In Parshat Shemot, Bnei Yisrael begin their slavery in Egypt. This slavery should have been expected by Bnei Yisrael because of the Brit Bein HaBetarim, the covenant between Avraham and Hashem that Avraham’s descendants would inherit the land of Israel after being slaves for centuries. What was not really mentioned in the deal was that it would be the most brutal and backbreaking labor devised by mankind at the time. The Torah describes this labor (1:14) as “Asher Avdu Vahem BeFarech,” “[the work] they performed with crushing harshness.”
Chazal wonder why the Torah had to use the word “BeFarech,” “with crushing harshness.” Elsewhere in Tanach, this word usually refers to affliction of one’s body. Why here is the meaning of this word changed?
Chazal answer that this word is used to emphasize that Bnei Yisrael did not retaliate when they were enslaved. They did not even turn to Hashem until hundreds of years later. The word is used to show all of Bnei Yisrael’s stress and feelings at the time.
Rabbi Eliezer says that really the word means “with soft speech.” He says it also refers to Bnei Yisrael’s shock at their predicament. They were left dumbfounded and speechless upon seeing that they, “princes” of Egypt, could be fooled – not forced – into becoming slaves for Pharaoh.