How do the notes on the posuk allude to the reason why Yisrael went out from Egypt early?
(1,14)“And they embittered their lives with hard labour…”
Behold, the cantillation notes on the words “and they embittered their lives” are the notes קדמא and אזלא, and we can explain that it is coming to allude to that which Chazal taught: Why were Yisrael in Egypt only two hundred and ten years, when the decree was for four hundred years? Because the harshness of the servitude made up for the difference in the time.
This is the allusion of the notes קדמא (preceded) and אזלא (went), that is, they preceded to go out from Egypt before their due time, because “they embittered their lives with hard labour”.
Why did the death of the king cause the children of Yisrael to sigh from their labour?
(2,23) “And it was in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Yisrael sighed from the labour.”
At first glance this posuk is astonishing - because the king died, this caused Yisrael to sigh from their labour?!
But we can explain that it is not the way of a king, even if he is very cruel, to exceed the bounds of the law and act unjustly, publicly and openly, because of his fear of inciting a rebellion amongst his people when they see him doing unjustifiable acts. Therefore, the King needs to conduct himself according to the rules of justice, as it says in Mishlei 29:4 “the king with justice establishes the land”.
But after the king of Egypt died and before there was a new king, anarchy ruled and each person did what was right in his eyes, even if it was not according to the rules of justce - as it says in Mishlei 28:2 “when the land transgresses, its princes are many”. And so at that time also the labour imposed on Yirsrael was unjust. Therefore, “the children of Yisrael sighed from the labour”, and cried out.
With this we can understand what Pharaoh said to the midwives, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter she may live”. And Chazal taught that Pharoah gave them a sign to enable them to distinguish between the male and female babies, that the male faces downwards, and the female faces upwards. But this is astonishing - why do they need a sign in order to distinguish between male and female babies?! And furthermore, what is the meaning the midwives’ reply to Pharaoh, “before the midwives come to them, they have given birth” - surely after they have given birth they could still kill them!
But the explanation of the matter is that according to the rules of justice, Pharaoh could not tell them to kill the males without a reason, because if he did so, people would certainly come and clamour before the king and his ministers about why they killed them. Therefore, he said to the midwives not as a command, but as a request, that whilst the baby was still inside, before it emerged from its mother's womb, they should kill it. And therefore he gave them a sign to enable them to distinguish between male and female so that they could kill the boys before they emerged into the world, and thus the mother would not comprehend what had happened but would think that it was a stillborn.
Now the midwives’ reply that before they arrive the mothers have already given birth is understandable, because then it would be impossible to kill them and publicly perform a gratuitous act of murder.
What did the taskmasters advise the children of Yisrael about getting the straw?
(5,10) “And the taskmasters of the people and their officers came out and spoke to the people, saying, so said Pharaoh: I am not giving you straw. Take for yourselves straw from that which you find, because nothing will be reduced from your work.”
We can explain that this is the way to understand what the taskmasters and officers said to the people: This (and only this) is what Pharaoh said, “I am not giving to you straw”. Therefore, our advice is to “take straw from that which you find”. The expression they used for the word "take" (קחו) implies purchasing. They were saying: "It will be better and easier for you if you buy already available straw, so that you will not need to delay so much, than “that which you find” - rather than desiring to get the straw for free by going and gathering the straw from a place where it is ownerless, which will entail a long delay in order to find and gather it, bit by bit, and hence you will not be able to complete your quota of bricks. And if you think that because I am not giving you straw, a reduction of your daily quota of bricks will be given, that is not so, “because nothing will be reduced from your work”. With this explanation, many of the questions that are asked on this posuk have been resolved.