What is the connection between the end of the last parsha and the beginning of this one?
(1,1) “And these are the names of the children of Yisrael that came to Egypt with Ya’akov, each man and his household came.”
We can explain the connection between the end of the last parsha, where it says “And Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years, and they embalmed him and he was placed into the coffin, in Egypt”, to the beginning of this one, as follows:
The reason why Yosef was placed in a coffin was because the Hebrews were despised by the Egyptians. As it says in parshas Mikeitz 43:32 the Egyptians ate separately “because the Egyptians could not eat food with the Hebrews, for it is an abomination to the Egyptians”. Similarly, it says in the Midrash on posuk 41:12 “And there with us was a Hebrew lad” - when the cupbearer mentioned Yosef, he started to denigrate him: He is a Hebrew, one of the hated ones. And so, even Yosef who was one of their rulers, nevertheless, after his death they did not want to give him a place of burial amongst the graves of their kings or somewhere similar, but instead put him in a coffin by himself. This is what the posuk is intimating “and he was placed into the coffin in Egypt” - in a coffin all by himself. This shows how much Yisrael were despised in the eyes of the Egyptians.
Now, the Alshich HaKodosh writes that the reason for the exile in Egypt was because the Amorites in the Land of Canaan had not yet completed their quota of iniquity which would allow them to be destroyed, and Hashem was concerned that if Yisrael was allowed to settle there now, before that time arrives, they might become assimilated amongst them. Therefore, he brought them to Egypt, where they were exceedingly despised, which ensured that they would not wish to intermarry with them, nor to mix with them at all. Therefore, Yisrael remained holy, and went out from Egypt clean, without impurities.
This is what these two posukim are saying: we see how much Yisrael were despised, so that even to Yosef, the ruler, was not allowed to be buried amongst them, but was instead placed in a coffin. And if they behaved like that towards Yosef, all the more so towards the rest of Yisrael. For this very reason, “these are the children of Ya’akov who came to Egypt with Ya’akov - because they were despised there.
This also explains the later posuk - “and as much as they afflicted them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength”. If they had not afflicted them so much, there would have been a concern that they might intermingle with them, and this would have caused Yisrael’s destruction and loss. But because they afflicted them, which, in addition to the antagonism which this caused, also made them even more despised, therefore they did not intermix, and this was the main reason for their continued existence. Therefore, “so did they multiply and so did they gain strength”, since there was no impurity amongst them.
Why does it say here את Ya’akov?
(1,1) “And these are the names of the children of Yisrael that came to Egypt את (with) Ya’akov, each man and his household came."”
In our posuk it says that the children of Yisrael “came to Egypt את Ya’akov”, but in parshas Vayigash it says in posuk 46:8 “these are the names of the children of Yisrael that came to Egypt, Ya’akov and his sons”, and there it does not say את.
It seems to me that the reason is because the tribes are compared to stars, as it is stated in the Midrash here, and so too it says in the Torah concerning the dream of Yosef, “the sun, the moon and the eleven stars were bowing down to me”. Now, stars are not visible by day when the sun is dominant, but only when the sun goes down. Furthermore, the light of the stars is light as it says in the gemora Pesachim, meaning that they give out their own light.
From this we can explain that as long as Ya’akov, who was the sun, was alive, the light of the tribes could not be seen at all. Thus, although Ya’akov and his sons were all tzaddikim, Ya’akov was the principal Tzaddik of his generation, and his sons were subordinate to him, like the stars to the sun. But after the death of Ya’akov the light of the tribes started to shine, and they were now the principal tzaddikim of the generation. Therefore it says, “and these are the names of the children of Yisrael who came to Egypt את Ya’akov”, because the word את in the Torah signifies subordination, demonstrating that Ya’akov was now secondary, and they were primary, and therefore their coming to Egypt was in the name of the tribes.
This is like Chazal said: Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation - that just like Shmuel was the indisputable leader in his generation, so too was Yiftach in his generation, even though he was not as great as Shmuel. From this we learn that if a very great leader of a previous generation was alive now, even so, he would be subordinate to the leader of the present generation, since it is now the era of this current one. So said Chazal in the gemora Shabbos 51a: If R. Yosi had been alive he would have subjugated himself and sat before Rebbi.
