This week we start the first sedra from the book of Shemos, which starts with what appears to be a small recap on the names of the children of Yaakov who came down to Egypt originally. The mefarshim ask on the purpose of this seemingly redundant passage, as surely we were told who settled in the land at the end of the book of Bereishis? Furthermore we know that the Torah doesn’t use a single extra letter without meaning to it, let alone a whole chunk of text, so what is the reason that the Torah needs to state the names of the brothers this additional time? Answers Rashi that since the brothers were being mentioned here for the last time before their generation expired they were counted by Hashem out of love. He goes on to explain that beloved things are counted over and over again as an action of affection, for example a child with his toys or to give a more shallow representation, a person with his money. Ramban and indeed the Baal HaTurim

seem to indicate a different reason for this repetition, seeing it as simply a connection between the two books of Bereishis and Shemos, with the names being mentioned in Bereishis introducing the exile and this one simply picking up the thread of the narrative and continuing it. Sforno brings down that there is a slight difference here compared to the listing of names in the book of Bereishis, he explains how over there, all the names of the Yaakov’s grandchildren are also listed, whereas in our passage here, the Torah only appears to list the names of the sons. The reason he gives for this is that in the context of resisting the corruption of Egypt and their crude ways, Yaakov's sons were equal to the task, his grandchildren, however, were not so successful at being able to maintain such a high level and were therefore not noted here in this additional listing. Nevertheless we see from the Torah that the merit of these grandchildren was great enough to prevent the onset of the enslavement, for it was only when this generation died that we are told that “a new king rose over Egypt, who did not know of Yoseph” [1:8]. Commentators have also noted on this point that there were three levels of Jewish greatness, the patriarchs, the twelve brothers and the seventy who came down to Egypt (these grandchildren we are referring to etc.)… once all were dead, the spiritual fall and the descent into slavery accelerated.

Immediately following this possuk in which the Torah mentions the passing away of this 'protected' generation, the Torah states that “The Children of Israel were fruitful, teemed, increased and became strong – very, very much so, and the land became filled with them” [1:7]. According to a basic reading of the Torah it is quite apparent that this is where the problems began to start with the Egyptians turning their outlook towards one of anti-semitism. With this drop in spirituality between generations, Midrashim describe how the Jewish nation began to rapidly assimilate into Egyptian society and they go on to expound on how they no longer wanted to be confined in Goshen, and instead filled the land, mingling with the Egyptians and attending their theatres and circuses. Rav Brevda in fact highlights a correlation between these events described in the Midrashim whereby the Jewish Nation assimilate and went down in spirituality, with the accelerated rise in Egyptian policy against them. The more the nation therefore connected with Egypt, the more we seemed to be enslaved by them. What this pattern seems to clearly insinuate, however is that if the Nation had stayed in Goshen and maintained their Yidishkite then the cruel policies which followed would not have been instituted against them. Instead the Jewish nation fell greatly and Sforno describes in his preface to Shemos how it was this behaviour, where they even stooped as low as committing idolatry, combined with the fact that they had become fruitful, strong and generally successful within Egyptian society (as the Torah describes in the quoted possuk above), that the hatred against them was bred in which the Egyptians became all too happy to go along with Pharaoh's harsh decrees. There is an important lesson to be learnt here with the Torah pointing out what history has supported, as the all too familiar pattern of anti-Semitism; first the Jews were welcomed into the land due to the numerous benefits they brought, then they became comfortable and began to assimilate towards the ways of the host nation, then the process of hatred and fall out fed off of this success with jealousy or general fear that they would become too strong, and what followed this 'disgust' and has always followed such stages throughout history was persecution. In Germany, the Jews there were said to be the more German than the Germans, and the Meshach Chochmah famously wrote that, “they substituted Jerusalem for Berlin”, but look where all the assimilation led us, to hatred and eventually horrific persecution on a mass scale. Egypt was therefore the original model for such behaviour but to outline how grave a problem we face today with the assimilation of our Jewish brethren we only need to look at the fact that, as pointed out by the Baal HaTurim, the assimilated Jews of Egypt were at least particular on distinguishing themselves in four ways. It is taught that; they didn't name any of their children with non-Jewish names, they did not switch to the language of their host country, instead speaking only in Lashon Hakodesh, they did not dress according to Egyptian styles, and they maintained levels of kindness towards each other and would not betray a fellow-Jew or Egyptian. There are other sources which also suggest that they did not inter-marry either. We therefore see that as low as the generation in Egypt had slipped, they were in fact less assimilated than the Jews of today's generation with majority of Jews worldwide in our times, indistinguishable from their fellow countrymen. We must therefore learn not to make the same mistakes as our ancestors did in Egypt and indeed throughout history. By assimilating into the societies around them we see that they dampened the natural spirituality we can muster as Jews and inevitably brought on the anti-Semitism that always follows such a course of action. The simple solution here is what we should have learnt and still need to learn and that is for us to stay Jewish!

The Torah informs us that “a new king rose over Egypt, who did not know of Yoseph” [1:8]. On this possuk, Rashi highlights a classical dispute from the gemara between Rav and Shmuel over the interpretation of this information. One view seems to clearly indicate that he was literally a new king whilst the other opinion claims that although it was the same Pharaoh, he had new decrees and was therefore acting as if he was a ‘new king’ compared to the times of Yoseph. We therefore see that ‘not knowing Yoseph’ can either mean that he literally never met him or that he had conveniently forgotten his bond with the Jewish leader depending on which opinion is considered. Another ingenious perceptive interpretation of the words in this possuk is brought down by Rabbi Kaplan who states that the words should be read as; “who did not know – the history of – Yoseph”. Through this alternative reading we see that the new Pharaoh was unaware of the fact that the more affliction Yoseph endured, the more successful he became. So too by the Jewish nation who he was now ruling over; the more Pharaoh would afflict them, the more they would increase and become successful which is spelled out with the Torah stating that, “as much as they would afflict it, so it would increase and so it would spread out” [1:12]. The mefarshim teach that the sole purpose of the labour was to inflict suffering on the Jewish people with the hope that the backbreaking labour and inevitable breakdown of marriages due to this, would curtail this high birth rate. The Torah highlights the rational for these plans with Pharaoh stating his fear that Bnai Yisrael would “become numerous... and may join our enemies and wage war against us...” [1:10]. We therefore see that G-d actually thwarted the Egyptian's plan and instead of being successful with their goals of decreasing the size of the nation they found that the more they tormented the Jews the more the population grew. Ramban in fact brings down a proof for this in the census we see at the beginning of the book of Devarim in which it shows that the tribe of Levi were much fewer in number than the other tribes. The reason he gives for this is because they were not enslaved in Egypt and were instead the priests who were able to maintain their service, exempt of the labour being obligated on the rest of the nation. As they were not threatened with decimation, Hashem did not need to intervene and increase their numbers as he did with the other tribes and they therefore remained small in number.

I wish you all a good Shabbos and successful week ahead,

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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