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Why is the Pasuk that the Haggadah uses to show that “the Egyptians did bad to us" the Passuk in which Pharaoh sits down and says (Shemos 1:10):

הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”

Nothing bad really happens in that Passuk. Why not use an example of the Egyptians giving us backbreaking useless labor, throwing the baby boys in the river, or even [if you can use a Midrash] (Midrash Rabbah 1:34) slaughtering 150 Jewish children twice a day and bathing in their blood?

Additionally this is supposed to be an example of the Egyptians doing bad to us. This is just Pharaoh himself talking.

  • "And they vilified us:" as the verse says, we must plan against them lest they join our enemies ... – Shalom Jan 4 '18 at 13:43
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According to Perush Kadmon (printed in Mossaf HaRav Kook's Torat Hayyim Haggada), וירעו means calculated evil. Therefore the citation about deliberation and planning is appropriate. This is quoted by the Shibbolei HaLeket as well in his commentary to the Haggada (found in Shibbolei HaLeket 218).

Alternatively, as noted by @Eliyahu, the KolBo (here) that it means they presented the Jews as being bad. R. Nattan b. R. Yosef of Clermont similarly writes in his commentary to the Haggada[i] that it means they presented the Jews as being bad, and treated them as such. Hadar Z'Kenim of the Tosafits to Exodus (1:10) and Abravanel to Exodus (ch. 1) write this as well. This explanation is also quoted by the Beit Halevi to Exodus (1:9) and presented by R. YD Soloveitchik as quoted in Har'rei Keddem (2010) Vol. II pg 233.

Another answer is that Pharaoh is reasoning with the nation of Egypt see וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ. Similarly, 'נתחכמה' is in the plural, meaning that he was proposing that they participate. Apparently, rather than merely ordering them to comply, he convinced them to participate themselves. Accordingly, the verse serves as a proof-text for the intent on the Egyptians as a whole. This is supported by Rav Sa'adya Gaon who writes regarding this line in the Haggada that Pharaoh and the Egyptian people were in agreement. (Haggadat HaGeonim V'HaRambam pg. 185).

Another less satisfying answer to the second question, it isn't a full proof about all Egyptians, but not was the statement necessarily about all Egyptians in the first place. Pharaoh was unquestionably part of the Egyptian oppression, and he is therefore a proof for what was done by (some) Egyptians, even if not all.


[i] Printed in Moriah (257-9) (1999) pg. 16.

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    all your references @mevaqesh may be said to substantiate the answer of Rabbi Zweig – gamliela Jan 4 '18 at 10:06
  • @Eliyahu You are very welcome. I don't want to get undeserved credit though - search engines did most of the heavy lifting. – mevaqesh Jan 4 '18 at 15:45
  • Since הבה is not plural, I assume you meant to write what I wrote. Correct me if I was wrong. – b a Jan 7 '18 at 13:04
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Rabbi Yochanan Zweig asks this very question. He gives a beautiful and simple answer: the worst thing you can do for a person is to label them as a problem. Once they have a negative label placed on them, you can pretty much do whatever you want to them, and the public will view it as “they had it coming.” In this passuk, the Mitzriim do just that to the Jews - they are a problem. Once that is established, making them into slaves and killing their children is trivial.

He typically concludes by noting that if such harm can come from labeling someone as being so bad, imagine how much good can come from labeling someone as being so good.

  • Fantastic answer to the first question! Do you have an answer to the second question? – Eliyahu Jan 4 '18 at 5:59
  • Paroh labels the Jews, the Egyptians view the Jews as a problem, they attack them. – DonielF Jan 4 '18 at 6:03
  • I love this answer. – gamliela Jan 4 '18 at 9:59
  • This is a great answer. It's a shame I can't accept both answers. Thank you so much for sharing it. – Eliyahu Jan 4 '18 at 14:23
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    The 2nd par. is a poignant commentary on human psyche, I think. Most people are inherently selfish. Thus, rather than viewing their own merits, internally, when they see themselves as deficient, they concoct a problem in others, even if none was there. It would be far more productive if people imitated and learned from other's merits, instead. – DanF Jan 4 '18 at 19:50
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(Pseudo-)Malbim offers an approach in his commentary on the Haggadah.

The Haggadah is not bringing the verse in Shemot to explain what וירעו means. Rather, the intent is to explain the connection between this verse and the end of the immediately preceding verse - ויהי שם לגוי גדול עצום ורב.

Implicitly, the Hagaddah is asking, why should the growth of the Israelites cause the Egyptians to harm them? To which the answer is:

הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.

The Egyptians dealt wickedly with the Israelites, due to their fear of being overcome by the rapidly growing population.

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