OpinionTorah Portion

Egypt then, Gaza now

Our enemies’ tactics may evolve but, essentially, they remain the same.

A page of Talmud. Source: Public domain/Wikimedia
A page of Talmud. Source: Public domain/Wikimedia
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

There are some very interesting stories in the Talmud about Alexander the Great and his encounters with Jewish leaders. I will share one that relates to this week’s parsha and another that is directly connected to Israel’s current political battles on the world stage.

In Tractate Sanhedrin, the Gemara relates that the people of Egypt came to Alexander and complained that the Israelites had unfairly emptied Egypt of all its wealth at the time of the Exodus. They accused the Jews: It says in the Torah: “And the Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of Egypt, and they lent them” (Exodus 12:36). Give us the silver and gold that you took from us; you claimed that you were borrowing it but you never returned it.

An ordinary Jewish man named Geviha ben Pesisa said to the Sages of Israel: Give me permission and I will go and argue our case with them before Alexander the Great. If they defeat me, you can say to them: You have defeated a simpleton and until you can overcome our Sages, you have not been victorious. And if I defeat them, then you can say to them: The Torah of Moses, our teacher, defeated you. The Sages gave him permission.

Geviha ben Pesisa asked the Egyptians: From where are you bringing proof that we owe you silver and gold? They said to him: From the Torah.

Geviha ben Pesisa replied: In that case, I too will bring proof to you from the Torah, as it is stated: “And the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 430 years” (Exodus 12:40) during which they were enslaved to Egypt and subjected to hard manual labor. Give us the wages for the work performed by the 600,000 men above the age of 20 (see Exodus 12:37) whom you enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.

Alexander then said to the people of Egypt: Give this man an answer.

The Egyptians asked for three days to consider the argument. They deliberated but couldn’t think of an adequate response. So, they abandoned the case and fled, leaving their fields and vineyards behind. 

On another occasion, the descendants of Ishmael and Keturah confronted the Jews before Alexander. They said: The land of Canaan is both ours and yours, as it is written: “And these are the generations of Ishmael, son of Abraham, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore unto Abraham” (Genesis 25:12), and it is written: “And these are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham” (Genesis 25:19). Therefore, the land should be divided between Abraham’s heirs.

Again, Geviha ben Pesisa asked the Sages to permit him to respond. They agreed, and he said to the descendants of Ishmael: From where do you bring your proof that the land of Canaan belongs to both you and the Jewish people? They said to him: From the Torah.

Geviha ben Pesisa responded: I too will bring my proof to you from the Torah, as it is stated: “And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac. But to the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and he sent them away from his son, while he yet lived, eastward, to the east country” (Genesis 25:5–6).

Thus, the Bible is clear that Abraham gave everything, including the Promised Land, to Isaac and not Ishmael.

So, an ordinary individual, not a scholar but a layman, proved that neither the Egyptians nor the Ishmaelites had a viable case against the Israelites.

Something similar is happening today. The outrageous and pathetic Palestinian lies that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and that Jews never inhabited the Land of Israel were long since refuted by Geviha, but the lies continue.

I have lived in South Africa for over 47 years. Today, I am embarrassed and deeply disappointed by my country’s attitude towards Israel. The South African government has now dragged Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on false and defamatory charges of “genocide.”

Over the years, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government has claimed that it is an even-handed arbiter trying to help Israel and the Palestinians make peace. But, in recent times, South Africa has openly aligned itself not just with the Palestinians but even with Hamas and Iran.

We have heard virtually nothing from the government about the Oct. 7 atrocities. It has welcomed Hamas to our shores. Our foreign minister recently made a friendly visit to Iran.

Indeed, many commentators are now suggesting that the ANC has essentially become an Iranian proxy. Some have charged that a recent influx of cash that saved it from near bankruptcy came directly from Iran. This might well explain South Africa’s inscrutable decision to drag Israel before the ICJ. It appears quite possible that South Africa has now become an Iranian vassal and a weapon in Iran’s war against Israel.

Ironically, all this is taking place while the ANC government continues to fail its people and its own justice system is in shambles. Criminals regularly avoid trials and jail time because government prosecutors are overworked, underpaid or simply incompetent. Yet suddenly, South Africa is able to field a formidable legal team that, in a matter of days, whipped up a voluminous legal brief against the Jewish state.

In response to this libelous house of cards, however, Israel did not rely on a Geviha ben Pesisa. It fielded a top team of recognized experts who, by all objective accounts, crushed South Africa’s accusations. The ICJ decision awaits and one can only pray that it will be decided with integrity, objectivity and without political interference. If it is, Israel will win.

In the end, Israel’s latest enemies are trying to do what the Ishmaelites did so many centuries ago: to delegitimize the Jewish people’s legitimate right to the Land of Israel and thus our right to exist. But as Geviha ben Pesisa taught the Ishmaelites back then: The children of Isaac, not Ishmael, are the rightful heirs to the Land of Israel.

Let them and us remember that our claim to the Land of Israel goes back to God’s promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago, as recorded in the Torah. Please God, simple men and women of truth will not be blinded and misled by political hypocrisy and groundless vilification. Hopefully, the governments of the world will learn the truth from them.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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