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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shemos 5774 "The King of Egypt"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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This editorial appeared in the Colorado Gazette Telegraph. It was written by William Atken. Mr. Atken is not a Jew, just as the Telegraph is not a Jewish journal. It was Mr. Atken's comment on the slogan which appeared during the flurry of Nazi scrawling on synagogues and other public buildings in the early 70’s. This was during the period of the oil embargo that immediately followed the Yom Kippur War. As a result of the severe oil and gas shortage there was a lot of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments that surfaced.

Delivered on June 01, 1973

by William Atken

"JEWS GO HOME" - Well, now this is nothing new. Never in the past have you ever taken this gentle suggestion to move on. But Heaven forbid, suppose just this once, you thought that expression of a few sick people actually expressed the conviction of all the people in this wonderful land of ours and all of you started to pack your bags and leave for parts unknown.

Just before you leave would you do me one favor?

Would you leave your formula for the Salk vaccine with me before you leave?

You wouldn't be so heartless as to let my children contact polio.

And would you please leave your knack for government and politics and persuasion and literature and good food, and fun and love, and all those things, and would you please leave me with the secret of your desire to succeed?

And please have pity on us, please show us the secret of how to develop such geniuses as Einstein and Steinmetz and oh, so many others who have helped us all. After all, we owe you most of the A bomb, most of our rocket research and perhaps the fact that we are alive today.

On your way out, Jews, will you do me a favor?

Will you please drop by my house and pick me up too? I'm not sure I could live too well in a land where you weren't around to give us as much as you have given us. If you ever have to leave, love goes with you, democracy goes with you, everything I and my buddies fought for in World War Two goes with you; G-d goes with you.

Just pull up in front of my house, slow down and honk because so help me, I'm going with you too.

Shemos (1:8-22):

“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Yosef. He said to his people, “Behold! The people, the Children of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we are. Come let us outsmart it lest it become numerous and it may be that if a war will occur, it too, may join our enemies, and wage war against us and go up from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters …it built storage cities for Pharaoh

“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives…When you deliver the Hebrew women…if it is a son you are to kill him…But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live. The king of Egypt summoned the midwives…’why have you…caused the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are…experts; before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth.’ Pharaoh commanded his entire people saying, ‘Every son that will be born – into the River you shall throw him! And every daughter you shall keep alive’!”

Why does the Torah repeatedly shift from referring to the Egyptian leader as “Pharaoh” to “king of Egypt”?

The following is an excerpt of one of the diabolical diatribes of Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi who was the propaganda minister in Nazi Germany. This essay, which was published and read over the radio, was dated November 16, 1941:

“The fact that the Jew still lives among us is no proof that he belongs among us, just as a flea is not a household pet simply because it lives in a house. When Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich feel pity for an old woman wearing the Jewish star, they should also remember that a distant nephew of this old woman by the name of Nathan Kaufmann sits in New York and has prepared a plan by which all Germans under the age of 60 will be sterilized. They should recall that a son of her distant uncle is a warmonger named Baruch or Morgenthau or Untermayer who stands behind Mr. Roosevelt, driving him to war, and that if they succeed, a fine but ignorant U.S. soldier may one day shoot dead the only son of Mr. Bramsig or Mrs. Knöterich. It will all be for the benefit of Jewry, to which this old woman also belongs, no matter how fragile and pitiable she may seem.

If we Germans have a fateful flaw in our national character, it is forgetfulness. This failing speaks well of our human decency and generosity, but not always for our political wisdom or intelligence. We think everyone else as is good natured as we are….That's how we Germans are. Our national virtue is our national weakness. We do not want to change all that much, and as long as our world-famed good nature does no great harm, why should we? Klopstock gave us some good advice, however: Don't be too good natured, since our enemies are not noble enough to overlook our mistakes.

If this advice applies anywhere, it apples to our relations with the Jews. Carelessness here is not only a weakness, it is disregard of duty and a crime against the security of the state. The Jews long for one thing: to reward our foolishness with bloodshed and terror. It must never come to that. One of the most effective defenses is an unforgiving, cold hardness against the destroyers of our people, against the instigators of the war, against those who would benefit if we lose, and therefore also against the victims, if we win.

Therefore, we must say again and yet again:

The Jews are our destruction….There are no distinctions between Jews. Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the German people…The Jews are to blame for each German soldier who falls in this war….If someone wears the Jewish star, he is an enemy of the people. Anyone who deals with him is the same as a Jew and must be treated accordingly…The Jews enjoy the protection of our enemies. That is all the proof we need to show how harmful they are for our people….The Jews have no right to claim equality with us. If the Jews appeal to your sentimentality, realize that they are hoping for your forgetfulness, and let them know that you see through them and hold them in contempt. A decent enemy will deserve our generosity after we have won. The Jew however is not a decent enemy, though he tries to seem so. The Jews are responsible for the war. The treatment they receive from us is hardly unjust. They have deserved it all.

It is the job of the government to deal with them. No one has the right to act on his own, but each has the duty to support the state's measures against the Jews, to defend them with others, and to avoid being misled by any Jewish tricks.

The security of the state requires that of us all.

