7.4. Intensification of the Oppression: The Israelite Foremen are Beaten (5:13-18)

(13) And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, “You must complete the same work assignment each day as when you had straw.”

(14) And the foremen of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten. “Why,” they were asked, “did you not complete the prescribed amount of bricks, either yesterday or today, as you did before?”

(15) Then the foremen of the Israelites came to Pharaoh and cried: “Why do you deal thus with your servants?

(16) No straw is issued to your servants, yet they demand of us: Make bricks! Thus your servants are being beaten, when the fault is with your own people.”

(17) He replied, “You are shirkers, shirkers! That is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’

(18) Be off now to your work! No straw shall be issued to you, but you must produce your quota of bricks!”

(13-14) And the taskmasters pressed them … And the foremen of the Israelites … were beaten: A conflict now arises between the Egyptian taskmasters and the Jewish foremen. Until now (v. 10), those two groups together had been managing the Jewish work effort, and the foremen remained loyal to Egypt. These foremen, motivated more by class distinctions than by national self-identification, felt that they had more in common with the Egyptian oppressors than with the Jewish oppressed, although the latter were closer to them as a matter of national origin.

But in order to expedite the Exodus it was necessary for the Jewish elite to turn its back on Egypt and want to leave it. They, too, had to begin to feel that their national roots were stronger than their class ties. These most recent persecutions by Pharaoh served precisely this purpose – to distance the Jewish elite from the Egyptians.

(15-16) Then the foremen of the Israelites came to Pharaoh and cried: “Why do you deal thus with your servants? … Thus your servants are being beaten, when the fault is with your own people”: The Jewish elite’s loyalty to Egypt has been undermined, but not yet completely. They are still hoping that (as the saying goes) if the nobility has let them down, they can still count on the king (Pharaoh) himself.

(17-18) He replied, “You are shirkers, shirkers! … Be off now to your work! No straw shall be issued to you, but you must produce your quota of bricks!”: The Jewish elite were deceived in their expectations, for it now turns out that Pharaoh too is malevolent. This now inclines them even more to embracing the Exodus.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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