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Parshas Shemos

Who Helps the Most

By Rabbi Label Lam

A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Yosef. (Shemos 1:8)

who did not know: [means that] he acted as if he did not know about him. (Rashi)

And Pharaoh said, "Who is HASHEM that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know HASHEM, neither will I let Israel out." (Shemos 5:2)

According to one opinion in the Talmud, when it says that “a new king arose over Egypt” it does not mean an actual new king but rather the king changed and acted in a new way. If that is so then then how do we reconcile the second half of the verse that says the king did not know Yosef?

How could the Egyptian Pharaoh who stretched back to the days of Yosef not know Yosef? Yosef saved his country and the entire world from famine, both by interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh and by managing the collection of funds for the years of famine. Yosef singlehandedly made Pharaoh the most wealthy and powerful personality on the planet. How can he not know who Yosef is?

Rashi answers that he made himself as if he did not know Yosef. His behavior to the Jewish people could only have been as brutal as it was if the king willfully blinded himself. He was able to deny the good that Yosef had done in order to permit himself to be cruel to his family. This is the trick Pharaoh played on himself. That self-deception brought him to an even greater delusion. In the end he makes the outrageous remark, “Who is HASHEM that I should heed His voice?”

Our sages were sensitive to this. Based on the two postures adopted by Pharaoh they inform us of a spiritual fact of the universe; “If a one denies the good done to him by his friend he will deny HASHEM in the end!” How does it work?

How do you react to the following scenario? Chaim is a very successful businessman running a large operation. He’s making big money and living large. His friend Shimon however is struggling to put food on his table. Shimon works but his wages are meager. One day Shimon loses his job and his family is suffering. In desperation he approaches his old friend Chaim and asks him for help. Gladly Chaim makes a phone call to one of his big connections, and he secures a job interview. Shimon gets the job and grows ever more successful at his new position. He eventually climbs to the very top and courageously spins off his own business. His business becomes a major success and now Shimon becomes a wealthy man. In the meantime, Chaim’s business begins to crumble he is left destitute. In desperation he knocks on the door of his old friend Shimon who is now a big success. He reminds Shimon of the time and the opportunity he had afforded him years earlier and makes a request if he could help him with a phone call. Shimon, sitting in his leather chair, behind a giant oak desk, nods his head in agreement and fumbles around in his pocket. He says, “I believe the cost of the phone call you made for me years ago was one quarter, back then. So here!” He hands him a quarter! Chaim is stunned! What do you think of such a story? Shimon is a good guy or not a good guy? Of course Shimon’s behavior is disgraceful! He minimized the good done to him!

Why would someone do such a thing? When the Chasam Sofer was told that someone in the community was speaking scandalously about him, he immediately sat down in deep contemplation. His students asked him what he was thinking about. He said, “I’m trying to remember what great favor I ever did for this person that now he treats me so!”Nobody likes to feel indebted. At his worse man has an even greater tendency to deny the good of He Who helps the most!

DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and

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