Don’t Know Much About History: Shemot 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: When preparing to interview for a new job, how much research do you do about the company? Does your research enhance your performance?

At the dawn of the exodus story, the new Egyptian king is ignorant of one of his neighbors:

The Pitch: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” – Exodus 1:8

Swing #1: “The absence of the pharaoh’s name may ultimately be for theological reasons, because the Bible is not trying to answer the question ‘who is the pharaoh of the exodus’ to satisfy the curiosity of modern historians; rather, it was seeking to clarify for Israel who was the God of the exodus.” – James K. Hoffmeier, Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition

Swing #2: “The new king who ‘knew not Joseph’ was most likely Ramesses II or one of his predecessors. … Even if this Pharaoh of the new dynasty, whether it was Ramesses II or a predecessor, had known of Joseph, that is as far as he would have wanted it to go. … Any appeal to Joseph would hardly have been a recommendation for Israel in the eyes of a Pharaoh.” – Werner Keller, The Bible as History: A Confirmation of the Book of Books

Swing #3: “Had the new king known Joseph, his history and his past, he would have known that all the attempts made to harm Joseph – whether by his brothers or by Potiphar – actually led to his rise to fame and good fortune, and he would have been afraid to oppress Joseph’s descendants, the Hebrews, lest, by oppressing them, he would hasten their redemption and liberation.” – Imrei Esh

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators believe that the Pharaoh would have acted any differently toward the Israelites had he known of Joseph? To what extent do today’s leaders need to understand history while directing us toward the future? Do today’s leaders know enough history to do their jobs appropriately?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m grateful that the synagogue will host a Red Cross blood drive Tuesday, February 7th, from 1:30-6:30pm. The gift of life is the greatest mitzvah in our tradition, so please donate if you’re able.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of understanding history, I look back fondly at the time Yankees pitcher David Wells pitched in a game while wearing a cap once worn by Babe Ruth. Wells, who won the cap in an auction, was fined by MLB for doing so. I hope that if something similar happens in the future, the powers that be will lighten up.

Shabbat Shalom!