By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Rashi, whose every word is laden with meaning and relevance, quotes the words of Chazal in this week’sparsha, and they seem to shine a brilliant light on current events.
The posuk states, “Vayokom melech chodosh al Mitzrayim asher lo yoda ess Yosef – A new Paroh arose over Mitzrayim who did not know Yosef.” Rashi quotes a machlokes between Rav and Shmuel. One explains that the posuk is saying that there was, in fact, a new king. The old Paroh had died and the new one did not know Yosef. The other opinion maintains that the Paroh of Shemos was the very same Paroh with whom we became familiar in Sefer Bereishis. He knew very well who Yosef was – after all, he had saved his kingdom – but he acted as if he had forgotten him.
Why, according to the second explanation, is he called a melech chodosh? Because he pretended to have forgotten who Yosef was. He stared Yosef in the face. He looked in the eyes of the talented, reliable, efficient young man who’d stepped out of the obscurity of prison to save the entire country. He listened as Yosef spoke to him and followed his every word of advice. And then, he abruptly erased the many accomplishments of the Jew who had made Mitzrayim into a world superpower and established a system that filled Paroh’s coffers.
Why did he do that? The answer is simple. Because he had an agenda. There were too many Jews around and Paroh began perceiving them as a threat. They had to be contained, stopped and subjugated, and his advisers suggested enslaving them. But he had a problem: What about the debt of gratitude he owed Yosef?
He arrived at a solution. He simply denied that Yosef had ever done anything for him. He craftily rewrote history and convinced himself, and his people, that the Jew had contributed nothing to the rehabilitation of Mitzrayim. He sat with creative marketing gurus and launched a campaign to change the public perception of Yosef and his heroics.
They likely started small, with a comment here and some innuendo there. But that was followed by full-blown denial: Yosef? Who’s Yosef? I don’t know any Yosef.
Paroh was then able to move forward and take advantage of a nascent Jewish nation that had “lost” its protector at the palace.
By understanding Paroh’s tactics, we can view the long history of our people in a new light, with the maasei avos serving as a guide.
Holocaust denial is nothing new. The smoke still swirled in the air over Auschwitz when the first hateful diatribes began. “The Jews are using this to their advantage. The Jews are exaggerating. The Jews want sympathy.”
The field of Holocaust denial is alive and well today. Despite seven decades of written and oral accounts, and recorded testimony from survivors and soldiers, the deniers stubbornly forge on.
From where do the revisionists get the nerve?
The answer lies in the words of Rashi. “Asah atzmo ke’ilu lo yoda.” They choose not to know. To recognize the magnitude of the crime perpetrated against our nation, means legitimizing the right of Jews to create a home of their own and to live in peace. But if it didn’t happen, if the supposed victims and survivors are delusional, then they are the impostors and have no credibility. This clears the way for more anti-Semitism and hate, and it instigates others to hate Jews under the guise of truth.
The Jews are discredited. It never happened. Who’s Yosef?
One of the great heroes of the civil rights movement was a Jewish fellow named Saul Alinsky, who taught America how to organize individuals and entire communities against an enemy. Not only was he the consummate community organizer, but he actually invented the concept and term.
His premise was that the way to triumph over the one who stands in your way is to first isolate him. Then you demonize him and lob your arguments against him, moving in at that point for victory.
It’s the art of discrediting.
Interestingly, this might give us insight into the middah of hakoras hatov. Far more than mere gratitude, it means focusing on the fact that the meitiv did you a favor and not conveniently forgetting him when you wish to promote your own agenda. It means making sure that you know, and always know, that you are beholden.
The Lomza rosh yeshiva, Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, was often observed standing in a far corner of the bais medrash in seeming contemplation. The rosh yeshiva would stop in that very corner each and every day, lost in thought. Finally, a talmid asked him why he chose that spot for reflection.
Rav Yechiel Mordechai explained that there was a plaque there honoring the generosity of a certain donor.
“When I asked that Yid for a donation to the yeshiva,” recalled Rav Yechiel Mordechai, “he responded with mesirus nefesh and gave well beyond his means. He helped me at a time when I needed it. I try to look at his plaque each day, since I never want to forget what he did for me and the hakoras hatov I feel toward him!”
How different is the perspective of a gadol baTorah. He wanted to be beholden, as opposed to the king of Mitzrayim, and the many kings, rulers and world leaders who have followed him, up until 2012.
