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A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. He said to his people: 'Behold! The children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us…' So they appointed taskmasters over them in order to afflict them with their work… (1:8-11)
The text relates how the rapidly-grown Israelite population in Egypt was frightening the host population. On one hand, their loyalty to Pharaoh and Egypt was beginning to become suspect. On the other, they were too useful a sub-group for Pharaoh to be permitted to leave the country.
The Ohr HaChayim translates the word mi-menu 'from us'. He suggests that the words Pharaoh used to incite his population against the Israelites were: 'The children of Israel are too many and too mighty - and that came from us - the Egyptians'. In other words: 'They flourished at our expense - by taking advantage of our hospitality during and after the famine (c.f. Gen. 47:21,27). And now is the time to take back what really belongs to our own people'.
No mention of it being Joseph's wisdom that kept them alive. Had Joseph not organized the Egyptian land, finance (and effectively become the first Israelite banker), and grain reserves, they would have no longer been around. As they themselves declared generations ago: 'It is you that has kept us alive' (Gen. 47:25).
This aspect of selective memory shows how it is possible to put together a series of facts each not necessarily false, but when joined together give a picture that is an entire distortion of the truth. It is that principle which has been the basis of much anti-Semitism ever since. When they were needed, the Jews were treated well. When it was in the national interests to treat them with suspicion or dispense with them completely, the selective memory came into play.
And further light on this subtle form of anti-Semitism is shown in the story of the conflict between the shepherds of Isaac with the shepherds of Gerar (the host population) over the well that Isaac's servants had dug. (Remember that the Patriarchs had lots of sheep and cattle, with local water shortages keeping them on the move until towards the end of Jacob's life when the lack of water made them move down to Egypt.)
As the text states:
Isaac's servants dug in the valley. They found a well of fresh water. The servants of Gerar quarreled with the servants of Isaac saying: 'The water belongs to us' (Gen. 26:19-20).
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch observes that Isaac's servants supplied the initiative labor, but King Abimelech's servants - the servants of Gerar - claimed that the water was theirs. He emphasizes that 'the enterprise and the work was yours, but the products are ours' is the part of the mechanics of anti-Semitism. Even when there would have been no water at all, but for the initiative of Isaac's servants…
Similarly with Pharaoh and the Israelites - 'the initiative for saving us was theirs, but the benefits are all ours…'
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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