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((G-d said to Moses, in Midiyan) 'Go and assemble the Israelite elders (in Egypt) and tell them that… I have surely remembered you, and what has happened to you in Egypt' (3:16).
The Hebrew for 'I have surely remembered you' is 'pakod pakadeti etchem'. Similar words were also included in the final recorded sentence of Joseph to the 'children of Israel' before he died: 'May G-d 'pakod yifkod etchem' (Gen. 50:25), which, according to the above translation, means 'may G-d remember you'. Indeed commentators understand that phrase as a password, something that was passed from Joseph though his brothers to generation after generation of elders - namely that G-d would announce His redemption of the Israelites in that 'code' - 'pakod pakadeti etchem'.
The root word 'pakad' is used in two other notable circumstances:
(a) When Sarah was miraculously to give birth at an advanced old age, G-d 'pakad' (remembered) Sarah (Gen. 21:1).
(b) When G-d instructed Moses and Aaron to find out the number of Israelites in each tribe during the Israelite wanderings in the desert, He applied the phrase from the same root: 'tifkedu otam' - you shall count them (so that their presence may be recorded and remembered - Num. 1:3).
However, the Ramban's rendering of that word gives it a deeper meaning. 'Pakad' does not merely mean to count or remember, but to show concern, to take heed of other people. In the context of the census (above), it implies that the count should be made through the half-shekel contributions, which bring atonement to their respective donors. In the context of Sarah, G-d met her deepest concerns - those of being childless.
This interpretation of word 'pakad', would indeed shed light on why Joseph used that word in the password that would indicate that redemption was close at hand. Slaves by definition are anonymous - they are not seen as individual people, but only units of production. If one dies, another will replace him. And people treated in an authoritarian, but impersonal manner lose their individuality. They simply cultivate a slave mentality and their individual personalities wither to being one of the conforming masses. They have as much individuality as a row of telephone numbers.
That is how Pharaoh viewed the Israelites - 'Come let us deal wisely (literally) with "it"' (the Israelites - 1:10). 'It' is a 'thing' - a faceless entity of a mass of humans. Pharaoh employed that phrase to bring the Israelites into a docile, easy-to-control, conforming slave mentality. By contrast, Joseph's code was designed to break the slave mentality. ''Pakod pakadeti etchem' - I have taken heed of you - in the plural - namely that before Me you are not a faceless mass, but a distinguished group of individuals, each of whom is worthy of G-d's concern according to the peculiarities of his or her needs.
To this end - it may be argued that the general American trend on focusing on the individual and his or her needs inculcates selfishness and egotism. On the other hand, the United States does have an enviable record of individual creativity, wealth creation, and innovation which is unparalleled in any society that pressurizes the individual into grinding conformity. That applies even in the Torah world. And, following the psychologist Kohler, it brings the person the highest level of personal development and spiritual satisfaction - namely that his unique combination of gifts are proactively employed to the continuing good of society…
Whilst writing this, I got a note from a wise ex-Yeshiva colleague. He wrote that his son was not learning at the Yeshiva that he and I attended years ago, but one with a very different orientation, in a different country. I was surprised, so he added that he was indeed in the right place for his individual needs…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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