Beit Midrash

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Not Raising One’s Hand or Leg?


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Kislev 29 5780
After Paroh was overwhelmed by Yosef’s abilities, he gave Yosef sweeping powers and honors in Egypt (see Bereishit 41:41-45). One of those distinctions contains a phrase that is difficult to understand: "Without you, no one will raise their hand or their leg in all of the Land of Egypt" (ibid. 44). Not allowing people to raise their hand or their leg is not a matter that we have seen elsewhere in Tanach. Therefore, many commentators were bothered by the pasuk.

We will begin with opinions in Chazal and commentators. Unkelus translates the pasuk as "no one will be allowed to raise his hands to take a weapon or his leg to ride on a horse." This is also the explanation of Midrash Sechel Tov (Miketz 41:44) and Rashi. Thus, according to them, it precluded actions that were military in nature.

The Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson) widened the meaning of the phrase significantly. He says that in order for anyone to receive a position of power, he needed Yosef’s approval, not only if it was in the realm of military. The Rashbam cited as a precedent for support of such a meaning of lifting of the hand, the pasuk about Yeravam ben Nevat: "This is the matter that Yeravam lifted his hand against the king" (i.e., he rebelled) (Melachim I, 11:26-28). The Ibn Ezra goes in the same direction and also connects it to the leg. He says that lifting the leg refers to freedom of travel. He also raises the possibility that the phrase is metaphorical.

After asking apologies, we want to suggest a different approach. We find, in several places in Tanach, that lifting the hand can be a reference to taking an oath. Avraham said to the king of Sodom: "I am raising my hand to Hashem, the elevated G-d, possessor of heaven and land" (Bereishit 14:22). Hashem also uses that terminology about Himself: "I shall bring you to the Land about which I raised My hand to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov" (Shemot 6:8). We also find the lifting of the leg related to oaths, as Eliezer put his hand by Avram’s crotch (Bereishit 24:2), which is possible only if one lifts his leg. Yaakov did the same in administering an oath to Yosef (Bereishit 47:29). According to this, no one was allowed to take an oath, i.e., accept a serious commercial obligation, without first receiving permission from Yosef. According to all explanations, the scope of Yosef’s authority was overwhelming.

On these days of giving thanks to Hashem for his miracles, let us join our forefathers, who gave thanks for what happened "in those days at this time."
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