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Shemot: What is the antidote to polarisation?

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What’s the antidote to polarisation?

In Parshat Shemot, the Torah provides us with a detail which simply does not make sense. Vayakam melech chadash al Mitzraim asher lo yodah et Yosef.” – “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Shemot 1:8).

How can this be possible? Surely everyone, and of course the king himself, knew about the great Joseph of the past?

Sefer Mayana Shel Torah gives a beautiful peirush, which explains as follows. Of course Pharaoh knew about Joseph. The trouble, however, was, “Asher lo yodah et Yosef” – he did not know him personally.

You see when there are differences between people, ignorance can breed hatred when they become ‘the other’. If, however, one actually gets to know others, even those who have sharp differences with us, then we will appreciate that they are human beings just like we are. We will start to respect them and understand that they have families just like we have, etc. That was the problem with Pharaoh: he didn’t have an opportunity to engage at a personal level with the Hebrews in his land.

What emerges from this text is a very powerful and relevant message for all of us. It’s so crucially important for us to get to know other people, to speak to them, to engage in dialogue, and when that happens it can bring peace and understanding. After all, had Pharaoh, King of Egypt, actually personally known Joseph, then the rest of history could have been very different.

Shabbat shalom.




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