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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Shemot – From 7 to 70 (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on December 19, 2010

A full count of our founding ancestors numbers seven: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel. Our parshah opens with a naming and a counting. Eleven sons are named, not twelve, because Joseph is already in Egypt and our text is naming the sons who came to Egypt with Jacob. Then we are told that – in total – all the descendants of Jacob number 70. This is the news of the first five verses of the parshah.

In verse six Joseph dies, along with everyone of his generation.

In verse seven the Hebrew people observe the original commandment of the Torah – they reproduce. Fruitfully to where it seems as if they are filling the land and growing strong.

These first seven verses are a bit of a recap and a prologue, for it is in verse eight that the story of Shemot really begins.

וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ, עַל-מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף

Then arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.

This is a verse that will repeat throughout Jewish history. What does it mean to say that a new king rose over Egypt? What does it mean to say that he knew not Joseph? Could it be as simple as a new king took over who had no knowledge or memory of Joseph? Who did not know that the Hebrews living in Goshen, whom he perceived as a threat, were there at the invitation of a prevous Pharoah? Was there no institutional memory in Egypt?

It seems much more likely that the new king deliberately chose to not know Joseph – and his contributions to a prior Pharoah. What one Pharoah gives, another Pharoah takes away. Yet also, one Pharoah benefits greatly from a Jew (yes, deliberately anachronistic usage), another ends up suffering greatly.

A version of this pattern will repeat itself through Jewish history. Jews will be welcomed into a community – or a country – by a patron or a ruler, but eventually their welcome will be worn out, and they will become unwelcome. Unique to this situation until the terrible events of the twentieth century is that Pharoah does not want the Jews to leave Egypt. The wording of the verse puts the emphasis on the Jewish people getting out of Egypt, allying with an enemy is only a means to this end.

My own family experienced this pattern in Russia.  We were invited into a town outside the pale of settlement because of a shortage of roofers.  We lived there and worked, until the patron died.  Then we were told to get out of town because we were no longer needed.

If only the entire Jewish people had been kicked out of Europe before 1939!

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