Sunday, May 16, 2010

Some thoughts on Vayarei'u Otanu

It has been a while, but to continue my running commentary of the Haggadah shel Pesach...

The darshening of Arami Oved Avi continues, based on the pasuk of:

ו  וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, וַיְעַנּוּנוּ; וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה.6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage.

וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים -- this is taken as a reference to Pharaoh's plan, hava nitchakma lo. There is no matchup of wording, so why is this taken to be parallel? Well, simply, because it means to do bad things to us, and if we look at the run of pesukim in the first perek of Shemos, we see:

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-עַמּוֹ:  הִנֵּה, עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--רַב וְעָצוּם, מִמֶּנּוּ.9 And he said unto his people: 'Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us;
י  הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה, לוֹ:  פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה, וְהָיָה כִּי-תִקְרֶאנָה מִלְחָמָה וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא עַל-שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם-בָּנוּ, וְעָלָה מִן-הָאָרֶץ.10 come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.'
יא  וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים, לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיִּבֶן עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת, לְפַרְעֹה--אֶת-פִּתֹם, וְאֶת-רַעַמְסֵס.11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses.

Pasuk 9 has a rav veatzum, which parallels the growth of the Israelites mentioned in gadol ve'atzum varav. As we shall see, pasuk 11 is the idea pointed at by וַיְעַנּוּנוּ. If so, pasuk 10 is right in the middle, and thus we have the correspondence of vayareiu and hava nitchakma lo.

What is the precise connection? Four possibilities occur to me:

a) It could be that in וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ הַמִּצְרִים, the focus is on hamitzrim. What is the evidence that this was a national campaign of the Egyptians doing us wrong, rather than merely Pharaoh? The answer is that Pharaoh turned to the Egyptians and brought them in on the plan to do us harm. Thus, hava nitchakma lo.

b) It could be that it is merely that וַיָּרֵעוּ  connotes evil intentions. And therefore the text from Shemot is for the evil plan, rather than the actual steps taken to carry it out.

c) It could be that וַיָּרֵעוּ means that they made us into bad people (in their minds), by projecting upon to us evil intent. Thus וַיָּרֵעוּ אֹתָנוּ, they made us evil.

d) Least likely, but perhaps וַיָּרֵעוּ  is from the root meaning befriend. Compare with שֹׂנְאֵינוּ, and with the idea that nitchakma lo; and the famous midrash of how we were gradually tricked into servitude.

וַיְעַנּוּנוּ -- This is a reference to actual affliction, and to pasuk 11, based on the word עַנֹּתוֹ. This is then a retelling of the story, in shorthand. One might have otherwise thought (as elsewhere) that this is perishut derech eretz.

וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלֵינוּ, עֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה --  saying that it was making the Israelites work befarech -- isn't that just more of the same? What does this add? Yet, there is the semantic linkage between avodah kasha and befarech, but why make these into separate derivations and pointers?

The answer is that this was actually a separate stage in the affliction, according to one reading of that first perek of Shemos. That is, above we read up to pasuk 11, which was the actual affliction. The response to that was pasuk 12:

יב  וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ; וַיָּקֻצוּ, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel.

Now, in response to this further multiplication and subsequent dread, the Egyptians seem to have increased the level of servitude. Pasuk 13 is what is being pointed to:
יג  וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּפָרֶךְ.13 And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour.
יד  וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת-חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים, וּבְכָל-עֲבֹדָה, בַּשָּׂדֶה--אֵת, כָּל-עֲבֹדָתָם, אֲשֶׁר-עָבְדוּ בָהֶם, בְּפָרֶךְ.14 And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field; in all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigour.

Thus, this represents an intensification of the servitude, and an advancement of the narrative. I should note that according to the Sifrei (in accordance with the girsa of the Gra), the prooftext is not just pasuk 13, as we have in the haggadah, but the entirety of pasuk 14 as well.

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