כ״ד במרחשון ה׳תשע״ט (November 2, 2018)

Menahot 85a-b: Carrying Coals to Newcastle

As we have learned, the Mishna at the beginning of this perek (see daf 83) teaches that only the choicest produce was to be used for Temple offerings. One source of good quality produce mentioned in the Mishna was Aforayim. The Gemara on today’s daf attempts to show how common good grain was in this city from the following midrashic story.

When Moshe approached the Egyptian Pharaoh armed with the magical feats that had been prepared for him by God (see, Chapter 7), the response was that such magical feats were unimpressive in Egypt, given how ubiquitous such sorcery was in that country. In fact, the Pharaoh’s sorcerers responded in kind. According to the midrash, Yohana and Mamre – the Pharaoh’s chief sorcerers – taunted Moshe by saying “Why are you bringing grain to Aforayim?” i.e. why bring something to a place where it is commonplace? Why bring magic to Egypt, which is overflowing with such sorcery? In response Moshe said to them that it is a common expression that one should take his herbs to the place of herbs. That is to say, if someone wants to sell herbs, the best place to do that is the place where herbs are found, since that is where the buyers will come. Similarly, the place where the awesomeness of the Israelite God will be appreciated through magic, is specifically in Egypt where sorcery is commonplace.

In Midrash Rabbah (Bereishit Rabbah 76:5) relate a similar story regarding Yosef, who was seen performing miracles in the house of his Egyptian master, Potiphar. From the text in Bereishit Rabbah it appears that this expression is one of a list of examples of things that are commonplace in a given locale and are, therefore, inappropriate to bring there. Aside from grain to Aforayim the list includes bringing earthenware pots to Kfar Ḥanina (apparently there was excellent and plentiful clay there), bringing wool to Damascus (where flocks of sheep were common) and sorcery to Egypt.