Jerry Seinfeld has a great routine about one of the most famous Rashis in the Torah found in this week’s parshah.
Never liked the check at the end of the meal system, because money’s a very different thing before and after you eat.
Before you eat money has no value. And you don’t care about money when you’re hungry, you sit down at a restaurant. You’re like the ruler of an empire. “More drinks, appetizers, quickly, quickly! It will be the greatest meal of our lives.” Then after the meal, you know, you’ve got the pants open, you’ve got the napkins destroyed, cigarette butt in the mashed potatoes – then the check comes at that moment. People are always upset, you know. They’re mystified by the check. “What is this? How could this be?” They start passing it around the table, “Does this look right to you? We’re not hungry now. Why are we buying all this food?!”
The Torah says that “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Yosef.”
Rashi quotes the argument between Rav and Shmuel, one said it was actually a new king, whereas the other says that it was the same old king but with a new attitude towards the Jews. According to the second opinion, when it says that “he did not know Yosef” it means that “he made himself as if he did not know Yosef.”
Seinfeld completely understood the lesson of this Rashi. “Money is a very different thing before and after you eat.”
When Egypt was facing starvation they fully appreciated everything that Yosef had done for them. But years later, with the famine behind them and life back to normal, it was easy for them to forget about Yosef.
On a full stomach, I don’t think that the Egyptians could have appreciated Yosef the way they did on an empty stomach even if they wanted to. It is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of people who lived in different times than we do, but it is also hard to recreate our own mindsets that we had when times were different.
An example that comes to my mind is the case of Bernard Goetz. In The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell paints a portrait of what New York City was like in 1984. Crime was rampant and people were scared. When Bernard Goetz shot the men who attempted to mug him, he was considered a hero by most people and he was acquitted by a jury (six jurors had been the victims of muggings themselves). Twelve years later, after a massive reduction in crime, a civil suit was brought against Goetz by one of the men that he had shot, and a jury awarded the plaintiff over $40 million in damages. Gladwell appropriately named the chapter on Goetz “The Power of Context.” When crime was high and people were scared, Goetz was a hero. When the streets were safe, the same action was viewed very differently.
That is the power of context. When a “new king” rises he can see the same Yosef totally differently as he did when he was the old king.
I think we are seeing this play out right now with Bill Clinton.
Today we are far more sensitive to sexual abuse than we were in the 1990s. In today’s climate, the first allegations about Bill Clinton during the primaries would have disqualified him from running for office. Today it is not as easy to discredit an allegation by questioning the credibility of the alleged victim as Bill Clinton did in 1992. The Monica Lewinsky affair would have also been viewed as abusive since she was his employee. If it happened today he would be forced to resign in shame.
In the 90s these and other episodes were disruptive for Clinton, but they did not disqualify him from running or finishing his term in office.
Now that Hillary is running for president and these issues are being revisited I think that his past sins will be seen in a different light. The context has changed. A new king has risen, and I don’t think that society will give Bill Clinton the same passes that he received in the 1990s.
Our views on sexual abuse have evolved for the better. What was a minor scandal in the past is considered completely unacceptable abusive behavior today. He may not have to face criminal charges like Bill Cosby, but he will probably have to leave public life in shame.
I don’t think that even his admirers can look at him the same way as they did in the 1990s. The new king has risen, the genie is out of the bottle, and once that happens we cannot go back to our old mindset even if we wanted to.