Wait — Haven’t We Seen This Episode Before?

This week’s Torah portion – Shemot – has one of the great lines in the entire Hebrew Bible.  In the eighth verse of the Book of Exodus, we read:  “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”  This one verse ominously sets the stage for the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and, eventually, the defeat of Pharaoh.

All it took to transform the Israelites from a protected minority to an oppressed group of slaves was ignorance.

The new Pharaoh did not remember that Joseph had served Egypt with distinction.  The new Pharaoh did not remember that the Israelites had every reason to be grateful, loyal subjects after finding food security in Egypt.  The new king did not know.

As I look at the news today, it seems to me that so many of the leading stories are “repeats” of news stories that I have lived through.  Yet, we as a society continue to play the role of the new king – we do not remember, we do not know.

Consider these three events from recent days:

  • The Terrorist Attack in Paris. While this is the most violent attack in response to depictions of Mohammed in the press, it has only been ten years since editors of a Danish newspaper were threatened for publishing cartoons with images of Mohammed.  It was 25 years ago that a religious edict was issued demanding the execution of Salman Rushdie for his portrayal of Mohammed in his novel “The Satanic Verses.”
  • The NYPD – Mayor de Blasio Feud.  Isn’t this simply a replay of the NYPD – Mayor Dinkins Feud?
  • Newly-elected Republican Congress vs. 2nd Term President Obama. Are we not re-living the end of the Clinton administration?

I wish that the key players involved would remember our history.  Islamist terrorists don’t get to pick what is published by a free press.  They may protest.  They may publish their own points of view.  However, they don’t get to silence those with whom they disagree.  These horrific murders will not silence the press.  Instead, they will embolden the press to continue speaking out.

In New York City and Washington, DC, I wish that those who choose public service would remember that our nation is at its greatest when all parties work together.  This is especially the case when we find a way to work together with people who have different opinions and perspectives.  Neither side is right ALL the time.  Sadly, in today’s age of hyper-partisanship, our public servants – both elected and unelected – seem to have lost the ability to compromise.  Our nation is poorer for it.

In the Torah, when a new king arose who forgot his history, it led to slavery for the Israelites and, ultimately, defeat for the Egyptians.

I hope that there are enough of us who remember our history to remind our leaders before they unnecessarily repeat the mistakes of the past.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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