Zachary Beer is a junior at the City College of New York studying History. He is an ORA Campus Fellow and a Nachshon Project Fellow.
When we see horrible things going on in our society, we often ask “Why?” Why does hate exist? Why do people experience racism, sexism, and all other manner of contempt based merely on who we are?
This is a question we in the Jewish community have been asking, especially over the past few months. Why do people hate us because we are Jews? Why does anti-Semitism exist?
A way to approach, and maybe glimpse understanding of this phenomenon, is to look at its biblical origins in Egypt.
At the beginning of this weeks Torah portion, Pharaoh gathers the people of Egypt, and proceeds to for the first time in world literature, exhort them to hate:
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י
יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֥ב וְעָצ֖וּם מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ
פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙
עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” (Shemot 1:9-10)
Pharaoh, in a sense, is the ur-demagogue of hate. In his short speech, we see so many of the classic false flags that bigots utilize from ancient times until the modern day. Like many a bigot today, Pharaoh targets an immigrant population. He accuses them of being a fundamental detriment to have in society. He makes up conspiratorial claims about them. And finally, later on in the torah portion, he plans their genocide.
his is a formula that many minorities have seen time and again. From our own experience as Jews, to the false accusations against refugees worldwide and to Uyghrs in China. That we represent some sort of negative pull on society, be it drugs, terrorism, or many other horrible things. Therefore we deserve mistreatment at best and destruction at worst.
However, in this model for future oppression, we find the words of Mr. Rogers ring true: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
The two righteous midwives, Shifta and Puah come to help. Although they are midrashically identitied with Miriam and Yocheved, the sister and mother of Moses, they represent the model of the “righteous gentile”. Instead of aiding and abetting, becoming accomplices to murder of newborns, they instead become heroines.
When we see evil in the world, we have two models. The model of Pharaoh and the model of Shifra and Puah. In our world, we should endeavor to be the helpers and not the haters.