Shemot: Building Blocks to Slavery

In this week’s Parasha, the tides have turned on Bnai Yisrael. Yosef passes away, and a new king arises who “does not know Yosef” (Shemot 1:8). As a result of the decrees of the new Pharaoh, the Egyptians make Bnai Yisrael’s lives “bitter with hard service” (Shemot 1:13). The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 1:11 explains how the Hebrew word for hard service, “B’Farech,” can be split into two Hebrew words “B’feh Rach,” with a soft mouth. The Midrash explains that Pharaoh gently persuaded Bnai Yisrael to help him in making bricks. According to the Midrash, while the brick-making was voluntary on the first day, by the second day, the taskmasters had turned this work into slave labor.

  • How did Bnai Yisrael go from being an exalted people to an enslaved people in Egypt?
  • Does this Midrash remind you of any other time periods in Jewish history? In what way?
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