Descent into Slavery

Jan 4, 2015


וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ׃

These are the names of the sons of Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each coming with his household:

v'-AY-leh sh'-MOT b'-NAY yis-ra-AYL ha-ba-EEM mitz-RA-y'-mah AYT ya-a-KOV EESH u'-vay-TO BA-u

Exodus 1:1

וַיְצַו פַּרְעֹה לְכָל־עַמּוֹ לֵאמֹר כָּל־הַבֵּן הַיִּלּוֹד הַיְאֹרָה תַּשְׁלִיכֻהוּ וְכָל־הַבַּת תְּחַיּוּן׃

Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Exodus 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?


Spread the love