INSTITUTED AN INGENIOUS PLAN to enslave
and oppress the Children of Israel. Gradually,
Egyptian society came to accept and even endorse the many years of oppression.
Male babies were thrown into the Nile, and the work increased in
intensity and cruelty. Meanwhile,
Moshe, who grew up in the royal palace, but was forced to become a fugitive
after killing an Egyptian, settled in Midian with Yitro, and began to raise a
QUOTES THE MIDRASH
(Shemot Rabbah 1:34) that, in fact, the king of Egypt became leprous,
and required for his cure bathing in the blood of freshly-slaughtered Hebrew
babies. It states that he died,
based on the principle that a leper is considered as dead (Avodah
Zarah 5a), but he was really alive.
IS WELL-KNOWN THAT RASHI utilizes only those midrashim
that clarify a difficulty in the text. Here,
Rashi does not even begin with the literal meaning that the king of Egypt
actually died; apparently, Rashi
considers the explanation that he became leprous to be the simple meaning of
the text. But, why?
What is there in this verse that leads the midrash, and consequently
Rashi, to understand the king of Egypt died as a necessary figure of
speech for leprosy?
ANSWERS ARE SUGGESTED by Rashis commentaries and each one focuses on
another part of the verse:
IT WAS DURING THOSE MANY DAYS, that the king of Egypt died
notes that it is not reasonable to report the death of the king as occurring
over a long period of time (during). If the verse were speaking of the actual moment of death, then it should say, it was after
those many days, or the like. But,
the verse suggests a prolonged condition that is deathly, namely leprosy.
KING OF EGYPT DIED
The Vilna Gaon
cites the Midrash on Kohelet (8:11)
which observes that David Hamelech
is repeatedly called King David except when he takes ill, when it says,
And the days of Davids death drew near (Melachim
I 2:1); this is because there
is no dominion on the day of death. So,
how can Pharaoh be called king how can he rule, if he is dead? It must be that he is not actually dead, but rather leprous.
KING OF EGYPT DIED, AND THE CHILDREN of Israel sighed from the work
and they cried out
Siftei Chachamim explains that, after the death of the king who
enslaved them, we should expect the Children of Israel to rejoice and feel
relieved: perhaps his successor
will annul the awful decrees against them.
Instead, their reaction is one of grief. Thus, the midrash suggests, in all likelihood the king
contracted leprosy, a state similar to death, and because of the ghastly cure
he uses, they cry out even more than before.
ONE OF THESE VIEWS can be challenged. To
the Malbim it may be said that a
death could occur sometime during the long period that Moshe was living
in Midian (the Malbim himself mentions this). In response to the Vilna Gaon, the Malbim says that it is not entirely unheard-of that a king is called
king when he dies, for example: And it was after this that Nachash
the king of the Ammonites died (Divrei
HaYamim I 19:1).
NUMBER OF COMMENTARIES challenge the assumptions of the Siftei
Chachamim. The Ramban,
for example, says that no matter how cruel a king can be, his death does not
necessarily bring relief to those who suffer under his rule they groan
with anxiety because his successor can always be worse. Haamek Davar
(R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin of Volozhin, 19th Century) says
that when the king died, Egypt observed a period of official mourning, in
which even the Hebrew slaves participated. It was only then, when they rested,
that they had the opportunity to sense the extent of their
servitude. Consequently, they sighed because of the labor they were compelled
to return to after the national mourning.
THIS DEBATE different insights are offered regarding the consequences of
death. Malbim points out that death happens within a defined moment.
The Vilna Gaon sees death as that which equalizes all
people, commoners and kings alike. Siftei
Chachamim regards death as the end of ones influence on his
SMITH IN PRINCIPLES OF FORENSIC MEDICINE
(1821) writes: If we are aware of what indicates life, which everyone may
be supposed to know, though perhaps no one can say that he truly and clearly
understands what constitutes it, we at once arrive at the discrimination of
is the cessation of the phenomena with which we are so especially familiar
the phenomena of life. Therefore, what our commentaries see as the
condition of death reveals the opportunities offered to us by life.