This week we begin a new book of the Torah. Shemot, meaning “names” is known in English as Exodus. The first parshah, also called Shemot (Ex. 1:1-6:1) picks up the story of Israel in Egypt many years after the death of Joseph. A new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. The Israelites grew in number, which made the Pharaoh wonder if they would join the enemies of Egypt in case of war or “rise up from the ground” (Ex. 1:10), meaning that they might ascend from their place and take over the land. And so the Pharaoh set taskmasters over them and forced them into labor to build garrison cities for the Pharaoh. All of the advantages for the descendants of Joseph’s family disappeared.
In the early 1930s, many Jews felt that their place in German society was assured. They had wealth, land, businesses and connections. Many German Jewish men were veterans of World War I who had fought for Germany with loyalty and distinction and had the medals to show for it. And then Adolf Hitler ascended to power, and all of their advantages disappeared.
The world is a strange and dangerous place. Today in Paris, Jews doing their Shabbat shopping in a kosher supermarket were taken hostage. Some were killed and others wounded, and none of the survivors will ever be the same. History has a tendency to repeat itself. Our challenge is to remember the past and protect the present.