Pharaoh’s “Final Solution”
In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion Pharaoh says to his people “…behold the people, the Children of Israel, are more numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us outsmart it lest it becomes numerous, and it may be that if a war will occur it too may join our enemies and wage war against us and go up from the land.”
Abarbanel is puzzled by Pharaoh’s concerns. First of all, the Children of Israel were clearly not more numerous than the Egyptians. And even if they were more numerous, it makes no sense for him to say, “…lest it become numerous.” Secondly, if he was concerned about the Jews’ leaving, what difference does it make whether it is peacetime or wartime? Finally, if he was concerned about the Jews joining with the enemy, he should have been concerned that they would conquer Egypt, not that they would leave.
Abarbanel responds that the expression in the verse “…more numerous and stronger than we” refers not to their numbers but to their strength, which he recognized came directly from
Pharaoh’s solution to this possible problem was to totally oppress them and take away their freedom with a methodical, step-by-step process that started with an increased tax burden, and progressed to back-breaking enslavement. His goal was to arrest their population increase. However,
Pharaoh then embarked on history’s first attempt to find the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.” His decision to limit the genocide to the killing of male infants only was based on his calculation that Jewish girls could be much more easily controlled and assimilated into Egyptian society and would pose no military threat if Egypt were invaded.