In the Haggada we read the following verse (Shemos 1:10 from Chabad.org):

הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ פֶּן יִרְבֶּה וְהָיָה כִּי תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם הוּא עַל שׂנְאֵינוּ וְנִלְחַם בָּנוּ וְעָלָה מִן הָאָרֶץ׃

Get ready, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they increase, and a war befall us, and they join our enemies and depart from the land.

From this verse, it seems that the Egyptians biggest concern was that the Jews might leave Egypt. This was even more disturbing to them than their own nation being conquered! I mean, the Jews hadn't even been enslaved yet, why did they care so much about losing them?

3 Answers 3


Well, it turns out that if I had been reading the verse in a Chumash rather than a Haggada, my confusion would have been cut short. Rashi (quoting from Gemara Sotah) to that verse clears up the problem very handily:

and depart from the land: against our will. Our Rabbis, however, interpreted [i. e., depicted Pharaoh] as a person who curses himself but ascribes his curse to others. And it is as if it were written: and we will depart from the land, and they will take possession of it. [From Sotah 11a]

In other words, Paro was worried about the Egyptian's defeat, and euphemistically referred to their own exile as the Jews'.

It seems however, that since Rashi refers to the Rabbi's explanation as drush, and first explains the pasuk according to pshat, there is still an aspect of this that has to be answered.

  • Your answer is not clear. What do you mean "referred to their own exile as the Jews'"? Also, I think this answers it quite well, as you said at first. He's afraid the Egyptians will be run out of the land by the Jews. "Ve'Alah Min HaAretz" doesn't have a clear subject. Rashi says it is Egypt. I've also heard this before, slightly differently, from R' Menachem Leibtag.
    – Seth J
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 19:59
  • @SethJ Rashi is saying that "Ve'Alah" refers literally to the Egyptians, and euphemistically to the Jews. (This idea of referring to ones own calamity by attributing it to others is not uncommon.) He also first explains "Ve'Alah" literally, by saying "against our will." Afterward he brings a drash from Gemara as a second explanation.
    – HodofHod
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 20:06
  • Wait, reverse that. Literally (or grammatically) it refers to the Jews ("The Jews will go out") and euphemistically to the Egyptians ("We will go out").
    – HodofHod
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 19:21

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in his sefer Imrei Shefer here gives a very different explanation of this posuk which includes explaining the last phrase literally - that the Yisrael will leave the land.

The full English translation of this piece can be found here, but I will quote a section of it:

It seems that all that Pharaoh wanted was to get rid of Yisrael’s presence from his land. However, he was concerned about exiling them from his land, because that would require fighting with them, provoking them to resist and fight back, and since they were more numerous than the Egyptians, they would not succeed against them. Therefore, he calculated that since he was the king he knew how big was his population and that of Yisrael, and he knew that they were more numerous than his people. But they, on the other hand, did not know how big the Egyptians were, and on the contrary, they probably thought that the Egyptians were more numerous than them.

Therefore, Pharaoh counselled that they should start to impose decrees against Yisrael to make it seem as if they are worried and afraid about the future - afraid that Yisrael’s population might increase. Then Yisrael will think that if they are afraid of an increase only in the future, that implies that right now they are not afraid. If so, it must be that they know that we are fewer in number than them. This 'knowledge' will persuade them to accept our decrees and not stand up against us, and since the decrees will be harsh they will flee the country of their own accord.

However, in reality they cannot flee from Egypt, because it is impossible for a slave to escape, because, as Chazal have taught, the Egyptians used sorcery so that no slave could escape from Egypt. But this is only true as long as they were in Egypt. But if a slave went outside of the country, from there he could flee. Therefore, Pharaoh said, if we place upon them harsh decrees which would make them want to leave, then when a war will befall us they will act as if they were our friends, and go together with us out of the country to fight against our enemy, and once they have left the country they will flee of their own accord, and that is what we want. According to this, the words “they will fight בנו” means “they will fight amongst us”.

This is what the Torah is saying: “Behold the people of the children of Israel are numerous, and stronger than us”, and I am afraid to oppose them, to fight against them in order to exile them. Therefore, “Be prepared, let us deal shrewdly with them”. And how will we deal shrewdly? - “lest they become numerous”, that is, we will act as if we are worried that they might become numerous in the future, but that right now, we are not afraid, because we are more numerous. Thus they will accept our decrees, and not oppose us. Thus, “it will be when a war befalls us, they too will be added to our enemies”, meaning against our enemies. They will act as if they too wish to “fight amongst us”, and leave the country with us to fight. Then, when they will be outside the country, “they will depart from the land”, and this is our goal.

  • Whoa! That is such an interesting pirush!!! Totally counter-intuitive (to me, at least), but it works! +1
    – HodofHod
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 0:09

Perhaps "Bnei Yisrael will ally themselves with our (Mitzrayim's) enemies and [that enemy and the fifth column/BY], being victorious, will leave Mitzrayim to go on to conquer other nations, leaving us (Mitzrayim) a defeated, wasted people."

In a way, this is exactly what happened anyway: BY --"allied" with haShem-- defeated Mitzrayim. Via the makkot, left its economy and religious system in a shambles; with the gifts/back pay they received from the common people left it penniless; and, at yam Suf, destroyed its army.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site, and thanks for the interesting idea. Is it your own?
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 21:41

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