Weekly Torah Portion: The Descent into Slavery
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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.