29 March 2011
Towards the end of the book of Bereishit (Genesis) it says:
And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke unto the house of Pharaoh, saying: “If now I have found favor in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying: (Bereishit 50:4)
My father made me swear, saying: Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I have dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come back.” (Bereishit 50:5)
In other words, when Jacob died his son Joseph turned to Pharaoh’s household in order that they request permission from Pharaoh to allow him to fulfill his oath of burying his father in Hebron.
However, something is very wrong here which should be jumping out at us! Just seventeen years earlier Joseph was the number two man in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. So why on earth is he requesting permission via Pharaoh’s household and not directly from Pharaoh?
The answer is obvious. When Pharaoh needed him, in Joseph’s case during the difficult years of the famine, Pharaoh smiled at him and raised him up to be his assistant, a sort of vice-Pharaoh. However, once he fulfilled his role, he was discarded. In other words, Pharaoh used him for his own reasons.
The lesson here should be clear to us. All those Jews, whether once upon a time in Spain or Germany or today in America, that think they’re close to the president or king and even believe that they have influence with him, should keep in mind that the minute things change and they’re not needed, they will be forgotten in an instant. Thus, don’t build your future or the future of your community based upon such supposed closeness.
This idea is perhaps hinted at in the very beginning of the book of Shemot (Exodus) when it says”
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. (Shemot 1:8)
The Hebrew word used here for “know” is strangely yada but heceer would have been more suitable. Yada usually means to have an intimate knowledge of something while heceer is to know someone or something, to be familiar with him. Yada, however, can also mean knowing someone such as “Adam knew (yada) Eve”, which means he had an intimate connection with her, sort of becoming one with her. Yada is a very deep internal connection.
Thus it’s obvious that the new king (or the same king according to some commentators) knew (heceer) about or was familiar with Joseph, since he was surely famous for how he saved Egypt. But the new king didn’t have a deep connection with him (yada), he didn’t relate to him. Josephs the Jew, the Hebrew slave, was brought close to royalty when he was needed to help them. Afterwards, he and his people were tossed away.