Pharaoh Didn't Know Joseph And Perhaps We Forgot Him Too
The textual reference to forgetting Joseph raises questions about the extent to which oppression is linked to a minority group's involvement and commitment to the larger society.
How did the lack of response of the Jewish community in Egypt contribute to its subjugation?
In the Ten Commandments we find two statements of the commandment concerning Shabbat. Shamor, "Guard," and Zachor, "Remember" the Sabbath Day. While this commandment refers to Shabbat, it may be understood with regard to the blessed memory of those who came before us.
In the case of Joseph, how might things have gone differently had the Israelites better guarded and remembered him and his contribution? Nowhere in the text do we read of how they expended their political capital to fend off Pharaoh's harsh decree. The community had not renewed its engagement in Egyptian society: It had not built political bridges, developed new leadership, woven themselves into the fabric of society beyond being a labor force; it was therefore ripe for exploitation.
It is a reminder for every generation of the commandment al tifrosh min hatzibor, ("Don't separate yourself from the community"). This is not only a commandment to the individual Jew with regard to the Jewish community but also to the Jewish community as a whole not to grow too distant from the society in which it lives and works.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.