The slavery in Egypt began with, ‘a new king arose who did not know of Joseph’. But how could a king not know of Joseph, the saviour of Egypt and indeed the entire world? It had been no more than a couple of decades. Who could possibly not know about such a person in recent history? It would be like a new Prime Minister in the UK who had never heard of Winston Churchill.
The Sages tell us that of course he knew of Joseph, but he chose not to. Because you can’t feel grateful to Joseph, on the one hand, and enslave his grandchildren with the other. In fact, there are those among the Sages who suggest that it was the very same Pharaoh for whom Joseph had worked. He lost his sense of gratitude for Joseph and, ended up enslaving his descendants.
In my mind, you can never go wrong with gratitude – and you are almost guaranteed to go wrong when you lose a sense of it. The feeling of gratitude grounds you. Had Pharaoh felt gratitude for what Joseph had done for Egypt, he would never have done what he did. The starting point for his actions was the loss of sense of gratitude. Even if he had indeed been afraid that the Children of Israel may form a fifth column in Egypt, had he felt gratitude, he would have responded differently. He would have found a kinder way to deal with the problem. Once he had lost his gratitude, however, it was open season.
Sad to say, I think the same is true of Prince Harry. If his starting point was gratitude for his family, it would ground him differently. He might have his gripes, his frustrations and his disappointments. But gratitude would provide a very different context for his response and lead him to do so with grace and generosity – even whilst addressing issues that are deeply upsetting for him.
Once gratitude has gone, however, there is no limit to how badly people can behave.
Parents are another example. When people lose the base line of gratitude for their parents, they can treat their parents very badly, even cut them out of their lives entirely. They will have all sorts of rationalizations as to the bad things their parents have done, but it will have all started with a loss of gratitude, which left the door open to any and all behaviour.
I don’t always succeed, but I have a commitment to keeping gratitude at the forefront of all my relationships, God included. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to lose gratitude. But I am very clear where that would lead me and I’m determined not to allow it to happen. If we keep our eye on the ball of gratitude, all other balls tend to fall into place in our lives and we will find ourselves being the people that we want ourselves to be. When we lose track of gratitude, it’s a very slippery slope. It might not lead us to enslaving an entire nation, but it won’t lead anywhere good.
Parsha in a Nutshell
Egypt is the prototype for future Jewish settlement. Firstly, the Jews move out to the suburbs, in this case Goshen. Then they become successful. Then they assimilate into Egyptian society and make vast contributions. Then social acceptance and complete integration, right? Not quite. A new Pharaoh arises and the persecution begins.
A child is born who is to be the saviour of the Jewish nation. Saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, he is brought up as a prince. She names him Moses. He does not forget his origins and, when confronted with an Egyptian murdering a Jew, he kills the Egyptian and flees deep into Africa. Many years later, God appears to him at a burning bush. After some arm-twisting, Moses agrees to return to Egypt to lead the Jewish people to freedom. Not surprisingly, Pharaoh, none too enamoured with the idea of his slaves leaving, decides to put down the potential mutiny before it begins and significantly increases the workload on the Jewish slaves. Again, not surprisingly, the Jews are unimpressed with Moses’ efforts so far and the portion ends with him in everyone’s bad books – part and parcel of being a Jewish leader.