"There is corn in Egypt" Genesis 42:2

By Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris, December 22, 2011

The famine in the land had already begun when Jacob realised that there was food to be had in Egypt. And so he instructed his sons to go procure rations in order that they should not starve. But Jacob uses an uncommon word for these rations, shever. Up to now the biblical text has used other terms to describe food, but never shever.

Rashi purposefully misreads the term in his commentary, reading seiver, hope, in its place. Jacob, prophetically, saw there was hope in Egypt, not merely food, but a fulfilment of the divine plan for his progeny.

But another way, a more common way, exists to understand shever. It more normally means a fracture, breach or crash. Jacob saw that there was a fracture in Egypt, a historical breach on its way. This famine was to be the catalyst for a rupture in the fabric of Jewish history and, prophetically, Jacob could see this fissure as it began to open up with all of its attendant ramifications.

But fractures, even in time, can be healed and this week's haftarah for Shabbat Chanucah imagines just such a healing. Zechariah sees a vision of the restoration of that other great rupture in biblical history, the destruction of the Temple. And then he hears the word of the Eternal One, "Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit".

Just as the ruptures in biblical history are ordained by God, so is their healing. The rebuilding of the Temple, just like the liberation from Egypt, is not an act of human political machinations, but an act of the divine will.

Last updated: 11:38am, December 22 2011