What Pleases Pharaoh? – VaYigash 5782

D'var Torah | Genesis

When Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s family will be joining him in Egypt, Pharaoh approves (Genesis 45:16). According to the classical medieval exegete Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, what found favor in Pharaoh’s eyes was that with Joseph’s family united with him in Egypt he would no longer be viewed as a foreigner whose motives are suspect. Now that Joseph’s family is in Egypt, their welfare would be the same as Egypt’s. Joseph will be completely dedicated to providing for Egypt for when he provides for Egypt he necessarily provides for his kin.


This idea meshes nicely with a curious law in the United States Constitution. According to Article II, Section 1: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President…” Aside from the minimum age requirement of thirty-five, this clause is the source of considerable consternation. It bars any immigrant no matter how well qualified from holding the office of president. (This rule was of particular concern when German born Henry Kissinger held the position of Secretary of State from 1973-1977 and was theoretically in line for the presidency under the succession amendment.) And the inevitable question is why? Why did the American Founding Fathers enshrine this restriction?


Some would explain that the law was intended to prevent a British born citizen who, if in the position of president, might return the United States to British governance. Whether this worry was legitimate or not is impossible to say. But there very well might be a different explanation: an explanation that is consistent with the insight of Seforno. Only those who are completely a part of the society in which they live can be trusted to act in the best interest of the United States. And that means since birth.


Careful readers will note, of course, that Joseph was not born in Egypt. For Pharaoh, what mattered was that Joseph had no conflicting interest. The American constitution goes further. But both views are predicated on the assumption that the deeper a person is devoted to a country, the greater the patriotism.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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