With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shemot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males. Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yocheved to fulfill that role. Years later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai) Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael , the land promised to their ancestors. Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-d’s agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker, G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.
“And Egypt worked the Children of Yisrael with hard labor…” (1:13)
Several years ago, I remember visiting a famous mineral-water plant in the North of Israel.
This is a tiyul (recreational outing) that, for the average Israeli child, is like a day in Disney World.
Indeed, it’s quite fascinating to see the mechanical ingenuity with which the world’s most natural resource is turned into a “designer product” with serious brand-recognition and connoisseur cachet.
I never dreamed that I could impress my friends by the brand of water that I drink.
Imagine a constant production line of bottles like a highly sophisticated model railway, moving along at a constant but somewhat urgent speed. Just the right amount of water is injected. Then a gentle-giant of a machine squeezes the bottle-top onto the bottle. And finally the label is slapped onto the bottle.
It all works, quite literally, like clockwork.
Once in a while the bottle isn’t filled quite enough; or the label is at a slight angle, or the gentle-giant isn’t quite so gentle when stuffing the top onto the bottle.
So at the end of the line there sat a young lady with a red button in her hand. If she saw anything about this bottle that didn’t live up to the highest standards of designer water, she plunged her thumb into the red button and consigned the hapless bottle to instant doom.
I’ve rarely seen such boredom and quiet desperation play across the features of a human face.
“And Egypt worked the Children of Yisrael with hard labor…”
The Hebrew word “Perach” which is usually translated as “hard labor” can also be read as “Peh Rach”, which literally means “a soft mouth.”
One might imagine the soft-sell advertisement for that job in the water-bottling plant: “This has got to be the easiest job in the world! All you have to do is to push a red button once in a while! That’s all there is to it!”
Work doesn’t have to be hard to be soul-destroying.