Since time immemorial, Klal Yisroel has been challenged by heinous dictators and nefarious regimes that have sought to eradicate us, spiritually and/or physically. Our Sages relate that the nations are driven by a subconscious deeply-embedded enmity inherent in their genes, tracing back to Esau’s jealousy for Yaakov.

In order to assuage their conscience our enemies have always concocted ‘rational’ justifications for their malicious and evil intentions. It almost universally begins with the spreading of propagandized lies about the Jews, that they present a severe danger to the welfare of the country, and public security. Thus, when they carry out their vile plans of genocide, pogroms, or mass expulsion against the Jews, they justify themselves with the dictum, “If one comes to kill you, kill him first!”

The most infamous of such justifications was the publication and widespread dissemination of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols is an anti-Semitic plagiarism and literary forgery, first published in 1903 in the Russian newspaper, Znamya (the Banner). In 24 chapters, or protocols, allegedly minutes from meetings of Jewish leaders, the Protocols describes the secret plans of Jews to rule the world by manipulating the economy, controlling the media, and fostering religious conflict.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews”.

The first Anti-Semitic measure taken by the Nazi’s - a one day boycott of all Jewish businesses in April 1933 - was justified as a defense against the “Plan of Basel”, a pseudonym for “The Protocols”. It was only because the Nazis asserted that there was a “Jewish Problem” that they were able to justify their urgent need for a “Final Solution”.

In the Haggadah shel Pesach, we quote the verse, “The Egyptians did evil to us and they afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us.”[1]

Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt’l, the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva, noted that the verse literally reads, “The Egyptians made us evil.” In other words, in order to impose barbaric labor demands on the Jews, they had to vilify the nation and prove that they presented a grave danger to Egypt. The Egyptians made the Jews out to be an evil people by promulgating lies about how the Jews wanted to overrun the country and destroy the native population.

Perhaps when the Torah refers to Pharaoh as “king of Egypt” the Torah is alluding to the manner in which he presented himself, i.e. as the justice-oriented king, concerned for the welfare of his people. When the Torah refers to him as “Pharaoh” however, the Torah is referring to him for what he truly was, a tyrannical despot, who had vehement hatred and unwarranted vendettas against the innocent Jews.

The Torah relates that new decrees were passed and they were forced to build, “Storage cities for Pharaoh”. In other words, they were suffering and being tortured because of the personal hatred of the despotic Pharaoh. However, to the rest of the world it was presented as decrees of self-defense and self-preservation.

When Pharaoh spoke to the Jewish midwives he presented himself as a concerned ruler, i.e. the “king of Egypt”. When Pharaoh instructed them to kill the male babies he feigned personal anguish, as if pained that he was ‘forced’ to issue such a barbaric decree for the good if his people. The midwives however, understood the evil decrees as a heartless campaign of infanticide. Therefore, “The midwives said to Pharaoh”, i.e. they replied to him as a heartless dictator and murderer, not as the “king of Egypt”.

As history has repeatedly demonstrated, it wasn’t long before his true intentions emerged. Thus, when Pharaoh could not manipulate the midwives to adhere to his decree, the verse continues, “Pharaoh commanded his entire people saying, ‘Every son that will be born – into the River you shall throw him! And every daughter you shall keep alive’!” Eventually, it became clear to all that the decree was a result of Pharaoh’s personal enmity, and not because of his capacity as king of Egypt.

With this understanding, we can offer a novel explanation of the verse: “It was during those numerous days, the king of Egypt died. The Children of Israel groaned from their enslavement and they shrieked; and their cries ascended to G-d from their work.”[2] The commentators question why Pharaoh’s death caused such an adverse reaction. It would seem more logical for them to celebrate his death?

Perhaps the verse is not only mentioning the physical death of Pharaoh, but that his death also marked the end of covert anti-Semitism. From this juncture onward the decrees were overtly discriminatory. The “anti-Jewish campaign” was no longer under the pretense of national security. At this point their evil motives and intents were clear and uninhibited. The “king of Egypt” died in the sense that the mentality that all the decrees were for the good of his people came to an end.

Rashi notes that Pharaoh did not die at all. Rather, he contracted leprosy which is such a painful malady that it is tantamount to death. The Jews cried out because Pharaoh had Jewish babies slaughtered so he could bathe in their blood, because he was informed that doing so would cure his leprosy. Their renewed cries were a result of their anguish from the intensification of the already unbearable servitude and exile.

The Egyptian exile was not only our first exile but it was also a harbinger for all future exiles. In every country where Jews have been exiled, we have prospered and advanced the country’s economy in many ways. Yet the end result was always the same. Eventually, the Jews were made out to be a national threat and were persecuted or expelled. The accusations and allegations of our enemies are almost as ludicrous as they are irrational, but it is the price we pay for being G-d’s People.

Yet, despite all we have endured and suffered, we are here to tell - not only our own tragic story - but also the story of our persecutors, who have long ago perished from the face of the earth.

“The Egyptians made us evil and they afflicted us”

“Will you please drop by my house and pick me up too?”

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[1] Devorim 26:6

[2] 2:23

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