshat Miketz. Indeed, a thick volume could be devoted to these questions. For example, why was Yosef able to recognize his brothers, but they – not one of them, and there were 10 – were unable to recognize him, a fellow Ivry? Why, in all his years as the second in command of all Egypt did Yosef make no attempt to send his father a message, if only to let him know that his favorite son was alive and well? And why did Yosef demand the bringing of Binyamin rather than asking that Yaakov come down to Egypt? The list could go on and on, each a topic worthy of its own fascinating dissertation.

Instead let us focus on the least obvious of these puzzles, namely Yisrael’s sending a gift of fruits, sweets, nuts and almonds to “the man” in Egypt.

For starters, if there was such a raging famine in Canaan, how did Yisrael manage to have fresh fruit, honey, spices, nuts and almonds to send as a gift? And why would “the man” be receptive to such an offering, and agree to provide food to a group of Israelites who clearly had food of their own to spare? And, of course, wouldn’t a gift of food be offensive to a viceroy who clearly suffered no shortage of comestibles?

Up to this point, Yaakov had long since ceased to be Yisrael. No longer was he the patriarch who wrestled with the angel. He had reverted to being the “איש תם יושב אהלים” even if no longer a naif, then certainly a broken spirt, an introverted dweller of tents.

After all, Yisrael had lost his beloved Rachel. He was stuck with the detested Leah. His own sons, Shimon and Levi, had nearly destroyed his reputation through their barbarous mass murder to avenge their sister’s questionable honor. His first-born Reuven had sex with one of his, Yaakov’s, wives. His favorite child, Yosef had, to the best of his knowledge, been murdered.

What is left is the shell of a man, hardly one to be called Yisrael – the erstwhile champion in a match against God Himself.

And yet, for the first time in decades, Yaakov seems to revert to Yisrael. At first it is at the prodding of Yehudah  (Bereishit 43:5-6)

  וְאִם-אֵינְךָ מְשַׁלֵּחַ, לֹא נֵרֵד:  כִּי-הָאִישׁ אָמַר אֵלֵינוּ, לֹא-תִרְאוּ פָנַי, בִּלְתִּי, אֲחִיכֶם אִתְּכֶם
but if thou wilt not send him (Binyamin), we will not go down, for the man said unto us: You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’

  וַיֹּאמֶר, יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתֶם, לִי–לְהַגִּיד לָאִישׁ, הַעוֹד לָכֶם אָח
And Yisrael said: Why do you hurt me by telling the Man
that you have another brother?

Indeed, one of the mysteries of this Parsha is that Yosef is never referred to by his name – צפנת פענח Zaphenat Pa’aneah. Yaakov’s sons refer to him merely as האיש. The man.

Yet, far from being a diminishment into anonymity, the title of  איש ISH in the Torah connotes mightiness. It is not merely a synonym for male. Quite the opposite. We know, for example that Torah uses this title only for those Israelite men who are over 20 years of age and have served in the military. And it is ONLY they who are counted in the census (i.e. the 600,000 who emerged from Egypt, and who would be entitled to land in Eretz Yisrael.)

And it was an ISH who Yaakov wrestled with before he could earn the name Yisrael.

וַיִּוָּתֵ֥ר יַעֲקֹ֖ב לְבַדּ֑וֹ וַיֵּאָבֵ֥ק אִישׁ֙ עִמּ֔וֹ עַ֖ד עֲל֥וֹת הַשָּֽׁחַר
And Yaakov remained alone, and an ISH wrestled with him until dawn.(Bereishit 32:25)

Hence, when Yehudah refers to Yosef as  האיש Ha-ISH, this triggers Yaakov’s memory, and alerts him to the fact that clearly this Egyptian viceroy is not just another name. That this ISH is a force to be reckoned with; one that compels him to rise to the occasion and dress himself  in his Yisrael suit.

Having once again become Yisrael, the cataracts shed and his vision begins to be restored. He comprehends that the constant reference to Yosef as being איננו gone, rather than מת dead, could mean that Yosef might indeed be alive in Egypt. He recalls Yosef’s dreams, and can now understand that perhaps this ISH in Egypt could be none other than Yosef.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיהֶם, אִם-כֵּן אֵפוֹא זֹאת עֲשׂוּ–קְחוּ מִזִּמְרַת הָאָרֶץ…
And their father Israel said unto them: If so, then do this;
take of the choice fruits of The Land … (43:11)        

And so he, once again as Yisrael, sends the ISH a gift – a gift of the treats a loving father gives to his young son – fresh fruits, perfumed spices, nuts and almonds. The very nature of this gift is a message to the ISH: “I know you are my son, and these treats should remind you of when you were at home as my favorite child.” And of no lesser importance, that “these fruits are from “The Land”, Eretz Yisrael, lest you forget who you are and where your destiny lies.”

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.