Pharaoh “intensified the labor” of the Israelites. The tyrant’s motivation was deeper than random cruelty. In ‘Mesillat Yesharim,’ Path of the Upright, his famed book on ethical conduct, Rabbi Moses Luzzato writes that this was a measure to circumvent the possibility of rebellion. The Israelites would just be too busy to think and plan.
He goes on to say that the same principle applies in our own lives. Without the time to reflect on our souls, on our conduct, we are easily led astray and cannot break the bondage of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Who has not done things in a hurry that they wish they had done deliberately and therefore better? We all speak or act in haste, even though while we do it a part of ourselves whispers, ‘this is not wise.’
Judaism builds pauses in our lives: daily prayer, blessings and Shabbat. Such times enable us to cool our tempers, consider our paths and operate from insight rather than impulse. As Rabbi Luzzato teaches, there is more than one way to be a slave.