It has become fashionable to speak of Islam as a religion of peace and to bend over backwards when discussing the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to make sure that no one associates them with the peaceful Muslim world. The law enforcement bureaus aren’t allowed to profile them or infiltrate their communities, thanks in great part to the generous spirit of our president.
The terrorists, he says, are the rare exception. They, the radical Islamists, hijacked Islam. They aren’t connected to the real Islam, which preaches peace and calm. That’s the opposite of discrediting.
Doesn’t our community deserve the same favor?
We are all being tarred with the same wide, filthy brush, even though the spin doctors, and those wielding the brush, know it’s not true. Certainly, anyone breaking the law should be punished for his crime. Anyone engaging in anti-social behavior should be ostracized. Anyone giving a bad eye to the community should be vilified.
Nobody should be permitted to bully another into submission. One Jew should not take advantage of another. Abuse must never be tolerated. We should not be silent as we watch travesties take place. We shouldn’t let those with power and influence compel people to behave a certain way. Everyone should be treated with compassion, honesty and decency.
That is all true. But it is also true that there should not be collective punishment.
Osim ess atzmam ke’ilu einam yodim.
Currently, our enemies have seized on the welcome opportunity which presented itself to discredit the chareidi community, and suddenly, new voices are emerging from the shadows. Spokesmen have popped up out of the woodwork, anxious to go on record and join the vilification campaign.
Cynical use of Holocaust images for public relations gimmicks is wrong, offensive, and in extremely poor taste. But why, then, were there no indignant protests when Avi Weiss dressed his protesters in Holocaust garb to lodge a protest of his own? Why didn’t the sanctimonious protectors of the hallowed Holocaust imagery object when Gaza settlers protested their eviction by wearing Holocaust garb?
The answer can be found in that very Rashi. The reprehensible manipulation of children by a fringe group was easy fodder for those bent on defaming the hundreds of thousands of kind, sensitive, good chareidi people. It fit right into the narrative they were seeking to portray of a group unworthy of any government support or participating in Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. It didn’t make a difference that the protesters neither accept government aid nor are members of any of the religious political parties, all of whom ceremoniously disowned them.
It was as if the ubiquitous mouthpieces banded together and conspired with each other: “Let’s deny the remarkable success of the chareidi community. Let’s use isolated incidents perpetrated by extremists and viewpoints of people outside of the normative pale to paint them all with one brush. Then we can jump to step two: discrediting them.”
In Israel, the agenda is to paint religious Jews as useless parasites who suck the lifeblood out of the country. The media and the politicians find no level too low to stoop to in order to promote that narrative. Media around the world aren’t in business to provide the news. They exist to promote their agenda. Purveying news is the way they accomplish their objective.
In fact, Yair Lapid, the journalist who recently broke the story of the eight-year-old girl who was spat on a while back in Beit Shemesh, announced that he is leaving the field of journalism. He wants to form a new political party and run for the Knesset. Insta-polls say that he would win 15 seats if elections were held today. Bashing the religious parasites in Israel is a favorite pastime of demagogues. His father, Tommy Lapid, was an experienced old hat at it, also forsaking the field of journalism to found a political party based upon hatred of religious people and riding it with great success. He went on to become the justice minister of Israel, causing the religious community much aggravation before his eventual downfall.
When the entire media and political establishment is focused on a story relating to a narrow group of religious people and paints their misguided actions as being reflective of an entire community, we should proceed with caution. We don’t have to fall into the trap and engage in public breast-beating over communal crimes that do not exist. We should be wary before buying into their storylines.
A young man was locked in jail and is now under house arrest in the home of his parents, for loudly cursing and spitting at a girl who was walking on a Meah Shearim street. When confronted by three policemen, the indictment says, he resisted arrest and kicked one of them. He was held without bail because his abusive, anti-social behavior marks him as a danger. The girl testified against him, as did the police, the heroes charged with maintaining the peace and keeping dangerous people, such as this violent chareidi, off the street.
A clip of video taken on a store’s security camera of the incident is available. The police were not aware of the film. The defendant’s lawyer introduced it as evidence to free his client on bail to house arrest. In it, one clearly sees the fellow walking along the street, passing by a woman, slowing down, and then continuing on his path. Three policemen jump out of an unmarked car, and, before the man knows what hit him, they grab him, bundle him up, and throw him into the car.
Obviously, he didn’t kick the police, nor did he resist arrest. He also did not spit at the woman, and if he did say anything improper to her, it was surely not more than a passing comment, which shows poor judgment and indecency, and should not be condoned, but that isn’t the crime he is charged for and that isn’t the way it was played up in the media.
