The beginning of Shemot 14:5 says, "It was told to the King of Egypt...". Why use this term instead of the more common term "Pharoah"?

  • I think I found an answer in the Bais Dovid Chumash, but unfortunately I don't speak yiddish so I can't exactly decipher it... Feb 24, 2015 at 19:24
  • I am not fluent, but I was able to find that he speaks specifically to the lashon of Melech rather than Paroah, and that it had to do with the retention of his status as melech despite all that had happend in mitzrayim. I have a very general sense of the beginning of his comments, but a full understanding is beyond me. Feb 24, 2015 at 19:31
  • @Isaac kotlicky maybe postva picture and ill try to decipher it Feb 25, 2015 at 12:05

3 Answers 3


I don't have an authoritative answer but one comment that the Ohr Hachayim makes made me think. He cites an opinion (and, admittedly, the abbreviation for the source is unfamiliar to me) that Par'oh wrote a get shichrur for the nation, freeing them. If that is taken as a fact, then the people who informed Par'oh would have to have grounds to appeal to him -- but Par'oh can't go back on the contract he signed (yes, I'm borrowing liberally from the kingly notion of ein lehashiv from the megillah).

So the text indicates that there is this loophole the king tries to employ by being thought of as another "personality", the 'king of Egypt' as opposed to the "Par'oh" who signed the document. But the later use of Par'oh in the pasuk, and the use of the combined terms in pasuk 8 allow the text to destroy that loophole: the two personalities are one and the same person and he should be bound by his signature. Semantic games can't be employed to give him deniability.

Of course, I could be completely misunderstanding the Ohr Hachayim, and am just making this up to explain what could be a simple stylistic textual choice. Take it with as much salt as you need.

  • Your understanding is sensible, but even w/ Ohr Hacha'im commentary that you cited, it appears that you may have taken some liberty in assuming the same idea of decree policy as Ahashverosh used. That's a stretch of not just a different culture but many centuries! I'll see if I can glean something else from Ohar Hacha'im. I've never heard of a Get Shichrur, and why would this apply to a non-Jew, anyway?
    – DanF
    Jan 25, 2015 at 23:10
  • @DanF If you look through the source and track down the original, let me know if he explains more. And yes, I took liberties (mostly because when I went to the Even Shoshan to look up instances of "melech-" I saw "melech achashverosh" and t got me thinking.
    – rosends
    Jan 25, 2015 at 23:41
  • My copy of the Ohr HaChaim (to this passuk in Shemos) quotes this opinion in the name of the Yalkut, Siman 208.
    – DonielF
    Jun 19, 2016 at 4:32

Without any sources, I think Pharoh is how you perceived Pharoh subjectively when you are in Mitzrayim. He is the Pharoh, he defines society and there is nothing else.

Once you have left Mitzrayim then you know objectively that there is a country called Mitzrayim which has a king.

This was the essence of the entire geulah, that the avadim should know there is more in the world than this Pharoh who was eating into their soul.

  • Without lack of a source to support what you're stating, I recommend moving this to being a comment.
    – DanF
    Jan 21, 2016 at 15:56

Perhaps the text is suggesting a direct action on the king and not on his court and servants. Historically and etymologically the word "pharaoh" actually means "Great House", that is, the palace of king, not the king himself. In this sense "king of Egypt" would be more especific (although without naming) depending on the usage in its time.

According to Joel Forman in The use of the Term Pharaoh in the Bible (Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 43:1 (169) January – March 2015:

The kings of Egypt were not originally called pharaohs by the ancient Egyptians. The term "pharaoh" for the king of Egypt developed over time, and was also used by the Hebrews and Greeks to describe the Egyptian ruler. In Ancient Egypt, the term "pharaoh" was not originally a royal title. Translated literally, the earliest meaning of the Egyptian word per-o was "great house", that is the palace or residence of the king and his administration. The term "pharaoh" referred to the ordinances and commands the king issued in his administration, but not to the person of the king himself. In New Kingdom times (sixteenth century BCE), it began to designate the king himself, rather like our use of "The White House" to refer to the American president or "The Crown" to refer to the British monarch.

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