The Torah portion of the week, has some verses I’m sure that will be the timely topic of many a d’var torah:
A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph(Exodus 1:8)
I want to look at that line, because there’s an ambiguity, one not lost on commentators. How could anyone not know that Joseph saved everyone from famine?. The answer to that question is interesting. The Rabbinic commentators summarized by the medieval French commentator Rashi concentrate on Pharaoh. There is a debate between Rav and Schmuel whether it was a new Pharaoh or the same pharaoh with different policies.
Let’s remember something here that became clear towards the end of Genesis. Joseph consolidated power around him, gave the choicest of pharaoh’s lands and jobs to those close or loyal to him. Many of course were immigrants, his own family. Once Joseph was gone, Pharaoh set about purging the immigrants from power.
I believe that could be the case, but I’m also not sure if that is the only interpretation. I think the phrase Who did not know Joseph has more packed into it. Does it modify Pharaoh or does it modify Egypt? If Egypt, then it could mean the people of egypt. This would be more clear if it said the people of egypt instead of egypt. If that was the case, Pharaoh knew, but the people did not. A people who forgot their own history is easy to manipulate, to tell a story that makes them act in certain ways.
The text continues:
9 And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us;
10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us.
The saviors of Egypt changed from heroes to traitors with a story.The text says did not know Joseph and not did not remember Joseph. The verb root Yud-Dalet-Ayin to know is used in many senses, but one of close knowing, of intimate knowing. IT is one of many words that is used for sex, but only of an intimate relationship between a husband and a wife. I’m not implying sex here, as much as a close knowing. It’s the difference between knowing a minority exists and living with them and their culture. To not know is to not have enough knowledge for compassion.
Where we stand today in this world is sadly a reflection of this same story. While I have a very liberal bent, this is true of way too many people, bot liberal and conservative politically. Not knowing our neighbor may not be a sin, but it can lead to sin and suffering, like it did back then.
The best way to stop that not knowing is to communicate fully, truthfully, to make bonds that bring understanding between people. I’ve decided to dust off my commentary skills once again, hopefully to bring understanding between people.