“And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pitom and Raamses” (Shemot 1:11)
The generation of greats who descended to Mitzrayim passed on and a new Pharaoh sat on the throne. Because he feared the success of the Jews and their population explosion, he proposed a plan to his royal advisors. “Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there would be any war, they should join our enemies, and fight against us and so get them out of the land” (Shemot 1:10).
The plan was to enslave the Jews with deceptive offers of building great monuments for the generations. Once they had fallen for the trick, the sites were chosen — Pitom and Raamses. The Sages teach (Sotah 11a) that these names signify the nature of the terrain. Pitom was like a mouth that swallowed anything built on it. Raamses was like quicksand in which any structure would sink. All the efforts of the slaves failed to produce the planned monuments.
Harav Avraham Pam, zt”l, (Atarah Lamelech, p. 54) asks: “If Pharaoh wanted long-lasting testaments to his greatness, why didn’t he choose sites that would support the planned structures?”
There was once a prisoner who suffered a penalty of hard labor. Every day he was forced to do the work of a mule. He had to push a pole turning a heavy stone to grind grain in a mill. The only thing that kept him going was his thoughts about the benefits his work was providing for others. A schoolchild was eating farina made with the grain he had ground. An elderly couple or a poverty-stricken family was nourished by breads baked from his flour. In spite of the back-breaking labor, he continued to push the stone in a never-ending circle, day in and day out, for 30 or 40 years. Upon being released, he asked to see the mill that was behind the barrier he had circled for decades. The cruel warden gladly took him to the other side and showed him that there was no mill and all his efforts produced nothing. He left the prison broken-hearted.
In contrast, the passuk says: “Therefore, Hashem did good for the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very mighty” (Shemot 1:20). Shifrah and Puah were commanded to kill all male children born to the Jews. Instead, they risked their lives and saved the children. They faced an angry monarch and told him that the women gave birth like insects before they could arrive to assist them. Hashem rewarded the midwives and the people multiplied. Only then does the passuk tell us the reward: “He made for them houses” — which Rashi (Shemot 1: 21) explains to be the priestly families and the royal families of our people. The Ohr Hachayim explains that the real reward was witnessing the success of their mesirut nefesh — self-sacrifice. They saw the population explosion for which they risked their lives. Seeing the results of their efforts is, in itself, a reward.
Rav Pam adds that those who devote themselves to the benefit of our people are assured the great reward of seeing positive results and miraculous growth in whatever they do on behalf of the klal.
Get involved and reap the true reward of satisfaction.