Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

From the literal meaning of the text in parshat Vayishlach, it is commonly understood that Yaakov believed his son Yosef was dead, devoured by a wild beast, as the brothers intended to convey when they returned with his blood-stained garment. I would like to propose that this was not the case but that Yaakov knew all along that Yosef was alive and in Egypt.

We read (Bereishit 33:19) that when Yaakov finally returned home to Shechem, he bought a plot of land from the sons of Chamor for the price of 100 kesita (a form of currency). The commentaries say that this land was intended as the eventual burial place for Yosef. Why did Yaakov purchase a burial plot only for Yosef and not for his other sons? The commentaries say it was because Yaakov saw with ruach hakodesh, divine inspiration, that eventually he would have to ask Yosef to return his body from Egypt for burial in Me’arat HaMachpela, and he feared that Yosef would bear a grudge against him for burying his mother, Rachel, on the roadside rather than returning her for burial in Me’arat HaMachpela. Yaakov would eventually explain to Yosef that he did this only because Hashem told him to, and that Kever Rachel had a specific purpose in that location – to comfort Am Yisrael when they were being exiled to Babylon.


To ensure that Yosef would carry out his father’s wishes, Yaakov organized Yosef’s burial plot well ahead of time. From this, we understand that long before the brothers sold Yosef, Yaakov knew that Yosef would eventually become a viceroy in Egypt.

In last week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, it says that Yosef was a ben zekunim to Yaakov, which Onkelos translates as “a wise son” (Bereishet 37:3). In other words, Yaakov would sit and teach Yosef everything he had learned in his 14 years in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever. Why teach only Yosef and not the other brothers? The Torah that Yaakov learned specifically in Shem and Ever’s yeshiva (as opposed to that which he learned from his father, Yitzchak) was to prepare him for his 20 years sojourning in the Diaspora with Lavan, and he wanted to share this with Yosef, who too would have to live for 22 years amongst the gentiles in Egypt.

When the brothers returned with Yosef’s blood-stained coat (Bereishit 37:35), it says that Yaakov refused to be comforted. Rashi says a person is eventually comforted for a relative who has passed away; Hashem gives us the gift that we gradually begin to forget, and this lessens the pain and allows us to continue living. Since Yaakov could not be comforted, he understood that Yosef was not dead.

From the above, it is clear that Yaakov knew that Yosef was alive and in Egypt. The only question that remains is – did he know that the brothers had sold Yosef into slavery?

We learn this from an amazing chiddush by the Kli Yakar. Before the brothers descend for the second time to Egypt with Binyamin, Yaakov instructs that they take with them a gift for Yosef from Zimrat Ha’aretz, literally “Song of the Land” – produce that Israel is naturally blessed with, that “sings” the land’s praises. What was this gift? A little tzori, fragrant sap from a tree (opinions differ as to which tree); a little honey (from dates); nechot, either some type of wax (Onkelos) or a mixture of perfumes (Rashi); lot, a perfume derived from the roots of a bush; botnim, pistachio nuts; and shkeidim, almonds.

Anyone reading this list cannot help being reminded of another verse (Bereishit 37:25) referring to three of the same ingredients. In last week’s parsha we read about the brothers selling Yosef to a caravan of Yishmaelim carrying nechot, tzori and lot, fragrant spices and perfumes. The commentaries say that normally the Yishmaelim would be transporting foul-smelling crude oil, but Hashem had mercy on Yosef and arranged it that this time they would carry perfume. The Kli Yakar says that Yaakov saw with ruach hakodesh that the brothers had sold Yosef into slavery and that he descended to Egypt accompanied by the fragrance of these perfumes. Yaakov, therefore, suggested they take these same perfumes as a gift to appease Yosef and show him that they were being punished measure for measure, midah keneged midah.

The order of the ingredients in the gift is different from what the Yishmaelim were carrying. In the gift, tzori precedes nechot and is separated by honey. Tzori is the first of the ingredients in the ketoret offering in the Mikdash, and perhaps Yaakov wanted to hint to Yosef that it was necessary for him to reconcile with his brothers so that the Mikdash would eventually be built; one of the primary purposes of the ketoret (with its eleven ingredients) is atonement for the selling of Yosef.

To end with a Chanukah connection: the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 91:11) gives a different list of ingredients in the gift, and one is egori, the finest quality olive oil. According to the commentaries, there were no olive trees in Egypt and the finest olive oil was a unique product of Eretz Yisrael. The reason Hashem blessed Israel with olives (“Eretz zeit shemen u’dvash – a land of olive oil and date honey) is that Am Yisrael is likened to an olive. Raw olives are bitter and inedible, but when you squeeze them, they give forth the purest oil. The Greeks tried to squeeze Am Yisrael by issuing harsh decrees preventing them from worshipping Hashem. It is only fitting that the symbol of our triumph over Antiochus is the miracle of the oil.


Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: How could the brothers sit and eat a meal with the viceroy of Egypt (Yosef)? Were they not worried about kashrut?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: How can the brothers calmly sit and eat bread immediately after selling their brother Yosef into slavery? The brothers believed that Yosef was “mored bemalchut,” rebelling against the king (Yehuda), by describing dreams in which they would have to bow down to him. They sat in judgment of him, like in a Beit Din, and passed sentence on him with a clear conscience. What they did not understand is that the dreams did not refer to Yosef usurping Yehuda’s monarchy but to Yosef’s eventual rise to power in Egypt.


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ( is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.