Torah: Shemot – “And a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).
This week’s Torah reading begins the Exodus account. The rabbis wonder how the new king could not have known Joseph’s achievements on behalf of Egypt. Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer, composed during the first two centuries of the common era, states that Pharaoh knew that Joseph had saved Egypt, but did not let the information change his outlook [7:137]. Rabbi Harold Kushner adds, “Through much of Jewish history, the people’s well-being depended on the goodwill of a ruler. When the leadership changed, the fortunes of the Jewish community often changed as well. Pharaoh begins by refusing to acknowledge Joseph, and later refusing to acknowledge God, saying, ‘Who is the Lord that I should heed Him?’” [Etz Hayim, p, 319].
As part of our Torah service we include a prayer for the leaders of our nation, appreciating that their success, values, and wisdom shape our collective wellbeing. In medieval times those prayers focused on the rulers, initially the kings. In the 1920’s in America, Professor Louis Ginsberg composed a “prayer for the country” on behalf of all government leaders and the people as the source of authority in a democracy, which became part of the Conservative Movement’s liturgy. In the Lev Shalom prayerbook (2016) that we use at CBI, the text reads: “Pour out Your blessings upon this land, upon its inhabitants, upon its leaders, its judges, officers and officials, who faithfully devote themselves to the needs of the public. Help them understand the rules of justice You have decreed, so that peace and security, happiness and freedom, will never depart from our land” [p.177]
As we mark a transition in our great nation, we are aware that our elected leaders wield great power and we pray that they will use their ability to effect positive change with wisdom and the values that unite and uplift us as a nation. And let us say, Amen