Descent into Slavery

Exodus 1:1-22

Image: Slavery in Egypt, Shutterstock

Our portion opens with the descent of Jacob’s family into Egypt. As mentioned in the Israel Bible, the text identifies the heads of families who traveled with Jacob in a list almost identical to that of Genesis 46, emphasizing the connection between the books of Genesis and Exodus. The Torah goes on to describe the process under which the Israelites are enslaved.


The Egyptians are intimidated by the Israelites’ massive growth. Pharaoh tells his advisors they must deal wisely with the Israelites, lest they grow too numerous and join forces with Egypt’s enemies. His approach is three-tiered: slavery seems to be ineffective in stemming the growth rate, and when his initial effort to enlist the help of the midwives servicing the Israelites in murdering the male infants fails, he orders all Israelite male infants be thrown into the Nile river.


Tradition relates that Pharaoh tricked the Israelites into becoming slaves. At first, grateful for everything their host country had done for them, the Israelites agreed to join a national building project which included both Egyptian and Israelite volunteer workers. Over time, the Egyptians stopped participating in the efforts, but the Israelites remained until what had started as a voluntary project became mandatory.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

  • This is the very first example of “anti-Semitism”. What is Pharaoh accusing the Jewish people of? How does that connect with other examples of anti-Semitism throughout history?


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  • Shlomenu

    he accuses them of becoming a Nation imagining they'd latter rule themselves.Nowaday true jews of either Israel or the diaspora are never granted the freedom to dominate themselves,their every move is monitored

    • Tccuss

      It amazes me that Egyptian were black,, hebrews were black in Africa. We will agree Egypt and Isreal is in Africa, not the so called middle east ( made up in 1940's) and for some reason Egyptian comes back with light to white skin and these so called white jews from the caucus mountains are the real jews of the Bible. Jews never mentioned in the 1st 5 books of the Bible. Didn't come in until kings. WOW. we continue to hide God's real people. But, we know who they are!

      • Elyse

        It never fails to amaze me how some people have to rewrite history to suit themselves. Really!

  • Herman Arentsen

    Pharo’s accusing the Jewish people of secret activities and fears they might overthrow his reign. This would be altogether dangerous if they think to connect an foreign ally. So limit the number of them by a stronger controle, controle the birthrate and lastly controle their possibilities of multiplication. Wear them out so they don’t like even to have children. Parallels we have seen in the past: Hitler, and more early in history not giving our people opportunity to join the guilds, the professional corporations. Prevent them from exercising a fair job so they had only the possibility to do a free profession. (hence the dealers and traders)

    • Andrea Kelly

      Similar activities are implemented and being implemented now. Legalisation of abortion, organisations like Planned Parenthood, and promotion of controversial lifestyles etc. There is nothing new under the sun

  • Angela B

    Anti-semitism springs from the fact that the Hebrews do things a different way from others, they're driven by a different Spirit (the spirit if Yahweh), meanwhile the world is driven by the spirit of HaSatan hence the hatred. HaSatan hates anyone that belongs to Yahweh. In addition, anti-semitism is linked to the consequences of disobedience of the Torah, some instances of it through history is because these peculiar people had moved away from keeping the Torah and by default, they had to suffer the consequences of war, bloodshed from their enemies.

  • SueJean Heinz

    8 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Yosef. ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע אֶת יוֹסֵף.
    9 And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us;
    ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל עַמּוֹ הִנֵּה עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רַב וְעָצוּם מִמֶּנּוּ.
    10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.’
    י הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שֹׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ.
    Here we see a weak Pharaoh that is ruled in his own heart by fear. He fears his enemies outside the land and the people inside the land that have been there for many generations. He makes many wicked and cruel decisions driven by his fears and still the Children of Y'srael continue to multiply and wax strong in the land.
    Elohim foretold everything that would happen to the Children of Y'srael and HE always had a plan for their suffering, a deliverer and their redemption. Have we moved so far away from HIM that we know longer believe that HE still has a plan in place for his Children today? Even as we suffer at the hands of our enemies and the wickedness of the world we live in today, we must look for HIS plan during the end of times. The Prophets have promised that what happened to our Fathers, the Patriarchs will happen to us.
    Baruch Hashem.

    • Andrea Kelly

      Well thought through.

  • Kathy Curry

    God blessed the Hebrews to prepare for His Plan for them. I know that after Joseph died the ensuing Pharaohs forgot Joseph and the good he did. Is it also possible that the Hebrews allowed idol worship to water down their belief in the One True G-d? It seems to be a recurring problem whenever they bring in conquered people. Even Solomon had such a problem. G-d, in His wisdom, began to make preparations for how He was going to lead the people home. As long as they were comfortable, why leave? Am I really off base here?