Here too, when it was the reign of Ya’akov and his time, Ya’akov was the principal, and his children were secondary. But now, when Ya’akov died, the light of the tribes began to shine, and they became the principal, and Ya’akov secondary. It is now clear why the Torah says, after Ya’akov’s death, “the children of Ya’akov who came to Egypt את Ya’akov” - it was they, the current leaders, who are mentioned as being the ones who came to Egypt…and also Ya’akov.
What was Pharaoh’s advice to his ministers?
(1,9) “And he said to his people: Behold, the people of the children of Yisrael are numerous, and stronger than us. Be prepared, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they become numerous, and it will be when a war befalls us, they too will be added to our enemies and fight against us, and depart from the land.”
There are several questions here. Initially the posuk says that they were numerous, which implies that they were already numerous, but then it says “lest they become numerous”, which implies that it is a possibility that might happen in the future. Also, it says “and it will be when a war befalls us”, which implies that only if that happens will we have to worry about them. But surely since they are so numerous, they should already worry that they might by themselves rise up and make war against them, and not wait for a war to happen. Also, the words “and he will depart from the land” are problematic. Rashi explains that the meaning is that we, the Egyptians, will depart from the land, and they will take possession of it. But if so, it should have said “and we will depart from the land”.
But it seems that all that Pharaoh wanted was to get rid of Yisrael’s presence from his land. However, he was concerned about exiling them from his land, because that would require fighting with them, provoking them to resist and fight back, and since they were more numerous than the Egyptians they would not succeed against them. Therefore, he calculated that since he was the king he knew how big was his population and that of Yisrael, and he knew that they were more numerous than his people. But they, on the other hand, did not know how big the Egyptians were, and on the contrary, they probably thought that the Egyptians were more numerous than them.
Therefore, Pharaoh counselled that they should start to impose decrees against Yisrael to make it seem as if they are worried and afraid about the future - afraid that Yisrael’s population might increase. Then Yisrael will think that if they are afraid of an increase only in the future, that implies that right now they are not afraid. If so, it must be that they know that we are fewer in number than them. This ‘knowledge’ will persuade them to accept our decrees, and not stand up against us, and since the decrees will be harsh they will flee the country of their own accord.
However, in reality they cannot flee from Egypt, because it is impossible for a slave to escape, because, as Chazal have taught, the Egyptians used sorcery so that no slave could escape from Egypt. But this is only true as long as they were in Egypt. But if a slave went outside of the country, from there he could flee. Therefore, Pharaoh said, if we place upon them harsh decrees which would make them want to leave, then when a war will befall us they will act as if they were our friends, and go together with us out of the country to fight against our enemy, and once they have left the country they will flee of their own accord, and that is what we want. According to this, the words “they will fight בנו” means “they will fight amongst us”.
This is what the Torah is saying: “Behold the people of the children of Yisrael are numerous, and stronger than us”, and I am afraid to oppose them, to fight against them in order to exile them. Therefore, “Be prepared, let us deal shrewdly with them”. And how will we deal shrewdly? - “lest they become numerous”, that is, we will act as if we are worried that they might become numerous in the future, but that right now, we are not afraid, because we are more numerous. Thus they will accept our decrees, and not oppose us. Thus, “it will be when a war befalls us, they too will be added to our enemies”, meaning against our enemies. They will act as if they too wish to “fight amongst us”, and leave the country with us to fight. Then, when they will be outside the country, “they will depart from the land”, and this is our goal.
How did the Egyptians contrive that Yisrael would choose ‘willingly’ to do hard labour?
(1,11) "So they appointed over them tax collectors to afflict them with their burdens, and they built store cities for Pharaoh - Pisom and Raamses."
It seems that the intention of this posuk is to say that although from the beginning Yisrael paid taxes, they did not have over them many collectors, and so they could bear the taxation. But now there was a change, that whereas initially there had been only one person collecting the tax, now they appointed many tax collectors. And since each one wanted to rob Yisrael they created pretexts in order to force them to pay each one of them bribes, thus afflicting them and making them poor.
But to explain the matter further, it is clear from the end of the posuk that they also decreed upon them that they should work. However, they did not want to decree upon them that they must all actually do work, because they did not think it was wise to act against them forcibly all at once. As Chazal learned from the posukim, they initially acted with a ‘soft mouth’. Alternatively, it was because they were afraid of Yisrael. Therefore, even though they decreed upon them that they must work, the decree included a condition, that whoever wants to do actual work, should work, but anyone who does not want to work must pay a certain amount per day, or per month, and thereby be freed from having to do actual work.
