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Friday, January 16

The Egyptain Holocaust

by David Farkas
Our sages have told us “masseh avos siman labonim” events that occurred to our forefathers are harbingers for their future descendants. In the events involving the enslavement in Egypt a frightening, and almost eerie pattern emerges.
1. Genesis 45:18 - Bnei Yisroel came originally to Egypt at the king’s expressed desire. Most probably, Pharaoh was impressed by Joseph’s financial acumen and expected similar ability in his brothers. In future centuries, Jews would be invited to countries in Eastern Europe to revive and stimulate the economy. Poland, which would later become notorious for its anti-Semitism, welcomed the Jews for this very reason after the Spanish Inquisition at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
2. Genesis 46:28 – the Israelites all moved into one area of settlement. This ghetto-ization has certain benefits (both spiritually and practically), and so Joseph himself was desirous of this arrangement. But it can also have negative consequences, as the pogroms of history tell us.
3. Exodus 1:7 - The Torah goes out of its way to describe to us the miraculous population explosion the Israelites experienced. Where there are no Jews, there is no anti-Semitism. It is only when they become a large visible minority that their presence becomes resented. (See also Deuteronomy 26:5.) As the word “metzuyon” (“remarkable”, something which causes one to remark) implies, they were notable and stood out. The Jews were becoming too prosperous.
4. Exodus 1:8 - - How can any human being persecute someone who has been so beneficial to them? It can only be done by erasing from the national conscious and memory all the good that the victim had contributed. In Germany, Jews had been the cream of society. Through propaganda, all of their accomplishments were soon forgotten and buried under the anti-Semitism.
5. Exodus 1:10- The spectre of dual loyalty was raised. Pharaoh claimed that the Israelite’s allegiance lay elsewhere and not with their own country. In various armies at various times, Jews were forbidden to serve in the army because of suspicion as to their loyalty. Thus they were in the unbearable position of being accused of disloyalty without being able to disprove it.
6. Exodus 1:11 - - According to Rashi, “misim” is from the word for taxes. The Israelites were forced to pay excessive taxes, this time in the form of forced labour. Traditionally, heavy taxes were always levied upon the Jewish communities, further crippling already depressed economies.
7. Exodus 1:12 - Rashi says, according to one explanation, that the Egyptians were disgusted by themselves. Germany between the world wars was suffering from just such a national malaise, having been subjected to a humiliating surrender at Versailles after World War I. War reparations forced Germany to relinquish huge sums of money, plunging the economy deep into debt and deeper into depression. At times like these, political leaders arise to take advantage of the frustration and channel the hatred onto a convenient scapegoat. The Midrash quoted by Rashi is also very revealing. “Kikotzim hoyu bieineihem” - The Jews appeared to them as mere thorns. They were not human beings, certainly not full-fledged humans. Psychologically, it is impossible for such unspeakable crimes to transpire, with the tacit approval of the multitudes, unless the victims are reduced to something less than normal. It is only when Jews are thought of as a sort of sub-human species, that they can be exterminated like rats, or cut down like thorns. This attitude toward Jews has been common throughout many Christian and Muslim societies. The ‘pure’ Aryan blood and ‘contaminated’ Jewish blood pseudo-science of the Nazis was not a new phenomenon, merely an updated version of the past.
8. Exodus 1:12 - According to the Midrash, the Egyptians lured Bnei Yisroel into servitude by appealing to their patriotism. Pharaoh declared a sort of ‘National Service Day’ for the country, and Bnei Yisroel all showed upen masse. When they did, officials were there to note their names and addresses so they could not hide in the future. There was nobody more German than the German Jews. A large majority did not even refer to themselves as Jews, preferring instead more cumbersome constructions like ‘German of Hebrew extraction’, ‘Mosaic persuasion’, etc. Countries aren’t impressed when Jews become more patriotic than the natives. When Stalin took control of the Soviet Union, he rewarded the tens of thousands of Jewish communists who had helped bring about the revolution by purging them. The Holocaust started in assimilated Germany, not Jewish Poland.
9. Exodus 1:11 - The Jews were forced to build large buildings and towers, only to watch them crumble because of the un-firm foundations upon which they were built. They repeated this process again and again, becoming completely demoralized by the frivolous work - for the sake of - work. In one infamous Nazi death camp, a favourite execution involved forcing Jews to carry heavy rocks up some 192 steps, throw them down and retrieve them, repeating this ‘game’ until they dropped. Even before the war, Jews were made to clean streets and sidewalks with toothbrushes and water. Thus, the Jews were broken.
10. Exodus 1:23 - Because of Pharaoh’s obsession to kill out Jewish males, even the Egyptian boys were killed because he was unsure where the redeemer would come from (Rashi). Hitler, too, tied up valuable transport cars, weaponry and railroads in his pursuit of the final solution, directly condemning tens of thousands of German soldiers to their death. These materials could have been used to evacuate soldiers or advance the war effort! Even so, it was worth the sacrifice of Gentiles, in order to kill more Jews.
11. Exodus 2:6 - Informants were everywhere and nobody could be trusted. Hiding became increasingly difficult. Not that there were no exceptions. Just as Basya, the daughter of the king, with little to gain and a lot to lose, risked her life to save a Jew, so did such great men like Raul Wallenberg, the King of Denmark and others stand out for their valour in situations of great sacrifice where they stood to gain very little. But men like these were few and far between.
12. Exodus 4:23 - According to the Midrash, Pharaoh became stricken withtzora’as and bathed in Jewish blood as a cure. At first blush, this would appear a figurative statement, as one might say about the Second World War, “It was a bloodbath”. However, after reports about human skin used for lampshades, Jewish bones for soap, and Jewish hair for pillowcases, one is not so sure.
