(continued from here)
|8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people: 'Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us; 10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalls us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.' 11 Therefore they set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel. 13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor. 14 And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; in all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor.||ח ויקם מלך-חדש, על-מצרים, אשר לא-ידע, את-יוסף. ט ויאמר, אל-עמו: הנה, עם בני ישראל--רב ועצום, ממנו. י הבה נתחכמה, לו: פן-ירבה, והיה כי-תקראנה מלחמה ונוסף גם-הוא על-שנאינו, ונלחם-בנו, ועלה מן-הארץ. יא וישימו עליו שרי מסים, למען ענתו בסבלתם; ויבן ערי מסכנות, לפרעה--את-פתם, ואת-רעמסס. יב וכאשר יענו אתו, כן ירבה וכן יפרץ; ויקצו, מפני בני ישראל. יג ויעבדו מצרים את-בני ישראל, בפרך. יד וימררו את-חייהם בעבדה קשה, בחמר ובלבנים, ובכל-עבדה, בשדה--את, כל-עבדתם, אשר-עבדו בהם, בפרך.|
1:8–15 Hard Labor
This section begins the enslavement of the descendants of Israel by a paranoid Pharoah in three stages. First he talks to his people and then proceeds to force the Israelites into two phases of labor. The first phase is enslavement into the labor of building store-cities and the second is being forced to work with more rigor in the field (Hakham 17). This section and the subsequent one are replete with irony, as seen in the following verses.
8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt
This most likely refers to not only a new king but a new dynasty. It might refer to the Eighteenth Dynasty ruler Ahmose I (ca. 1539-1514 BCE) or the Nineteenth Dynasty ruler Ramesses II (ca. 1279–1213 BCE) (Hoffmeier 122-126). There is a certain irony in the new Pharoah's name not being mentioned. While it is true that the Torah was not intended as a history book and the specific name of the Pharoah would not have been significant to the Torah's readers (Cassuto), there is a specific irony in the omission of the Pharoah's name. In ancient Near Eastern literature, Assyrian in particular, victorious kings are extremely careful to enumerate in detail the kings whom they have defeated. However, Egyptian literature is different and conquered kings often remain unnamed (Hoffmeier 109–111). By refraining from naming the Pharoah at the beginning of the narrative, the Torah is ironically using an Egyptian technique to delegitimize the enemy Egyptian king who is eventually defeated at the end of the story.
9 Behold, the people of the children of Israel
Exodus is the book that describes how the children of Israel became a people. Ironically, it is Pharoah who first calls this family a people (Fretheim 28).
are too many and too mighty for us
This can be translated as "more and mightier than we"--with mimenu referring to both terms--or "many and mightier than we"--with mimenu referring to only the last term (Abrabanel). The former seems to be the simplest translation, which makes it a very implausible statement. How could the Israelites be the majority in Egypt and still become enslaved? It seems that this was a statement intended to scare the Egyptians into action, a prediction of what would be if they did not act decisively (Abraham Maimonides).
The Hebrew words for "many" used in this verse and the next--rav, atzum, yirbeh--are three of the seven used in verse 7 above.
It is ironic that Pharoah emphasizes the fulfillment of God's promise by noting how the Israelites have become so plentiful (Fretheim 28).
10 come, let us deal wisely with them
It is indeed ironic that Pharoah called up his people to act wisely but, as the story unfolds, is found to have repeatedly acted foolishly (Fretheim 28). The references to the Egyptian people is in the plural but the Israelite people in the single. This literary device serves to emphasize that the Israelites have been called a people for the first time (Greenberg 20).
when there befalls us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land
It is unclear exactly what this fear is--that the Israelites will join an enemy in battle against Egypt and then leave the country? What does the latter point add? Mendelssohn translates the conjunctive vav as "or", breaking the passage into two possible events: in case of invasion, the Israelites might join the enemy combatants; or they might leave the land and strengthen the enemy people whose army is fighting in Egypt (Hertz). Another irony in this passage is that this latter fear of Pharoah's is exactly what comes about in a literal sense, despite Pharoah's efforts to prevent it (Fretheim 28).
11 Therefore they set over them taskmasters
The use of taskmasters reflects a two-tier system of labor that is documented as being utilized in ancient Egypt (Hoffmeier 114-115). This is the first step in the enslavement of the people of Israel. The use of the term "mas" (sarei misim = taskmasters) reflects forced labor, as used in 1 Kings 5:27f., 9:16f.
to afflict them with their burdens
The forced labor would make them too tired to procreate (Bekhor Shor).
From the Egyptian p(r) itm which means "house or estate of the god Atum." Some believe that Tell el Maskhuta is Pithom, others consider Tell el Retabeh a more likely identification, while still others favor Heliopolis (Hoffmeier 119-121; ABD "Pithom").
Also vocalized as "Ramesses". This city has been equated with Pi-Ramesses, which has been positively identified as Qantir (Hoffmeier 117-119). In its day, Pi-Ramesses rivaled Thebes and Memphis as a large city with massive temples and huge statues. It was also strategically located to provide defense against invasion in the narrow land between a branch of the Nile and nearby lakes (ABD "Ramesses").
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad
The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites in order to prevent them from growing too large (see previous verse). Ironically, the exact opposite of their intention was realized when the Israelites multiplied even more.
13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor
This is the second phase of enslavement, in which the work was bitterly hard. The Egyptians hoped that this difficult labor would tire the Israelites and prevent them from procreating. The text does not state whether or not this plan succeeded, although the following section implies that it did not (Cassuto).
14 And they made their lives bitter
In this whole section, seven forms of the words avodah and parekh are used, which emphasizes this section's theme of hard labor (Hakham 17).
(full bibliography after the last post in this series)