However, they worried that perhaps all of Yisrael would pay, and not want to actually do the hard work. If so, their decree would be for nothing. Therefore, they appointed over them many tax collectors, so that they would collect large amounts from them, and through this they would become poor and no longer be able to withstand the yoke of the taxes, and thus of their own accord they would accept to do the work instead of paying such a burdensome tax, They would accept the work willingly, without coercion.
This is what the posuk says: “they appointed over them tax collectors”, so that they should pay a lot of tax, in order “to afflict them with their burdens”, so that they would not be able to bear the tax, and rather choose to work. And so it was that “they built store cities for Pharaoh” - that they chose to actually work.
Why did Pharaoh not specifically command the midwives that they must go and kill the boys?
(1,17) “But the midwives feared G-d, and did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them, but they enabled the boys to live. And the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them: Why have you done this thing, and enabled the boys to live? And the midwives said to Pharaoh: Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives; before the midwives have come to them, they have already given birth.”
The Midrash points out that there is unnecessary repetition here - if they did not carry out the king’s command to kill the boys, then of course they enabled them to live!
A simple explanation is that if the posuk had not said “and they enabled the boys to live”, we might have understood that the midwives had probably deliberated what to do concerning the decree of the king. On the one hand, if they go and deliver the babies but not kill the boys, then they would be actively disobeying the command of the king. But on the other hand, since they feared G-d they could not kill the babies.
Therefore, we might conclude that they probably decided to stop being midwives, and not to attend any more deliveries. Thus, although they did not do as the king desired, which was to kill the boys, at least they had not actively disobeyed him. Because his decree had not specified that they had to go, but rather he had said to them "when you deliver…if it is a son you shall put him to death" - when they delivered a boy they were commanded to kill him, but they could choose whether to go or not.
Therefore, if the posuk had only said that they “did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them”, one might have understood that they did not go to the delivery at all. Therefore, the posuk adds a few words to tell us that this is not what happened. Because if they had not gone, then the children would have died by themselves, something they could not allow to happen. Rather, “they enabled the children to live” - they went and delivered them, giving them life.
With this can understand the end of the posuk, which says “And the king of Egypt called the midwives, and said to them: Why did you do this thing, and enable the boys to live?” He was saying to them: At the very least you should not have gone, but rather you should have stayed at home and be passive, and by doing so you would have been free from G-d's judgement. Why instead "have you done this thing", to actively go and deliver them, "and enable the children to live?" Therefore they answered: “because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives; before the midwives come to them, they have already given birth”. We did not go, but rather they gave birth by themselves.
But the matter needs to be understood further. Why in fact did Pharaoh not decree upon them specifically that they must go and deliver the children and kill the boys, but instead implied that they could choose whether to go to deliver or not. Also we still need to understand the repetition in the posuk that we mentioned above. Because if it is for the reason that I have just explained, that without the extra words I would have thought that they did not go at all, if so, what does the posuk mean “and the midwives feared G-d” and therefore they did not go so they would not kill the babies? By not going they also killed them, since they would die by themselves without a midwife. And not only the boys but also the girls. Their fear of G-d would not therefore have helped them to decide whether to go or not.
But the explanation is that we hold that if someone threatens a Jew that either he has to murder somebody or he himself will be killed, one should let himself be killed, rather than murder. And Chazal explained that the reason is “who says that your blood is redder, (that your life is more precious), perhaps the blood of the other person is redder”. According to this, Pharaoh was concerned that if he specifically commanded them to go and kill, he might not achieve his goal, since they might choose to let themselves be killed, rather than kill the boys, as is the halachah. Therefore, he gave them a choice - they can choose not go at all, but if they do choose to go, then they must kill the boys. This choice that he gave them ensured that not only would they go, but they that they would also carry out his command to kill the boys, according to the following complicated logic:
Firstly, the halachah would not obligate them to go. Because although by not going they will be passively causing the death of all the children, even so, we would apply the above mentioned dictum in the reverse: “Who says the life of the other person is more precious, maybe your life is more precious”, because by going they would be putting their lives in danger, since then they would have to allow themselves to be killed, rather than murder the boys. Therefore, it would be completely permissible for them not to go.
