With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shemot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males. Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yocheved to fulfill that role. Years later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai) Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael , the land promised to their ancestors. Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-d’s agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker, G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.
An Offer You Can’t Refuse
"And there arose a new king over Egypt" (1:8)
Rabbi Leib Chasman was the mashgiach (spiritual mentor) of the Chevron Yeshiva in the 1930s. A certain problem faced the Yeshiva and it was decided that the issue should be decided in a general meeting of all the rabbis. One of the speakers, a venerable man in his late eighties, rose to the podium. His advanced years and fragility necessitated the help of two of the younger rabbis. Finally, he cleared his throat and began to speak. "My esteemed and honored colleagues, hear my words! My body is weak and old. The natural desires of youth no longer affect my judgment. Nothing clouds my judgment any longer. All life’s temptations have no taste for me anymore. Hear my words and be guided by me!"
Rabbi Chasman jumped to his feet and pounded the table. "Not true. All desires may wane with age except one, and that gets stronger and stronger — the attraction to status and honor."
Our internal negative impulse is an opportunist. He’s always looking for an opening. When one door closes on him, he pushes even harder to get in the other.
"And there arose a new king over Egypt."
The people of Egypt came to Pharaoh after Yosef’s death to organize themselves against the Jews. Pharaoh wouldn’t hear of it. "We only live because of them. How can we turn on them?" Their reaction was to depose Pharaoh. He became a mere commoner, no longer enjoying the position of king and the honor that goes with it. After cooling his heels for three months he suddenly saw the light. He did a 180 degree about-face and embraced the will of the people. Thus the Torah writes, "And there arose" — meaning that the former Pharaoh "arose" from his deposed position.
Such is the power of status. Our deepest convictions can be held to ransom by an offer we can’t refuse.
- Sources: Da’at Zekeinim miba’alei Hatosefot; Rabbi Mordechai Perlman