After Israel’s famine became too severe for Yaakov’s fortitude, the Torah asserts that “VaYar Yaakov Ki Yesh Shever BeMitzrayim,” “Yaakov perceived that there were provisions in Egypt,” (Bereishit 42:1) and therefore instructs his sons to descend to Egypt to obtain these provisions. Why does the Torah employ the seemingly inaccurate language of “perceived,” since confirming Egypt’s alleged sustenance requires merely obtaining information and not conjecturing? Additionally, since “VaYar” is utilized only in a sense of seeing literally with one’s own eyes, its use here is flummoxing, as Yaakov obviously could not literally witness Egypt’s happenings. Ergo, Rashi substitutes “Shever” with “Sheiver,” or hope, explicating that Yaakov foresaw that hope resided in Mitzrayim via inadvertent prophecy, but that Yosef’s presence there spawned that optimism was concealed. While Peshuto Shel Mikra renders Shever as foodstuffs and the Sages homiletically translate it as hope, what is the two different interpretations’ correlation?
Yaakov comprehended Egypt’s unique holiness, since Egypt was privileged to ensure the world’s survival by meting out food to others. However, Yaakov wondered why such an immoral country deserved to save the world, an opportunity that theoretically should originate only from an exalted person. When Yaakov saw Egypt’s “Shever,” food, and that the dissolute Egyptians surprisingly allocated it to others, a flicker of “Sheiver,” hope, glowed in his mind that perhaps Yosef, his long lost son, was orchestrating this moral effort. Only Yosef, embedded with Jewish morals, could cause such an ethical and decent episode, since Yaakov knew that even when faced with adversity, Jews are an Or LaGoyim, beacons to nations, due to their entrenched morals, honesty, and decency.
Using Chazal’s play on words, Rabbi Elimelech of Gordzisk sanguinely explicated this Pasuk by changing “Yesh Sheiver BeMitzrayim,” “there is hope even in Egypt,” to “Yesh Sheiver BeMetzarim,” “there is hope even in narrow, astringent straits,” teaching that even when spiritual constriction and narrow perspectives constrain a person, he never should disregard the constant silver lining of “Sheiver,” hope. As David HaMelech said, “Ashrei SheKeil Yaakov BeEzro Sivro Al Hashem Elokav,” “Praiseworthy is one who has the aid of the God of Yaakov, whose hope is in Hashem, his God.”
The Meor Einayim alternatively suggests an additional outlook, based on the Midrash that deals with the many other, failed worlds that God destroyed before creating the perfect planet in which we presently reside. Kabbalistic literature refers to the other worlds’ annihilations as “the breakage before the Tikkun (perfection).” Yaakov’s family’s descent to Mitzrayim was the preliminary “breakage” that led to the formation of the perfect nation – the Bnei Yisrael that left Egypt and received the Torah on Har Sinai. Thus, Egypt’s only task was to prepare Bnei Yisrael for Kabbalat HaTorah on Har Sinai. Yaakov saw “Shever,” or breakage, in Egypt, but comprehended that his nation’s settlement there was a temporary sojourn and was meant to ripen them for spiritual opulence and religious sumptuousness on Har Sinai.