The final chapter of Breishit seems to offer a gentle denouement which neatly ties up the last loose strings to end the Yosef story. But it also hides between its lines the beginnings of Jewish oppression, a kind of Shemot chapter minus-1. The “new” Pharaoh in the first verses of Shemot would not have found eager ears for his harsh decrees unless antisemitism had taken deep root amongst the people. This hatred and fear grows much like a cancer, quietly, gradually, signalings its growth along the way with small symptoms which can be easily ignored or rationalized.
The Midrash suggests that the oppression of the Jews began with Yaakov’s death. An astonishing statement in light of the description in chapter 50 of the great mourning in Egypt over Yaakov’s death, and yet recent years and days can tell us something about the possibility of societies which simultaneously love and loathe their Jews.
What is the textual grounding for this Midrash? At the end of the chapter, Yosef promises his brothers that God will remember them, and bring them to the promised land, and bids them to bring his bones with them for burial. It’s a strange statement, when you think about it. What’s keeping them from going now, at least to bury Yosef, as they did with Yaakov? Why do they need to wait for Divine intervention?
When you do the math, about 50 years have passed from Yaakov’s death. Apparently, Jewish power has changed in a half-century. The cancer has grown. Yosef is still well-respected enough to merit mummification, but he cannot ask to be brought to Israel.
Perhaps he feels such a request would be seen as an insult to the Egyptians, and that the Jewish people’s status in Egyptian society is so fragile that it could be jeopardized by such a brazen breach of protocol…
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il