13. Exodus 5:6 - Israelites were put in charge of their own, with responsibility to Egyptian overlords. The comparison to Jewish Kapos, or the Judenratt in World War II is exact. (That was only the most recent manifestation. In the 19th century, during Czar Nikolai’s decree of Jewish child conscription, it was the leaders of the community who were responsible to come up with the conscripts. If they failed, it was they who were punished, not the individual families.)
14. Exodus 5:7 - Jews were denied the necessary tools to make the bricks and then accused of laziness when they failed to produce. Echoes of this can be discerned throughout the Middle Ages when Jews were denied entry into the various workers guilds and professions, and then accused of being usurers, the only profession open to them. (Sadly, certain Jews, wondering why the defenceless Jews did not mount a stronger defence, have also accused them of ‘passivity’.)
15. Nuremberg Laws - According to these laws, one could be considered Jewish if he had even one Jewish grandparent. The Talmud, (Chullin 79b), concerning the prohibition of slaughtering a sheep and its child on the same day, discusses how much ‘sheep’ is enough to make a sheep. The conclusion is that even a sheep which mates with a doe, producing an offspring which in turn has an offspring - it is forbidden to slaughter these two on the same day, as the prohibition stretches to even a semi-sheep. Even though the animal is a hybrid of uncertain status, there is enough sheep blood there to include this animal in the prohibition. We, too, were judged to be sheep on the basis of one qualifying grandparent. Nechshavnu katzon, latevach yuval.
16. There are many ways that the German Holocaust differed from its Egyptian precursor. However, even within these differences we find strange and striking parallels. The Midrash says that the Jews distinguished themselves from their hosts by not adopting their speech, their clothing or their names. Compare this to Germany:Names - Jews were forced by law to attach the name of Israel (for the males) or Sarah (for the females) on all passports and documents, to mark the Jews as such.Clothing - Jews were forced to wear a Jewish star on their garments, again to distinguish them from the Germans.Language - Germany was from the first areas to introduce sermons and drashos in the vernacular rather than the traditional Yiddish. Thus, while in Egypt, basic cultural differences were preserved, in Germany they were not.
17. (Update 2013) I am currently involved in a close study of Midrash Rabbah, and it has become apparent thatChazal, as seen in Shmos Rabbah, viewed Pharaoh or the institution of the Pharaoh as weak, at least from after the time of Joseph’s death. Consider the following four statements found scattered throughout the Midrash in the (unusually long) discussion on the first chapter of Shmos.
  • Pharaoh originally did not want to disturb the Jews out of gratitude to Joseph, but he was deposed for three months, until he “changed his mind.”
  • In order to get the Jews out to work, the people (or the ruling oligarchy) placed a brick around Pharaoh’s neck, so as to demonstrate that “even the King was working, should the Jews be any different?” Although their point is not for purposes of what is discussed here,Chazal note from the language that it was others who put the brick around the King’s neck, not he himself.
  • Pharaoh asked the people to “lend him” their children, so thatall the male children of Egypt, including Egyptians, would be drowned. But no one listened.
  • When the daughter went down to bathe and saw the baby in the reeds, her attendants told her, “it is the nature of people not to listen to the King, but should the King’s own daughter disobey him?”
Additionally, in discussing this with friends, Eliezer Bulka pointed to the comment of the Ramban that Pharaoh felt the people would have raised a backlash had he put the servitude upon the Jews quickly, and thus felt compelled to do it only gradually. (I do not know how or if this view can be squared with the midrashim above, because the “they” in the Midrashim is not spelled out.) Eliezer likewise observes, astutely, that Pharaoh seemed to accept the midwives’ excuse that the Israelite mothers delivered before they arrived. Now, why didn’t he just tell them that if the mothers delivered early, they should kill the babies when they arrived? Again, it seems Pharaoh was careful to conduct his murder campaign clandestinely, under the cloak of the “delivery room”, always dangerous but especially in the ancient world. Apparently a “partial birth abortion” was not regarded as heinous as the murder of an already-born baby, or perhaps while in birth it could more easily be covered up from the public. Regardless, had he been a bolder king, or had less to fear from the populace, he could simply have ordered the children killed, regardless of whether they were already born or not.
Rabbi Raphael Davidovich observes that all of this is evidence of the fact that the people were willing accomplices of the Pharaoh, or worse, active leaders of the campaign. This is very similar to what happened in Germany, where the people were quite happy to go along with Hitler’s decrees. The book, “Hitler’s Willing Accomplices” demonstrates this in exhaustive detail. (Cf. my notes to Genesis 34:27, where I note that the verse implies the whole town was complicit in the rape of Dinah, not merely Shechem alone.)
18. – (2013) Shmos Rabbah (9:2) observes that Egypt was compared to a snake, because just as a snake kills silently, Egypt too, put people in prison, and then killed them silently. The commentators there explain they were put to death without trial and without witnesses. The equivalent of secret trials, in other words, a common tactic employed in anti-Semitic campaigns throughout history.
Some of the above comments have been based upon the lectures of Rabbi Berel Wein, to whom I am greatly indebted. To create a smooth reading, I did not make any footnotes or quote any sources beyond the primary sources. Most of the material, though, can be found in the classical Midrashim on Chumash. Points concerning German or Gentile history can also be confirmed by any good reference books.
There are many other points that should be considered. Pharaoh’s step-by-step strategies, advancing from hard labor to infanticide through midwives to drowning children in the Nile, seem to reflect the German march from temporary measures to the final solution. Midrash HaGadol (beginning of Chapter 5) describes what Moshe saw when he came to Egypt to liberate the Jews - piles and piles of Jewish corpses, and the Jews burning in the ovens. All of this should serve to gives us pause.

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