Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanson, author of Shoel Umeishiv (1808-1875)

When Pharaoh feared that the Jews would join his enemies (Shemos 1:10), why was his strategy to make them slaves? Wouldn’t that make them even more likely to hate the Egyptians and fight against them? He answers that Pharaoh knew that Hashem had commanded the Jews not to rebel against their king, and that He had implanted into their nature the inclination to accept subjugation. This is the meaning of the oath (Kesubos 111a) not to rebel against the nations – that He adjured them and made acceptance of the exile a part of their nature. Therefore, as long as the Jews were free and independent, Pharaoh feared them, but with the hard hand of taskmasters over them, they would realize that this was a decree of exile, and they would wait patiently for Hashem to redeem them.

This also explains the cryptic verses, “And it came to pass, during that long period, that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel groaned from the labor, and they cried out… And G-d saw the Children of Israel, and G-d knew” (Shemos 2:23-25). What did G-d see? He saw that the Israelites were numerous and powerful, they were being killed and they would have nothing to lose if they rebelled and fought back. The king’s death provided the perfect opportunity to launch such a rebellion. Yet they did not rebel. They remembered Yosef’s prophecy that G-d would redeem them, and therefore they did not attempt to redeem themselves. They relied solely on their prayer.

He goes on to say that this character trait – submissiveness and unwillingness to fight – is so deeply implanted in the Jewish nature that even when Hashem commands a Jew to fight, it is hard for him. Thus when Hashem first told Moshe to go to Pharaoh, Moshe responded, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take out the Children of Israel from Egypt?” How could it be that Moshe refused to obey Hashem? The answer is that Moshe understood from Hashem’s initial command, “Take out the Children of Israel from Egypt” that he and the other Jews were to escape from Egypt using their own practical means. Moshe knew that the Jews by nature would not want to take any action; he would have to do it all on his own. Therefore he said, “Who am I that I should undertake this alone?” Hashem then clarified, “I will be with you” – I will perform the redemption, and it will not be necessary for you or anyone else to take any independent action. Even when the time came to leave Egypt, the Jews did not leave until Pharaoh commanded them to do so (Shemos 12:31): “Get up and go out from amidst my people!” And at the shores of the sea, Moshe assured them (Shemos 14:14), “Hashem will fight for you and you will be silent!” (Divrei Shaul on Shemos, p. 48)


Rabbinic Quotations

Rebelling against the nations