Jake Fradkin

A New Pharaoh Arose in Egypt: The Jewish experience in Galut

Victorian engraving of “The captive Jews in the Circus at Alexandria” by Gustav Doré. From “The Cottager and Artisan” for 1885. Published by The Religious Tract Society, London, 1884-85.
Victorian engraving of 'The captive Jews in the Circus at Alexandria,' by Gustav Doré. From “The Cottager and Artisan” for 1885. Published by The Religious Tract Society, London, 1884-85.

“And a new pharaoh arose in Egypt, who did not know Yosef.”

״ויקם מלך חדש על מצרים אשר לא ידע את יוסף״ (שמות א:ח)

We read these words in last week’s parsha, Shemot.  What is astonishing about this pasuk, and the ensuing cruelty of Pharaoh and the Egyptians against Israel in the first few parshiyot in Sefer Shemot, is what comes before it.  In the end of Sefer Bereshit, Yosef was taken against his will to Egypt, only to use his economic prowess to accumulate immense power.  Yosef, who told Pharaoh to save crops during the seven years of plenty so that Egypt would not starve in the ensuing seven years of famine, saved the people of Egypt from famine and brought immense wealth to their nation. Yet, he and his family, the children of Israel, were repaid with slavery and oppression. 

Thus so has Jewish history repeated itself throughout the ages. In every land of our dispersion, we contributed fully to our respective countries, in culture, religion, finance, medicine, science, and politics.  We obeyed the law and found favor with the ruling authorities. But, even in the best of lands, that favor one day ran out, and the cycle of dispossession, murder, and expulsion that characterizes the Jewish experience in exile continued. 

This should come as no surprise. We, the Jewish people, fooled Esav, symbolic of Rome, Christians, and gentiles at large, and stole the birthright and blessing from him. We, the Jewish people, became G-d’s chosen only through trickery and deceit.  And we expect to be loved and accepted? The phrase “עשו שונא ליעקב״” appears in midrash, and suggests that Esav and his descendents exhibit an eternal hatred towards the Jewish people. 

If we are to learn anything from our history, it is not a question of if.  A new pharaoh will arise once more.  The constant political quarreling over whether antisemitism in America and elsewhere is “right wing” or “left wing” is tiring and futile.  Antisemitism is not about left versus right. It is about Jews versus gentiles, or at least those that hate us. While there are for sure many non-Jews who bear no hatred at all towards the Jewish people, antisemitism is not confined to any particular country or religion or race.  And, as soon as liberal and assimilated American Jews understand that, they will recognize that their future in America is bleak.  History has not turned a new corner.  America is not different.  It takes an incredible amount of arrogance and historical ignorance to believe that.  

The world will always find a way to hate us.  Often it may appear justified, but that does not matter.  Esav hates Yaakov because he stole the bracha and birthright, yet he is still wrong, because G-d chose Yaakov and his children as His people. So too G-d has given us the land of Israel and has expelled other nations from the land. The Arabs hate us for reclaiming the land of Israel, which they colonized long ago, yet we are still justified. We are justified morally, legally, and politically, of course, but most importantly we are justified because G-d, the source of all morality, gave us this land. 

It is not logical that Hashem did not allow Yitzchak to give Yaakov the bracha and birthright without trickery and deceit. Nor is it logical that He allowed other nations, in antiquity and in modern times, to take root in our land, knowing as He must that it would lead to hatred against us. The Torah is very clear, however, that antisemitism serves a critical purpose in Jewish history.  We will sin and be exiled from our land.  We will be wanderers in foreign lands, hated by all the other nations, mocked and oppressed, and through that we will be redeemed and return home to Eretz Yisrael. 

