“Genesis ends on an almost serene note. Joseph has forgiven his brothers. Under his protection and influence the family has settled in Goshen, one of the most prosperous regions of Egypt. They now have homes, property, food, the protection of Joseph and the favour of Pharaoh. It must have seemed one of the golden moments of Abraham’s family’s history.
Then, as has happened so often since, ‘There arose a new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph.’ The family fell out of favour. Pharaoh told his advisers: ‘Look, the Israelite people are becoming too numerous and strong for us… Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase.’ And so the whole mechanism of oppression moves into operation: forced labour that turns into slavery that becomes attempted genocide.
The story is engraved in our memory. We tell it every year, and in summary-form in our prayers, every day. It is part of what it is to be a Jew. Yet there is one phrase that shines out from the narrative: ‘But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.’ That, no less than oppression itself, is part of what it means to be a Jew.
The worse things get, the stronger we become. Jews are the people who not only survive but thrive in adversity.
In an age in which people of violence are committing acts of brutality in the name of the God of compassion, the people of Israel are proving daily that this is not the way of the God of Abraham, the God of life and the sanctity of life. And whenever we who are a part of that people lose heart, and wonder when it will ever end, we should recall the words: ‘The more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.’ A people of whom that can be said can be injured, but can never be defeated. God’s way is the way of life.”