Sunday, January 03, 2016

What do you know?

As I reviewed the parsha this past Shabbos, I was struck by the number of times the verb for knowing appears in Shmos.  Yedia is a keynote in the story, one that carries on even beyond the first parsha of Shmos, as we see in Vaera that G-d reveals his name as Hashem to Moshe, a level of relationship that had even been withheld from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who saw the attribute of Kel Shakay, but "shmi Hash lo nitdati lahem."

Right at the beginning, we're told of the turn of events for the Israelites in Egypt begins with the rise of a new king"asher lo yada eth Yosef" (1:8).  How could he not know of such a major figure in Egyptian history?  Rashi explains that he made himself not know (rather like people who ignore history that doesn't fit their preferred narrative). Still you would think that there would be some reminders, but that may well  not have been the case. On one of my visits to the Brooklyn Museum, the guide to the Egyptian section explained that the Egyptian monarchs were in the habit of erasing all prior history and even establishing new religions to strengthen their own positions without any ties to other lines. So here we have a deliberate block on knowing.

When Moshe comes to realize the spiritual root of his brothers' oppression, he declares, "Achen noda hadavar 2:14) See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/12/shmos-cause-of-oppression.html 

When G-d  hears the Israelites' cries for salvation and recalls the merit of their forfathers, the account is written as "Vayar Elokim eth b'nay Yisrael , vayeda Elokim [G-d saw the children of Israel, and G-d knew]"  (3:25) He refers to that in telling Moshe "Raoh raithi eth oni ami asher beMitzrayim ve'eth tzaakatham shamati mipney nogshav, ki ydati eth machovav [I have surely seen the suffering of my natin in Egypt, and I have heard their cries from their oppressors, for I know their hurt.] (3:7)

After directing Moshe to make the request for a three day reprieve from work for the Israelites, G-d tells Moshe that he knows it will not be granted: "veani yadati kil lo yiten ethchem melech Mitzrayim lahaloch" (3: 19)

Indeed, when Moshe addresses Pharaoh, he is rebuffed by the king with the declaration, "Mi Hashem asher eshma bekolo leshalach eth Yisrael? Lo yadati eth Hashem, vegam eth Yisreal lo eshlacha! [Who is G-d that I should listen to Him to send Yisrael out? I do not know G-d, and also I will not sent out Yisrael!]" (5:2). Just as Pharaoh denied Yosef and his own country's history, he arrogantly declares himself not subject to the G-d of the universe by saying he does not know him.

Pharaoh and the erasure of the past or anything one wishes to ignore serves as the ultimate negative example. Our history is central to Jewish identity.  Every single day we recount our Exodus from Egypt, as that was the fundamental formation of us as a people. The Kuzari expresses the Jewish faith as predicated on history with over 600,000 eyewitnesses to the transformative event of receiving the Torah at Sinai. That history is kept alive in transference from parent to child over all the generations.

We also have the yearly commemoration of the Exodus at Pesach. Among the songs sung at the seder is the account of numbers that begins with "Echad mi yodea? [Who knows One?]"