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The Flame Cannot Be Extinguished
Even as we begin a new book in our people's journey, we already know the the story's end. And it will be a good one. The Jewish people will be redeemed and the world will be ennobled for our being its conscience. The challenge is getting there.
Yet in this new chapter in the life of our people, an all-too-familiar theme is sounded. Joseph and his brothers have passed away, "and there arose a new king in Egypt asher lo yadah et Yosef -- who knew not Joseph."
Was this literally a new pharoah or was this the same fellow who had benefited from the sagacity, wisdom and contributions of Joseph the Jew, but acted as if he didn't know him? Either way, both of these approaches suggest some form of historical repudiation and revisionism.
Why were the Egyptians "irrationally exuberant" in their enmity toward the infinitesimal minority of Jews in their land? Here is what pharaoh said: "These people are becoming multitudinous and stronger than us -- they will one day rise up ... to overthrow us."
Does this sound eerily familiar? "The Jews are plotting global domination to control the world's economies and governments," declared the late 19th-century Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Mind you, the Jewish population then was about one half of one percent of the world's population, but asher lo yadah et Yosef.
"The Jews are taking over our industries and economy -- they are even taking our German names," warned Hitler in the 20th century. Mind you, the Jewish population then was about seven-tenths of one percent of the world's population, but asher lo yadah et Yosef.
"The Jews are in too many places of prominence and they are getting others to fight for them so that they can control the world," ranted the Malaysian prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the beginning of the 21st century. Mind you, the Jewish population today is less than one quarter of one percent of the world's population.
"They have invented the myth of the Holocaust to justify oppressing the Palestinians and controlling the world ... Israel must be wiped from the world's map," fulminated the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the end of last year.
Asher lo yadah et Yosef -- they knew not Joseph and they distort, vilify and nullify everything regarding him.
But our Jewish response has always been constant. We will continue to live a life working toward the "end" in the face of those who desire to subvert us. We will continue to work toward making the world a place fit for G-d and man. And, as Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain, so eloquently reminds us, "the duty we owe our ancestors who died because of their faith is to build a world in which people no longer die because of their faith."
When G-d revealed himself to Moses as a burning bush, He wished to deliver the message that, no matter who attempts to consume the Jewish people and its purpose in the world, ha's'neh einenu ukal -- "the bush was not consumed" -- and will not be.
The message is immutable. No matter the circumstances -- ha's'neh einenu ukal. Whether it's pharaoh or Farrakhan, Haman or Hitler, Antiochus or Ahmadinejad who seek to cool the fire of our existence, we will survive, and thrive.
Our mission, to engender a life of virtue and value, can never be extinguished -- not yesterday, today or tomorrow. That is something that the world needs to know about Joseph.
Rabbi David Gutterma is the executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.