One of the worst evils is to forget about the good a person has done for you when no longer needed and ignoring his or her call for help when misfortune occurs.
This week’s Torah portion is Shemot (Exodus 1:1 – 6:1), and with it, we begin our study of the Book of Exodus. The reading opens up by telling us, “And a new king arose who did not know Joseph.” [Ex. 1:8].
The commentators offer two interpretations for this phrase. One opinion is that a new king came to power, and he truly did not know Joseph. The other opinion is that it was the same king, the same Pharaoh, but he conveniently chose “not to know” Joseph. He decided to “forget” all the good that Joseph had done for him and the nation and to enslave the Jewish people.
According to the opinion that it really was a new king, it should be no big surprise that he chose to enslave the Jewish people. Anti-Semitic leaders have arisen suddenly throughout history, changing the status quo in terms of the relative peace and safety in which their Jewish citizens had lived. Harsh decrees, expulsions and holocausts have often been the norm when a new leader came to power.
However, according to the opinion that it was the same king, the level of evil it took for such a king to enslave the Jews is simply mind-boggling. Recall how Joseph had literally saved the Egyptian empire from collapse due to his ingenious and industrious approach to handling food and resources during the years of famine. Now that the famine was over and food was abundant, the Jews and their system were no longer needed! Dispensable! He could now imprison the Jews and forget the past. How evil!
Yes, people can be evil. Just look at Pharaoh, a highly educated world leader who was the beneficiary of Joseph’s lifesaving work. The lack of gratitude is sickening.
There is another example in this week’s Torah reading of a lack of gratitude.
We are told that one day Moses, who was the Prince of Egypt at that time, went out for a stroll and saw an Egyptian striking a Jew. Moses killed the Egyptian who was striking the Jew. The next day, Moses encountered a Jew beating another Jew, and he asked the bully why he was beating up a fellow Jew. The bully answered Moses by asking, “Are you going to kill me like you killed that other guy?” Moses then realized that word must have gotten out that he killed the Egyptian. He then fled to Midian for his own safety.
Who was the Egyptian that Moses had killed? We are told that the Egyptians would hire Jewish policemen to force other Jews to work. Every morning, at the crack of dawn, the Egyptian overseer would wake up the Jewish policemen so that they in turn could wake up all the Jewish slaves and get them working. One of the Egyptian overseers had his eye on the wife of one of the Jewish policemen. When the policeman left his house one morning, he climbed into the man’s bed and had relations with his wife. The policeman, however, returned home unexpectedly and saw what was taking place. The Egyptian tried to kill the husband so that word would not get out. Along came Moses….and you know the rest of the story.
Who was this Jewish policeman whom Moses had saved? He was the infamous Dathan. It was this Dathan who Moses met up with the next day, and he was beating a fellow Jew! And what happened when Moses asked him why he was doing this? He criticized him for saving his life just yesterday! Can you believe it?
Pharaoh and Dathan are only a sampling of bad-to-the-core individuals. There are plenty more, unfortunately. Our job is to learn from the evil of such people and become better people ourselves. As Pharaoh and Dathan had no sense of appreciation for what others had done for them – even the saving of their very lives – we must always be sure to show a sense of appreciation for even the small favors people do for us.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more articles by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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