Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Roughly half of chapter 47 pertains to Egypt’s economic collapse, as the famine
impoverished an entire population.

“And there was no bread in the land…And Joseph gathered up all the
money that was found in the land of Egypt. And Joseph said: Give me
your cattle, and I will give you [bread] for your cattle…So Joseph bought
all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. And as for the people, he removed
them from city by city…And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt…and they
acquired possessions, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.”

Verses ploddingly detail the general and steady decline. Briefly, when the Egyptian’s grain finished, they
spent all their money buying from Pharaoh’s storehouses. Next, there was no money to purchase food.
To forestall starvation, Egyptians sold their livestock to pay for food staples. As the economy further
tanked, Joseph acceded to the people’s offer to barter food for their land, with 80% going to the
farmers, the remaining 20% levied as a government tax.

The chapter winds down and teaches us about widespread Egyptian population transfers, before
reaching its conclusion: “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt…and they acquired possessions, and were
fruitful and multiplied exceedingly.”

Abravanel poses a fundamental question: What is this Egyptian story doing in Holy Writ? It is the stuff of
history and belongs in Egyptian annals, but certainly not in the Bible.

To the contrary, Abravanel writes. There is a definite Hebrew angle and the Torah conveys four major
takeaways, giving Bible students a glimpse into divine providence, as it relates to the Jews, the Chosen

1) It says in Psalms: “Behold the eyes of God are toward them who fear Him, toward them who
wait for His mercy. To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” While
Egyptians languished, the Hebrews thrived, as per our chapter’s last verse.

2) God’s providence shone brightly on His people via Joseph, who funneled money to his family,
catering to their every need. This stands in stark contrast to Egypt, reeling from the mighty
famine. Miraculously, no one badmouthed Joseph for his overt favoritism.

3) The Jews looked on as Egyptians were forcibly moved from one place, far away to another. Few
calamities rank as humiliating as being uprooted, a fate suffered by the local population. As the
saying goes, misery loves company. Displaced Hebrews from Canaan felt a bit of comfort
knowing that they were not the only ones to be shunted from home.

4) Pharaoh taxed the Egyptians 20%, in the form of produce. Later, when the Hebrews received the
Law at Sinai, including an obligation to pay tithes to the priestly tribe and to the poor, Jews
would not complain. After all, they had seen the Egyptians pay a hefty levy to their king.

In sum, Abravanel shows that this chapter, on the surface, may seem like an Egyptian story, but for the
discerning reader, lessons of faith and divine providence abound.

Based on Abravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan