The death of Yaakov Avinu marked a crucial turning point in Jewish history. The period of the patriarchs and matriarchs was over, and it would be many years before the Jewish people would return to the land of Israel . Though Yosef lived for over fifty years after his father's death, the Torah spends very few verses detailing these years, and they report only the "aftershocks" of Yaakov's demise. There is no more mention of Yosef's role in Egyptian society, nor any indication that he retained his powerful position. In fact, Rashi tells us that with the death of Yaakov, the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people "were closed" against the pain and suffering that they experienced under Egyptian subjugation. Thus, eight verses into Sefer Shmot , we read that, "a new king who did not know Joseph, came into power over Egypt " . The heroics of Yosef were expunged from the Egyptian history books. Nationalism replaced truth in the school curriculum. What followed was a series of decrees beginning with taxation of foreigners (read Jews), and culminating in the decree to exterminate all newborn Jewish males. What was at the root of this government-sanctioned anti-Semitism? Did the Egyptians truly feel that their lot would be improved if they oppressed others? Was their fear that "the Israelites are becoming too numerous and strong for us" (1:9) realistic? Did they truly think, "if there is a war, they will join our enemies" (1:10)?
Our Sages teach us that anti-Semitism is part of the natural order of the world. While we do our best to educate people about its falsehood and its dangers, it is like a malignant tumour that can be controlled, but never eradicated. "The law is that Eisav hates Jacob", our Sages sadly proclaim. In fact, the Talmud teaches that Sinai, the focus of Sefer Shmot and creation, is a play on the word sinah , hatred. It was at Sinai that we were ordered to bring the concept of ethical monotheism to the world, taught that values are not relative , and discovered that G-d, not man, is the centre of creation. Sinai teaches that even more important than our rights are our obligations. No wonder Sinai was the root of sinah .
This tragic fact of life is something we forget at our own peril. Nevertheless, our actions can have a profound affect on the manifestations of anti-Semitism. Thus, in addition to its moral imperative, there is a practical benefit for Jews to be loyal, law-abiding citizens of their chosen country. Paradoxically, our Sages teach and history has shown that, the more we try to assimilate, the more anti-Semitism rears its ugly head. While this may be a Divine punishment, it can easily be explained based on human psychology. As long as we demonstrate that we have a unique way of life, we are not perceived as a threat to the host country. However, when we imitate the ways of the gentiles and try to become one of them, the resentment and fear surfaces. We really cannot be who we are not.
"The Israelites were fertile and prolific, and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them" (1:7).
While this verse sounds innocent enough, the Netziv, who felt the official policy of 19 th -century Russian anti-Semitism firsthand, says that it is no coincidence that this verse is followed by the news that, "a new king arose who did not know Joseph". Everywhere the Egyptians went they saw Jewish presence and Jewish control. The land was filled with them. Egyptians perceived Jews as taking over their country. As long as the Jews settled in Goshen and lived their distinct lives, all was fine. But the Jewish people were not content to do that. Instead, they stopped practicing the rite of circumcision, the symbol of our covenant with G-d, and said, in the words of our Sages, "let us be like the Egyptians". Well, no matter how hard you try, a Jew cannot be an Egyptian. The more the Jews assimilated, the more they were despised.
The Jewish people were chosen for a special mission. While we must be loyal members of our Diaspora communities, we must never hide the fact that we are devoted Jews. This line is often a very difficult one to navigate, but by successfully managing this balancing act, we can help bring the day closer when all of mankind will be united in the service of G-d.