Avodat parech

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 18, 2010

When my kids do not want to do their household chores, they complain that I am giving them avodat parech – the term the Torah uses to describe the slave-labour conditions of the Israelites in Egypt: "The Egyptians imposed upon the Israelites avodat parech" (Exodus.1:13).

Avodah means work, and parech means shattering or crushing. Avodat is the possessive form of avodah. Avodat parech is the work of shattering. It is significant that parech is not an adjective modifying avodah. Parech is a noun. Just like you can have avodat beniyah - building work, in which the goal is building, here the goal is crushing. According to Rashi, avodat parech is "hard work that crushes the body and breaks it". Rabbi Saadia Gaon includes humiliation as part of the meaning of parech.

The Midrash adds a more sinister meaning to parech by reading it as two words: peh rach - a soft mouth. The Egyptians sweet talked the Israelites into hard-labour.

The flipside of avodat parech is what every person needs to feel inspired - purposeful work. If I teach my kids that caring for our home is meaningful work, they will not see it as avodat parech.

Last updated: 12:31pm, March 18 2010