Pharaoh’s behavior: A blueprint for anti-Semitism

In Parshat Shmot (Shmot 1:9-10), Pharaoh tells his people:

Look, the Israelite people have become too many and too strong for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them lest they increase and if war breaks out they will join our enemies and fight against us and leave the country.

Why did Pharaoh need to come up with a plan to deal shrewdly with B’nai Yisrael? Why was he so secretive in the ways that he tried to get rid of them?

First, he gave them back breaking work. Next, he demanded that the midwives secretly kill the baby boys. Then, he announced that all of the baby boys must be thrown into the water. Finally, he sent the Egyptians house to house to take any babies that were being hidden.

Pharaoh was a dictator who could do whatever he wanted so why didn’t he just kill them off? What was he trying to hide?

According to Ramban, Pharaoh and his advisors did not think that it would be wise to put the Israelites to the sword; for this would have constituted rank treason to persecute without cause a people that had come to the land at the bidding of his royal predecessor. Moreover, the people of the land would not have allowed the king to commit this violence since he had to consult them. All the more so since the children of Israel were a mighty and numerous people who had the potential make war with them.

The plan was carried out without Pharaoh’s involvement. If confronted, he could use the excuse that the Egyptians took it upon themselves to hurt the children of Israel. He could then declare that they would be punished accordingly. Even the act of letting his daughter take the baby in the basket home made it seem like it was never his decree to have the babies killed.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that Pharaoh originally did not want to openly declare war but once the seeds of rebellion began to sprout (after Moshe and Aharon went to speak to Pharaoh about letting them go to sacrifice to God) the situation was different. At that point, Pharaoh had an excuse to openly challenge them.

According to Ramban, this story is a blueprint for antisemitism.

There are many similarities between the narrative in Shmot and the Holocaust.

The Nazis prepared the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” (the plan for the annihilation of the Jewish people) as they were afraid that the Jews would take over. They too had stages in order to deal shrewdly with the Jewish people. At first the Jews were sent to ghettos, then they were told that they were being sent away to work. The labor camps made way for concentration and extermination camps. At first, the killing was done quietly. Mass extermination of the Jews came later.

In the case of Pharaoh as well as in the case of the Nazis, the plans to do evil were laid out very carefully. It is unfortunate and devastating that they used their wisdom to cause so much destruction.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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