  • Tonia

    They are growing by leaps and bounds and that shows that Pharaoh is threatened by the Jews that they may grow too large and overtake the Egyptians. All over the world people see that the Jews are a distinct people who they really are jealous of and know in their heart that they are the Children of God…of His Chosen people. Such a small country and such a big threat to most of the world…I call that satan.

  • Donna

    Wow!!! From about 70 Hebrews… – what Incredible Miraculous Supernatural Increase!!! That pressed out what was in the heart of Pharaoh… as has been the pattern throughout History. God Prospers the Hebrews because they were and are His Chosen Vessel to bring Himself and His Word to the entire world and they are Blessed by His Increase AND the people and land with them – Gen 12:3. But, His Increase Exposes what is in the hearts of men and that bears Fruit, either Blessings – the Hebrews, the country and people are Blessed because of the Hebrews or curses – jealousy, greed, expulsions and genocide and ALWAYS confiscation of property. Pharaoh is accusing the Jewish people that they will join their enemies AND LEAVE THE LAND – very interesting!!! And, the Increase will leave… And, sadly this pattern has played out through History even from Christians 🙁 when Constantine tragically divorcing Christianity from Judiasm in 333AD, the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492, the Crusaders, the horror of the Shoah (the holocaust) during Hitler’s time in Christian Germany in the 1930-40’s, and even as recent as the last few days in France. Thankfully, The Book Tells of this and also Tells of a time (that I think is VERY soon) when the Meshiach Will Come and Put an end to this – and the Jewish Nation of Israel Is the Proof of this, HALLELU YAH!!!

  • Drew

    I find it fascinating that we start this journey with the second book of the TORAH.
    Why fascinating? Cause the TORAH starts with the second letter of the aleph bet/alphabet.
    As history proves over and over Jews get invited,they and the nation prosper then the nation decides we dont need the Jews anymore kick em out/enslave them.

  • Kenneth

    In regard to Pharaoh’s harsh treatment and connection through history. It was based upon fear and lack of appreciation of the past good done by Joseph and his Jacob’s offspring. When affliction was added (v12), so did God’s providential care. Though affliction was added, yet it had a providential outcome. Today as anti-antisemitism continues, realize it is also due to unjust fears and lack of knowledge. This too, will eventually be used by God for good. Meanwhile, it will hurt and at times hurt greatly.

  • Kenneth

    The account mentions the great increase of the Hebrew people. Questions: 1) when Moses was born, how many years had passed since Jacob brought his family of 70 to Goshen? 2) Later, when Moses was 80, he would lead God’s people to freedom. How do we account for such a miraculous increase in numbers (a few million)? Besides faith in God’s providence, is there a practical answer?

    • Michael

      I believe the Hebrews were in Egypt for approx 200 years plus/minus. At Mt Siani there were what- 600,000 Male Hebrews so perhaps a total population of 1.5-2million? I wonder how many of these numbers include Egyptions who joined… Or perhaps the numbers can only be explained as Divine Providence.

    • Great question, which is also asked by our sages! They explained that it was Divine intervention that allowed for such a population increase. Rashi (a Medieval commentator) brings a Midrash to explain this phenomenon.
      The Torah, as the word of God, doesn’t waste any words-so why are there so many words used to describe how the Hebrews multiplied? The midrash explains that the six ‘multiplying’ words used in 1:7 come to teach us that the women would give birth to 6 children at a time. A true miracle!

  • Michael

    Pharo is worried that the Hebrews are a fifth column on Egypt. That they will form an alliance with a foreign state and overthrow the Egyptians.

    • Michael, thanks for your comments! Your ideas are definitely based on the verse. As well, according to the medieval commentator Rashi, Pharaoh is worried that the Israelites will drive the Egyptians out of their own land. However, a closer look at the simple meaning of the verse (1:10) seems to indicate that Pharoah is worried about the Hebrews leaving the land! What’s the concern here?

      • Na'ahma

        Shalom. If the Hebrews leave, the economic impact will leave Egypt in utter financial disarray. Additionally, Pharaoh’s building projects will all but cease, leaving his legacy incomplete. Financial crisis, social discord, no more slaves to shore up the society – these are desperate situations for a political leader anywhere. As a god, Pharoah is expected to keep things well under his control. He could lose his very life if he doesn’t. The Hebrew presence is very much needed but their sheer numbers are a threat. The only solution to keep things at status quo is to enslave them.

        • Tonia

          Right on!

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