And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; "come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land." (Exodus 1:6-10)
Rav v'atzoom mimenu (more and mightier than we) cannot mean 'more numerous and stronger than we are'. There can be no doubt that the Egyptians were much more powerful and numerous than the Jews living in Goshen, unless we consider the possible scenario below:
The Hebrew sense of the phrase rendered "Now there arose a new king over Egypt" in most translations does not imply a normal legitimate succession to the throne. In all likelihood, Egypt was invaded and overthrown by a foreign dynasty, which would also help explain why this "new king" did not know Joseph. If the new king had been a native successor, it would have been impossible for him not to have known Joseph, one who was responsible for saving Egypt.
It is also conceivable that the foreign ruler would have brought with him a number of people from his own tribe. Suffice it to say, the general Egyptian population was already subjugated. It would have been to his own people (not the Egyptians whom he had lately conquered) to whom this foreign king turned and whom he addressed when he said: "The Egyptians we no longer fear, since they are already under our power. But in an outlying area of Egypt there resides a tribe that is growing too strong, and if given enough time, we will not defeat them easily."
This is the first recorded instance of baseless hatred directed against the Jewish people as a whole. The Pharaoh never actually charges the Jewish people with any wrong doing. If the Pharaoh could have cited any actual wrong doing, it would not have been necessary for him to deal 'cleverly' with them. Nor did this baseless hatred originate with the general population in Egypt, rather, the Egyptians were incited from above. The incitement served the Pharaoh as a political tool to consolidate and strengthen his regime. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. This methodology has been the favorite modus operandi of countless tyrants throughout history.
In order for the tyrant to effectively maintain control over a people he has just conquered and for the oppression to continue unabated, the tyrant must be sure to deliver into the hands of the conquered another people whom they (the conquered) can in turn oppress and afflict. This provides the general population who has been vanquished a certain measure of compensation from the powers that be for its tyrannical rule. And so the Pharaoh sought to create a pariah caste whom the general population could look down upon. As long as all of the other castes had one caste which they could disdainfully and contemptuously oppress with impunity, the illusion that they themselves were living as free men could be maintained.
All the Pharaoh needed to do was to cite reasons of grave "national interest" (in this case a high birth rate) to justify the harsh measures he had in mind when it came to a final solution to this most ancient Jewish question. It is important to note that if the Pharaoh initially had the support and loyalty of the Egyptian populous, it would not have been necessary for him to act cleverly by inciting the people to envy or hatred based in irrational fears; with the undivided loyalty of the Egyptian nation, bondage and subsequent expulsion would have proved to have been no less effective.
Pharaoh cited high birth rates and 'what if'' scenarios to maintain order and tighten his iron grip on a subjugated nation which culminated in state sanctioned infanticide. Several centuries later, another king would arise, this time in Persia. The justification for making war against the Jews on his watch? Their laws were not like his laws. A disillusioned German corporal convinced one of the most civilized nations on the planet that the Jews were their misfortune and set out to do something about it.
Do we really believe that we can ignore the past? Do we really think that such times will never recur? "Never again!" is the clarion call of fools. There can be no doubt that another king, who does not know Joseph, will soon rise up in our midst and we will witness once again the persecution of a caste populated by people whose only crime is their commitment to holding fast to the truth.
Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch