A Student Torah Publication of YRSRH
Founded in 1984
ויבאו שטרי בני ישראל ויצעקו אל פרעה לאמר... תבן אין נתן לעבדיך ולבנים אמרים לנו עשו והנה עבדיך מכים וחטאת עמך. (ה, טו-טז)
The foremen of the בני ישראל came and cried out to פרעה, saying…Straw is not given to your servants, yet they tell us, ‘Make bricks!’ Behold your servants are being beaten, and it is a sin for your people. (5, 15-16)
There are several ways to interpret what וחטאת עמך means. רש"י holds that the foremen were telling פרעה that these decrees are bringing sin on his people. Ibn Ezra says they were rebuking פרעה himself, by telling him, “You are sinning”. However, they did not tell him outright, they only hinted it to him.
However we explain this comment, what was the purpose of telling it to פרעה? Was פרעה so righteous that he would change his ways because of what they were telling him!? On the contrary, in the eyes of פרעה the backbreaking labor that was decreed was no sin at all!
Rav Shimon Schwab זצ"ל explains that the foremen were warning פרעה. He was giving orders that were impossible to fulfill, thereby causing them to transgress his command.
Nonetheless, פרעה’s taskmasters beat them for it. This being so, ה' will act מדה כנגד מדה and punish פרעה for something that will be impossible for him to do. This ended up occurring when ה' took away פרעה’s free will and he had to transgress the command to let the בני ישראל go. Nonetheless, ה' still punished him for transgressing.
Another explanation is that the foremen meant that since פרעה commanded them to do the impossible, his respect would be cheapened because the Egyptians will see that the Jews are not fulfilling his laws and they will no longer fear transgressing his word.
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