Just as we are honest enough to face ourselves and call a hot-head a hot-head and an imbalanced individual an imbalanced individual, we should also be able to call a beautiful community a beautiful community.
Failure to speak up right away emboldens the haters to move ahead with their plans. This seems to follow the pattern of the Rubashkin saga, with which we have become familiar.
The unions and PETA were determined to paint a happy, generous, sweet man as a radical, greedy criminal. They worked assiduously, using a carefully-orchestrated campaign consisting of misinformation, pictures, videos and the media to discredit him, and now he sits in jail. The truth, which they also know, takes a back seat to their agenda.
The Torah of Eretz Yisroel is under attack. People are saying that there is something wrong with Toras Eretz Yisroel. People are saying that there is something wrong with the people who learn Torah in Eretz Yisroel. And we say, “Ki miTzion teitzei Sorah.” We say, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu… Mi ke’amcha Yisroel…. Modim anachnu lifonecha… shesamta chelkeinu miyoshvei bais hamedrash velo miyoshvei kranos…“
We cannot give imposters and usurpers the power to induce us into believing fictitious bad things about ourselves. We cannot permit them to divide us or turn our backs on our birthright.
By letting them set the agenda, we are party to the discrediting campaign. It was disturbing to see voices in our very own Torah media being taken in by the hype, rushing to believe the worst of our own, accepting at face value the conclusions of those driven by political and anti-Torah agendas.
We have to do the opposite of “lo yada.” Much as the Lomza rosh yeshiva contemplated the plaque of a donor, we need to recognize the goodness of the honorable, decent and righteous. We should increase our love for them as we condemn and marginalize those whose actions are misguided, perverse and detrimental.
Last week, one of the bnei Tzion hayekorim came knocking on my door seeking a donation. He is one of those sweet, holy, pure Yerushalayimer Yidden anybody with a Jewish heart would fall in love with. Yet, he told me that he is dreying around and very few people want to help him. He suffers from poor timing. He is here at the wrong time.
Bnei Tzion yagilu bemalkom. They come here, shoulders stooped from the pressures of making weddings, wishing only to be back in their shtieblach, where they can learn and daven, and we look at them with a jaundiced eye and doubt their sincerity. We have fallen for the ruse. They are all suspect, they are all radicals. They must be disowned and taught a lesson once and for all. We look at them and assume the worst, for we’ve been led to believe it by the media and the apologists within our own camp.
It is indeed sad times when we suspect each other of harboring improper thoughts and engaging in anti-social behavior. It is sad when we can’t just condemn and disown the actions of the unruly, unscrupulous few, without casting doubt on the entire community. It is sad times when we are all discredited by the irresponsible actions of a few. We are lumped together by our enemies and, in a variation of the Stockholm syndrome, we begin believing it and despising our own.
There is a response to trying times. Each week, as the melava malka candles melt away, their flames flickering, we think about the sublime joy of Shabbos and wonder how we’ll face another week, six more days of zei’as apecha, until we can taste Shabbos again.
It’s a difficult transition, not unlike the one the Bnei Yisroel faced as they came down from Eretz Yisroel to impure Mitzrayim, leaving behind light and holiness, descending into darkness.
As we eat melava malka on Motzoei Shabbos, we seek to ease that transition. We sing “al tira avdi Yaakov.“ We say, “Fear not, Yidden. You are equipped with the strength and ability to rise above and remain true to yourselves, to each other, and to the Torah, if you remain loyal to the teachings and lessons handed down from avdi Yaakov.”
“Hakol kol Yaakov.” With the calm voice of Yaakov, with the restrained middos of Yaakov, with the temimus of Yaakov, and with the dedication to Torah which Yaakov personified, we can overcome.
Another method of self-preservation in the exile is hinted at in the first words of our parsha, the account of that great descent from the peaks of holiness into an abyss of depravity. The holy seforim teach that the sof teivos of the words “Veileh shemos Bnei Yisroel haba’im” form the word Tehillim, the means of surviving in golus. Our prayers do not go unanswered. They never did and never will.
Together, we have the key to bring the geulah. Together, we can bring the salvation to those who suffer. Together, we can beat back those who lie and attempt to portray us as being dishonest. We can overcome the demagogues who demonize us.
If we recognize the strength and power that we possess individually and as a group, we can rectify that which needs correcting and strengthen that which requires strengthening. Together, we can help educate those around us about the ethical and proper path we should be following, with peace and brotherhood.