The Foundation of Anti-Semitism Torahbytes (with a few added comments)
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, "Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." (Shemot / Exodus 1:8-10)
The first recorded expression of anti-Semitism is perhaps the Egyptian oppression of the people of Israel prior to the Exodus. At first glance Pharaoh's fear of the Israelites' potential threat may sound reasonable. What was Pharaoh's guarantee that they would not turn on the Egyptians one day? But why assume the worst, especially when relations between these two peoples were good for so many years? There is no reason to think that Egypt was in danger at that time. The slim chance that Israel would support Egypt's enemies became in Pharaoh's mind an enormous and immediate threat that required extreme and aggressive action by way of methodological oppression through enslavement. Pharaoh's unreasonable fear led to a completely warped view of the people of Israel.
The root cause of Pharaoh's unreasonable behaviour is made clear in the Torah's telling of this story: "Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph" (Shemot/Exodus 1:8). Pharaoh's warped view of the people of Israel stemmed from his disregard of what Joseph represented. The reason that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was because of Joseph's special role many years before. Inspired by God, Joseph foretold of a coming famine and counselled the Pharaoh of his day to adequately prepare for it. Recognizing Joseph's wisdom for what it was, Pharaoh appointed him administrator of both the preparation for the coming famine and the distribution of food during it. When Joseph was eventually reconciled to his family, Pharaoh invited the whole clan to settle in Egypt, where they prospered.
Disregarding this history severed the good relationship enjoyed by Egyptians and Israelites for generations. The presence of the Israelites in Egypt was no longer regarded for what it was: a reminder of God's blessing upon Egypt. Israel's presence in Egypt was unusual. It was something that could only be properly understood by acknowledging the hand of God. Failing to understand this led to Pharaoh's suspicion and fear.
Pharaoh was fearful of Israel’s numerical advantage but they were too important to the Egyptian economy to allow them to leave, for they were a source of cheap and plentiful labour.
And here, for the first time in history, we read of a nation who tried to deal with the Jewish problem, including infanticide! They were growing exponentially and also becoming stronger and stronger with the result that out of fear and concern, Pharaoh tried to force his dominance over Israel.
11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel.
13 So the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor.
14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage — in mortar, in brick, and in all manner of service in the field. All their
service in which they made them serve was with rigor.
Every attempt to break their spirit - physically, emotionally and spiritually - only resulted in Israel’s exponential population growth so that Egypt ‘were in dread of’. The Hebrew word for ‘dread’ - “vayakutzu’ – translates as ‘disgusted, vexed, grieved’. Pharaoh’s attempt to stop their numerical growth was futile because HaShem had promised Avraham that from his seed, he would make a great nation more numerous than the stars in the heavens or the sand on the sea shore!
Which brings us to the question of Israel’s suffering in Egypt. The Jewish people have experienced banishment, persecution and hatred more than any other people group. Why?
There are a number of possible reasons for their suffering in Egypt but one cannot offer one definitive reason or opinion on the perplexing suffering of the Jewish people throughout history. There is however, a possible remez (hint) contained found in Torah.
27 Now Israel lived (vayeshev) in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful
The Hebrew word for ‘lived’ is ‘vayeshev’ and ‘vayeshev’ usually implies permanence. In the parasha called ‘vayeshev’, we read that ‘Jacob settled (vayehev) in the Land where his father was a stranger’ (Gen 37:1-2). Rashi says that all Jacob wanted was to dwell in peace – ‘lashev b’shalva’. After his long exile and his battle with his uncle Laban for his wives and children, after all his family’s infighting, in his old age, all he wanted was an end to strife and the restoration of shalom. He simply wanted to retire, enjoy his family and watch his children and grandchildren grow up. But, says Rashi, “are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in olam haba’ah – the world to come – that they expect to live at ease in this world too’? Sha’ul expresses the same thought in
2 Th 1:5-7;
5 this is clear evidence that G-d’s judgments are just, and as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you
6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,
7 and to give you who are troubled, rest with us when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
Or, as the book of Revelations reveals;
10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may
be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Jacob wanted rest, but it was not yet the season for rest. He still had to complete his life’s mission. G-d’s plans cannot be thwarted by the designs of the enemy or by human desires, as noble as they might be!
Now, the sages say that this does not imply that it is wrong and misguided for the righteous to desire peace in this world. What the midrash implies is that we can only ask for this when we have fulfilled our mandate. Yeshua expressed this thought as follows: John 9:4-5 – ‘I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work ‘. Jacob’s mission was not yet complete and there was work that needed to be done. He still had to come down to Egypt so that Hosea 11:1 would be fulfilled – ‘out of Egypt, I have called my sons’..
So, the midrash is saying don’t stop short of reaching your life’s goals, which is precisely what the writer of the book of Hebrews cautioned;
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.
The potential and troubling scenario alluded to in scripture is that Israel put down roots and became comfortable in Egypt.
27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in
Israel settled and put down roots in Egypt by purchasing property there. They began to see Egypt as their permanent home rather than an alien land filled with polytheism and paganism. They became comfortable there and this started the gradual process of assimilation. The Midrash suggests that not only did the Israelites put down roots in Egypt, Egypt put down roots in the Israelites! The same scenario was played out in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust with devastating consequences – the murder of 6 million Jewish people – men, women and childen!
During the 1930s, Ze’ev Jabotinsky was deeply concerned with the situation of the Jewish community in Eastern Europe. In 1936, Jabotinsky prepared the so-called "evacuation plan", which called for the evacuation of the entire Jewish population of Poland, Hungary and Romania to Palestine. Jabotinsky warned them of the impending catastrophe that would occur but the Jews of Eastern Europe did not heed his warning for they had lived there for generations and owned business there. Like Israel in Egypt, they settled – vayeshev – and this led to assimilation.
And, it was for this reason that both Jacob and Joseph asked that when they left Egypt as a people, that they would carry their bones with them and reinter their bones in the Promised Land. They were in effect saying ‘you are content to live in this paganized land but we don’t want that even our bones should be buried here’! In assimilating, they would lose their distinctiveness as a people called apart by HaShem! However, even as they tried to be seen as Egyptians, they were never acknowledged as equals and instead, they were treated as slaves. Lev 20:26 – ‘You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own’.
Israel's experience in Egypt foreshadows its entire history. Disregarding God's role in that history is the very foundation of anti-Semitism. Failure to recognize God's hand upon Israel results in the kind of insane abuse encountered in Egypt so long ago. Israel's place in the world will always seem strange when God is not taken into account.
Whether people are aware of it or not, the presence of Israel in the world forces us to deal with God's reality. That is why reactions to Israel and its affairs are so extreme. Through Israel, God exposes our hearts. How we view Israel exposes aspects of our relationship to the God of Israel. Israel's unique place in the world is not random, nor is it due to political intrigue, economic manipulation or military might. Just like their presence in Egypt long ago, Israel's existence today is due to God's providential hand.
This is not to say that Israel and the Jewish people are beyond criticism and correction. Israel, like all nations, should be accountable to those who uphold God's justice and righteousness. But this must be done with respect and humility. Not because Israel is better than any other nation, but because of God's vested interest in Israel, for not only does Israel have a special place in the plans and purposes of God, in its prosperity and security is blessing for the entire world.