In the tochechah, rebuke, in Seder Devarim, Moshe warns: 

״ונסחתם מעל האדמה אשר אתה בא שמה לרשתה. והפיצך ה׳ בכל העצים מקצה הארץ ועד קצה הארץ״ (דברים כח:סג-סד)

“And you will be uprooted from the land which you will enter and inherit. And G-d will scatter you among all the nations, from one end of the earth to the other.” (Devarim 28:63-64)

״ובגוים ההם לא תרגיע ולא יהיה מנוח לכף רגלך… והיו חייך תלאים לך מנגד ופחדת לילה ויומם ולא תאמין בחייך.״ (דברים כח:סה-סו)

“And among the gentiles you will not be calm nor will your foot find rest… and your life will hang in suspense before you. You will be in fear night and day, and you will not believe in your life” (28:65-66) 

Antisemitism serves as a reminder and a wake up call.  It is not a reminder to push for universal human values or international conventions to fight bigotry, for we know we will always be on the losing end of such endeavors.  Nor is it a wake up call to defend ourselves in the diaspora, or to vote for a different political party.  While these things may help, and certainly have their own merits, they miss the bigger picture.  It is a wake up call, calling us to return home, home to Hashem and Torah, and, most critically, home to the land of Israel.  We will never find refuge amongst the other nations.  Our efforts will always be used against us.  History does not change.  In the words of the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, on the eve of the Second World War: “exterminate the Diaspora before it exterminates you.”

At this far too precedented moment in the annals of Jewish history, Jabotinsky’s words are as true as ever.  As I write, judges sit in The Hague to baselessly charge the Jewish people, survivors of genocide and persecution past and present, with genocide ourselves, in an act of perverse historical revisionism.  All the while the international community has yet to use the same language to condemn Hamas’s actual acts of genocide on the seventh of October, as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad, terrorists sworn to the annihilation of the Jewish people, continue to attack Israeli civilians.  The Genocide Convention was established, with the support of Israel and the Jewish people, in the wake of the murder of six million Jews in Europe, an act that has largely gone unpunished, for it was not just the Nazi commanders or prison guards or crematoria operators who murdered us.  It was the rank and file soldiers who invaded Poland, the school children who taunted the Jewish children being taken to their deaths, the civilians who sat and did nothing, and the entire world which did not lift a finger to save us.  Just as guilt now falls on all those in Gaza who seek to destroy us, who pray for our annihilation, so too does guilt for the Shoah fall on the shoulders of much of the world.  This absurd trial is not about the Holocaust, nor about genocide. In many ways it resembles the Dreyfus trial, and the Jewish people are once again held guilty even when proven innocent.  Or, perhaps, a more apt comparison is the historical Christian charge of deicide against the Jewish people, which was used to justify the exile, persecution, and murder of Jews for nearly two millennia.  More than that, it is a sinister attempt to rewrite history and turn the oppressed into the oppressor, and to steal our history and exploit our historical suffering. Christianity and Islam are both rooted in this premise, as is anti-Zionism. 

In our Torah, however, we can find words of consolation and hope.  A new pharaoh arose in Egypt, and we were beaten under the yoke of slavery and oppression. Yet, amidst this suffering, at the start of this week’s parsha, Va’eira, Hashem reaffirms His covenant with Bnei Yisrael. 

וגם הקמתי את בריתי אתם לתת להם את ארץ כנען.. וגם אני שמעתי את נאקת בני ישראל אשר מצרים מעבדים אתם ואזכר את בריתי (שמות ו:ד-ה)

“And I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan… and I also hear the moaning of Bnei Yisrael because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I remember My covenant.” (Shemot 6:4-5) 

So too is this promise reaffirmed after Moshe’s rebuke in Devarim: 

״ושבת עד ה׳ אלוקיך…ושב ה׳ אלוקיך את שבותך ורחמך״ 

(דברים ל:ב-ג)

“And you will return to Hashem your G-d…then Hashem your G-d will bring back your exiles and He will have mercy on you.” (Devarim 30:2-3)

May we all merit to see the complete fulfillment of these pasukim speedily and in our days. 

About the Author
Jake Fradkin is an oleh chadash and soon to be chayal boded. He previously learned at both Yeshivat Orayta and Yeshivat Torah V'Avodah in Yerushalayim. Having grown up in a secular Jewish home in New Jersey, Jake developed a passion for Judaism, Torah, and Zionism.
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