“But as much as they would afflict it, so it would increase and so it would spread out…”
The Pharaoh of Egypt was faced with a political dilemma. He despised the Jewish people, but his hands were tied because they were descendants of Yosef and his brothers. Yosef was the most popular leader of ancient times because he saved the Egyptians from the blight of famine and, in fact, reversed their fate by using the famine to make Egypt the wealthiest nation in the world. For 80 consecutive years, Yosef’s genius brought prosperity and peace to the citizens of Egypt. How could the new king afflict and enslave Yosef’s relatives without creating a revolution?
His plan was to convince the masses that the Jews had changed. They were not at all like Yosef, he proposed; rather, they were a fifth column, an enemy from within, waiting for an opportunity to expel the Egyptians from their homes. His scheme worked to the point where the masses agreed with his assessment and allowed him to impose harsh decrees on the Jews.
The hard labor and the death decrees on infants should have decimated the Jewish population, but, in unnatural fashion, the more they were oppressed, the more they increased in number. The tribe of Levi was not afflicted and so did not grow as did the other tribes, while the others, who were subjected to harsh decrees, multiplied in unnatural proportion to the norm.
How come Pharaoh’s plan didn’t work?
The Maggid of Dubno said that many are surprised by the large populations of so many nations as compared to the small numbers of Jews. The question is strengthened by Rashi in Beresheet (2:8), who says Hashem created equality and balance in His world to eliminate envy in creation. This would mean that all peoples of the earth should have similarly large populations.
The Maggid answers that we see that diamonds are rare as compared to stones or trees or fish, etc. But however small they may be in number, they are great in inherent value. A single diamond may be worth more than a forest full of trees. So, too, the population of the planet Earth: The Jews are very few but great in quality, while other nations boast large populations but contribute little to, or even detract from, the image of mankind. In this way, Hashem has maintained the required “balance” in Creation.
The true beauty of the Jewish people is their attachment to Torah and observance of its mitzvot. By decreeing hard labor, Pharaoh limited the Jew’s ability to learn Torah and at times even to think about the special bond of the Jew to his Creator. This diluted the “quality” of the Jewish people. The requirement of balance in creation demanded that Hashem increase their numbers as their inherent value decreased. All the tribes would have six children at a time, except Levi. The tribe that maintained its Torah greatness — and thus its unique value — remained small in size but great in value.
As we all wait for the coming Geulah, it is important that we raise a generation of Jews who demonstrate the true value of Torah in the world. By returning to the ways of our Patriarchs, we increase the inherent worth of each member of our people. The one diamond called “The Children of Israel” will earn its true place at the top if we polish our conduct to show the genuine diamonds beneath the coal.