Posted in Rabbi Marchuck's Blog, on April 11, 2014

עבדים היינו…..We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt

"We were slaves to Pharoah in Egypt because in the same matter that they dealt wickedly upon us" (Shemot18:11).

As Yitro reflected on the the Egyptian drowning in the sea, he proclaimed this is the concept of מדה כנגד מדה – a measure for a measure .



Pharaoh, many could rationalized, dealt in a normal way with Jewish people. If a foreign nation living in your land is beginning to outnumber you, something must be done so as not to prevent the indigenous people being pushed out of their own land. Furthermore, enslavement of a foreign people was not an unusual practice during that time period. Throwing the Jewish babies into the river was another approach taken to set limits on the population. However, the Torah uses the word ” זדו” or “wickedly” to express a more malicious intent. There was a true hatred that Pharaoh had on the Jewish nation. It seems that, even though Pharaoh presented his plan in a manner of dealing with national security, he personally had the intent to destroy the nation that he despised. For, as we see all the way back when Yoseph was preparing his brothers for the first meeting with Pharaoh, Yoseph already warned them to keep their distance from him (and his descendants). As it says in Bereishit (chapter 46: 33-34), “And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and say: What is your occupation? You should say: We are your servants and are keepers of cattle from our youth until now, both us and our fathers; so this way you can dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” By Yoseph instructing his brothers in this maneuver, he intended to keep the Jewish people at a safe distance from the rest of Egypt, and it worked for a while. That is, until the beginning of the book of Shemot (chapter 1; 7) where it says, “And the land was full of them (Jews).” Once the Jewish people started to leave Goshen and move out to the rest of Egypt due to overpopulation, things started to change. The next verse continues with, “A new king arose that did not know Yoseph,” implying that all previous understanding and affection for Yoseph and his family were ancient history. This Pharaoh, as the verse points out, and not the rest of Egypt, had a wicked plan for Yoseph’s nation from the moment they left the borders of Goshen. The Jewish identity transformed from Jews that are living in Goshen to Egyptian Jews, perhaps a subtle change of perspective. However, this small step iin fact changed the future of the Jewish people.  


Let us always remember that as long as our exile continues, may it end today, that we are always Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) first and foremost.


Chag Sameach and a Happy Passover.