This week we begin Sefer Shemot, the Sefer of Geulah – the Book of Redemption. Interestingly, although we are entering this book of redemption, the Parsha starts off with recounting the story of how Am Yisrael went into exile.
וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ:
These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt, each man and his household came
After Yosef and his brother’s deaths, a new, prosperous generation of Bnei Yisrael emerged. They became a large nation, populating the land of Egypt. Likewise, we are told that a new king of Egypt also appeared. The Torah tells us very little about this new Pharaoh, to be more precise, the Torah only tells us one single fact about this new Egyptian king.
וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף:
A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Joseph
As we are introduced to this new king, who becomes responsible for imposing several hundred years of slavery and abuse over our people, the Torah only tells this one small detail about him: That he didn’t know Yosef.
What didn’t Pharaoh know?
Is it that he didn’t know about Yosef’s holiness?
Is it that he never met Yosef?
What is the Torah trying to tell us about Yosef? And furthermore, why is the Torah teaching us this as soon as it begins to recount the story of Redemption?
To answer this question, we must return to the central theme in Yosef’s life – his dreams. Yosef’s dreams play such a significant role in his life. His dreams are the cause of his brother’s envy and hatred of him. His dreams result in him being sold into slavery. Ultimately, his dreams raise him up from the depths of the Egyptian prison, to the most powerful position as viceroy of Egypt. Throughout Yosef’s life, he is connected to his dreams, in his pitfalls and triumphs, he is both figuratively and literally the quintessential ‘dreamer’. This precious quality of being connected to dreams, was passed on to the new generation of Egyptian born Jews.
And then, along comes a new Egyptian ruler אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף , who did not know Yosef.
This Pharaoh could not fathom how a people who were so oppressed, so downtrodden, so easily manipulated, could still hold onto their dreams.
It was simply beyond this king to comprehend that standing in front of his eyes, were a nation who hadn’t given up, who still believed in their capacity for greatness, who still believed that redemption, that Moshiach was awaiting them.
This teaching is just as relevant in our times as it ever was. After thousands of years in exile, and us still living in a broken world, people look toward Am Yisrael with the same perspective as this new Pharaoh, and they say אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף – how can this small nation aspire for greatness? How can they still believe in redemption?
More importantly however, is for us to take a step inward, and look inside ourselves and ask ourselves the burning question that the Torah is trying to teach us:
Do we know Yosef?
Are we still connected with our dreams?
We are sons and daughters of dreamers; we are people of hope. Being connected to our dreams means never giving up, it means we are ever growing, ever changing, waiting for the great day that will reshape the world forever.
As we are learning this, Am Yisrael is once again entering a difficult period, with the State of Israel going into its third complete national lockdown. Parents will again be out of work, children will not be in school, singles will be alone in their apartments, every sector of our beautiful nation will be affected.
With every challenge there is the natural tendency for our vision to be narrowed. We can become so busy with getting through the day that it is difficult to set our sights on the big picture and realize that this is just temporary.
I want to take this Shabbos to remind myself, and everyone else, that we can and must hold on to our dreams. I want to remember that the story of redemption includes the story of pain and discomfort. We are almost there, so let’s hang on together, strengthen each other, and ride this storm out.
Let us dare to still dream.