Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mikeitz II: Intertextuality

ויפקד פקידים [וגו'] וחמש - שהממונים יגבו חומש כל התבואות לצורך המלך אשר משפטו בשאר שנים לעשר כדכת' בשמואל את שדותיכם יעשר, עתה יטול פי שנים. וכמו כן הנהיג יוסף לבסוף על אדמת מצרים לפרעה לחומש:

Sometimes Rashbam’s deep desire to have the Torah read as a linear book helps reveal the basis behind ancient exegentical disputes. Bereishit 41:34 features Yosef counseling Par’oh regarding the seven years of plenty. He tells him: וחמש את ארץ מצרים. What does the word וחמש mean here? Targum Onkelos renders this word as ויזרזון, indicating a suggestion to prepare, or arm Egypt for the tough times ahead. This approach makes perfect sense in context and matches the use of the word וחמשים in Shemot 13:18, which describes the Israelites as armed when leaving Egypt. But Targum Yonatan on this verse renders וחמש as ויפקון חד מן חמשא (and the Septuagint renders similarly) meaning that Par’oh should separate out a fifth of the produce during the years of plenty as reserves for the years of famine. This interpretation is not suggested at all by local context, and the figure of 20% might even seem somewhat conservative in light of the disastrous famine that is to follow. So why read this way? Rashbam helps us here: The larger context of Tanakh suggests that a normal tax for the king was 10 percent (note the parallel of tithing for God’s servants in the Temple), and 20 percent represents a doubling in the face of national crisis. But more important, Yosef’s association with fifths returns later in the narrative when he strikes a deal with the Egyptian population that they will sell their land to the crown in exchange for the right to be sharecroppers on those lands and retain one fifth of the annual produce. Though that fifth has little to do with the narrative here, the association of Yosef with fives is unavoidable. [See also Bereishit 43:34, 45:6, 45:11, 45:22 and 47:2 for other examples.] Rashbam helps us understand the associative and intertextual mindset that can affect interpretation.

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