The Pharaoh of the Exodus was a cold-hearted man whose fear of losing power to the growing minority of the Israelites led him to enslave them. According to Exodus: “And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:7-8).
How is it possible that the new Pharaoh who arose forgot Joseph? Only one generation earlier, Joseph had served as the viceroy to Pharaoh and managed to save Egypt from starvation while, at the same time, bringing the entire economy of Egypt under Pharaoh’s control. Is it possible that the successor to the Pharaoh who appointed Joseph forgot Joseph?
It is a well-known fact that many rulers in ancient polytheistic societies viewed themselves, or at least wished their subjects to view them, as gods. Pharaoh was no different. In fact, the Midrash notes that “Only in the morning did he [Pharaoh] go out to the water, because this wicked one used to boast that he was a god and did not require to relieve himself; therefore he used to go early in the morning to the water” (Exodus Rabbah 9:8).
A man who wants the world to believe that he is a god cannot allow anyone else to take credit for his glory, especially a foreigner. Pharaoh’s failure to remember Joseph has, sadly, been repeated many times throughout history. Don Isaac Abrabanel made a fortune for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and yet they still expelled him along with all of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Similarly, the Nazis in Germany willingly forgot many prominent German Jews who had made invaluable contributions to all aspects of German culture and had courageously fought in defense of Germany during World War I.