Thirty Ninth Day of the Omer
JUST ONE LETTER
Just one letter was all it took to transform world history. In Exodus Chapter 1 verse 9 the ''Melech Chadash'', the new King of Egypt, spoke ''El-Ammo''. That final ''o'', the third person singular masculine possessive pronoun, changed everything. Rather than speaking to ''the people'', to his subjects, this new King spoke only to ''HIS People''. The corollary was that everyone else in the Kingdom was therefore not a part of ''his people' and was automatically inferior; from here it was but a short step to portraying these Others as a potential danger to civilised society, worthy of harsh treatment that could and did lead to dispossession, enslavement, brutal forced labour and even up to mass infanticide.
The oppressed Hebrews knew they could expect no mercy from the Egyptian system and they cried to God. God heard the call. God sent – in due course – a representative to negotiate the Hebrews' exit from their situation. The negotiations were tough and culminated in many Egyptian deaths, first through a divine strike and then through the annihilation of the army. The Hebrews found themselves in Sinai with nowhere to go but forwards. It took them four decades to shake off their traumas and become strong again – but they did. Now known as Israelites, with a tribal system, a priestly caste, a fixed ritual and a set of laws, they were in a position to conquer the land that this God had promised centuries before.
How much of this might have been avoided had the new Pharaoh shown some wisdom and statesmanship and had spoken to ALL the inhabitants of the land? How might history have been different had the Hebrews continued to live prosperous law-abiding lives in Goshen, not bothering their host population? How different might the future be if modern statesmen were to learn a lesson from this and be inclusive and generous to all ethnic groups within our different national societies?
Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild