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Shabbat Parashat Miketz 5782

Parashat Hashavua: The Many Implications of Shever

Harav Yosef Carmel

This generation’s great Tanach teacher, Nechama Leibowitz, taught us to look for “leading words” in sections of the Chumash. In the middle section of Parashat Miketz, that root is “shever.” Not only is it used many times, but it is also used with different meanings. We will take a look at several of the contexts and learn more about this important and versatile root.

In Bereishit 42:1-3, we learn that Yaakov “saw shever (meaning, food) in Egypt” and then told his sons that he heard about the food. Then he uses the root shever as a verb for buying the food, specifically grain. Mashber (using the same root) also means, in both Biblical and Modern Hebrew, a crisis, which existed in regard to the famine throughout the region.

Rabbeinu Bachyei shows other examples of when shever as a verb refers to buying (see Devarim 2:6). He posits that the Torah purposely used this root, while others could have been chosen, because it is related both to grain and to buying it.

We should look also at the apparent contradiction regarding how Yaakov knew about the food resources in Egypt. First it said he saw, and then it says he heard, with the latter seemingly being the accurate, literal description. Rav Ovadia of Bartenura says that seeing here refers to hope that is brought about by the knowledge that food is available. The Chizkuni relates to the phenomenon of “seeing” something that one does not physically see in the pasuk about the giving of the Torah (Bnei Yisrael “saw the sounds” (Shemot 20:14)). While the literary phenomenon exists, it does not explain why that unusual choice of words was made in this case.

We therefore posit that Yaakov’s seeing the shever in Egypt was a matter of a prophetic revelation, which is often called mareh or chazon, which are from roots meaning seeing. Bereishit Rabba (91:6) says that from the day that Yosef was sold, Yaakov lost his full prophetic powers and retained only fuzzy glimpses. In this case, says the midrash, he saw more clearly not “shever,” but “sever,” meaning hope. The hope that he saw in Egypt, which he did not clearly identify, was that Yosef was there.

While the change between shever and sever in Mishnaic Hebrew is from the letter shin to the letter samech, in Biblical Hebrew, one needs to only use a left-hand dotted shin instead of a right-hand dotted shin. We find this in the daily recited psalm (Tehillim 146:5): “sivro al Hashem Elokav” (his hope is in Hashem, his G-d). Bereishit Rabba (91:1) again “plays with the letter” and says that shever can relate to famine (being broken by the lack of food) while sever implies plenty. It can refer to the tragedy of Yosef being sold into slavery or success with his emerging as the leader of the land. It can be the tragedy of the long period of servitude in Egypt or the emergence from there with great wealth.

The conclusion is clear: The selling of Yosef is the root of great tragedy, and its antidote is unity between the sons of Yaakov. In every tragedy is the hope for success, and those with “vision” can see that which the eye cannot. During these days of Chanuka, let us pray that we will emerge from recent hardships unified and with a hopeful outlook for quickly coming happy times.

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