But now, since they are not obligated to go, and so the children would die anyway by themselves without a midwife, logic dictates that they can now go and deliver the children, and even kill the boys, because they would be killing a ‘dead’ person, and this is not called murder, and therefore it is not something for which they have to give up their life. (It is still called killing, and therefore strictly forbidden in normal circumstances).
Therefore it says “but the midwives feared G-d and did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them”. That is, by his careful choice of words he had given them the option whether to go or not, thereby giving them a way to rid themselves of their fear of G-d not to kill, as explained in the above logic. Nevertheless, they did not do as he had spoken to them, but rather they retained their fear of G-d, “and they went and they enabled the children to live”, and did not kill them.
And according to this second way we have a much better explanation of the exchange between Pharaoh and the midwives. And we will also understand better the Midrash on the words “and they did not do as he had spoken to them (אליהן)”. Instead of the more normal להן the Torah wrote אליהן which is a contraction of אל להן, which literally means ‘to to them’, implying that what the king had said to the midwives had been direct and personal. From this, says the Midrash, we learn that he propositioned them, in addition to his command to kill the boys.
Now the halachah concerning sexual immorality is also that one should let oneself be killed rather than commit the act, so they of course refused, but we don’t see that the king challenged them about this refusal, only about their refusal to kill the boys. However, the rule is that one who does not obey the king in something which he could do is considered a rebel against the king. But if one does not do something because he is obligated to give up his life for it and he is not permitted to do it, he is not considered a rebel, and he is free from the death penalty.
Therefore, the king asked them: “Why have you done this thing?” Granted if I had commanded you to do some other act of murder you would not be considered a rebel if you disobeyed me, since the halachah requires you to give up your life rather than transgress. Similarly for not doing my will in the matter of sexual immorality you are not considered as rebelling against the king. But concerning my command to kill the boys, you were not obligated to give up your life, as we have explained. If so, “why have you done this thing, that you have enabled the boys to live?”, because in this matter you are a rebel and are liable to the king.
To this challenge they answered that “the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives”, and so even if we had not gone ourselves, they would have been able to deliver the child. Therefore, since whether we went or not the children would have been delivered, we went to the delivery, because you would not have gained by us not going. But we did not kill the boys, for since they had the ability to deliver the baby themselves, no longer could the child be considered ‘already dead’, and consequently had we killed the child we would have been murderers. Therefore, since we are obligated to give up our lives rather than kill, we are not rebels against the king.
We have gained a lot with this explanation, because the first, simple explanation, where we explained that they denied that they had gone at all and claimed instead that the women themselves had delivered the baby is problematic, because we do not see in the posukim that they actually said this. Furthermore, how could they deny that which was known, since in truth they had gone. Also, Pharaoh asked them directly, “why have you done this thing”, which implies that he knew that they had gone and delivered the children, so how could they not be afraid to contradict him with an open lie. But according to the second explanation they readily admitted, and were not ashamed to say, that they had gone.
Does a midwife herself require another midwife to deliver her own baby?
(1,19) “And the midwives said to Pharaoh: Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives; before the midwives have come to them, and they have already given birth.”
At the end of the posuk, “before the midwives have come to them, and they give birth”, the ‘and’ seems to be superfluous. Also, Rashi explains here that the Hebrew women delivered their own babies themselves. But the Midrash asks on such an explanation: Does not a midwife herself require another midwife to deliver her own baby? We need to understand why Rashi explained this way.
The answer is that certainly a midwife herself would require another midwife, but the king thought that there were no other women who had that expertise apart from these two, Yocheved and Miriam, who were the established midwives. Therefore, he commanded them the matter of killing the boys, thinking that no woman could not give birth without calling them. But the midwives answered him that the Hebrew women were not like the Egyptian women, because all of them can deliver children before the arrival of the established midwives (that is, if they don‘t arrive in time) - her neighbour, or her mother, or her daughter - and they can manage without the official midwives.
Now, Rashi on an earlier posuk (16) explained that a certain word which one might have thought should be translated ‘when you give birth’, is actually is a verb conjugation which means ‘when you deliver’. Here too, in posuk 19, the end of the posuk “and they gave birth” can instead be read “and they delivered”. Thus the posuk reads: “because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives, before the midwives have come to them, and they delivered”, meaning that another woman delivered the baby. Thus the word ‘and’ now makes sense, since it is a continuation of the earlier phrase, as if it had written “for they are as skilled as midwives and they delivered before the midwives have come to them”.