"A new king arose over Egypt who did not know of Yosef." (Shemos/Exodus 1:8)
The Talmud (Sotah 11a) explains that the "new king" does not have to be
understood literally; rather, it was the same sitting monarch with new
decrees. Accordingly, the phrase "did not know of Yosef" means Pharaoh
blocked from his consciousness any image of Yosef to allow him to persecute
the Jewish nation. But when Pharaoh was confronted by the statement of G-d's
desire for the release of the Children of Israel, he responded, "Who is G-d
that I should heed his voice?" (Shemos 5:2) Pharaoh was keenly aware of the
Infinite G-d; when Yosef interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh instructed Yosef to
execute every nuance of plan for the salvation of Egypt, "since G-d has
informed you of all this." (Beraishis/Genesis 41:39) It took great audacity
to ignore Yosef's acumen and skill that saved his nation, the most powerful
on the face of the earth; but how did Pharaoh, who most clearly knew of G-d,
later absolutely deny His existence?
Rabbi Meir Rubman (Sefer Zichron Meir) finds the answer in the words of our
Sages. Contemplating the extremely severe punishment for one who is
ungrateful to his fellow man, the Mishnas Rebbi Eliezer relates it to
denying G-d's existence. One who denies G-d's existence is ungrateful to Him
by virtue of the denial of the myriad kindnesses that are part and parcel of
our daily reality. One who musters the ability to demonstrate ingratitude to
his peer will eventually find this attitude manifest toward his Creator.
Thus, it derives that a fundamental underpinning of belief in G-d is the
recognition of the good that He does for every individual and mankind as a
whole. To accomplish this, one must start working on this virtue in the
realm of the tangible - appreciating the generosity of his peers - and then
he can apply his developing trait to the more difficult task - appreciating
the constant subtle gifts G-d bestows upon us. As the appreciation for G-d
develops, the belief in Him is strengthened.
Pharaoh lacked in his appreciation of Yosef. Yosef was the one responsible
for the country's great economic strength, not just despite the famine, but
due to the famine. Yet Pharaoh chose not to remember Yosef's great
kindnesses, to him personally and the Egyptian people nationally. "He did
not know Yosef" - he forced himself not to "know" him. This void in his
gratitude eventually lead him to completely "forget" about G-d as well.
Fortification of faith in G-d seems like such a daunting task. But where do
we start? By showing proper appreciation to our fellow man. One must sense
and express gratitude to one's spouse, one's parents, one's children, one's
peers. Developing this virtue will foster an appreciation of G-d, a belief
in G-d, and, eventually, a love relationship with G-d.