Dear Rabbi Kornfeld
I was reviewing your Insights to Sotah 11 this week where you bring the Vilna Gaon's explanation of why Pharaoh first ordered only the killing of the male fetus, the kollel wrote;
>>"The laws of the land required that in order to kill someone..., the due process of law and judgment had to be rendered." In short, Pharaoh couldn't order execution by executive order. <<
However, it seems that Pharaoh's next order, to throw all male children into the river, contradicts that idea totally. How does the Gaon explain Pharaoh gaining the power to kill the children by what appears to be an executive order?
Excellent question, Jeff.
Actually, the source for the words of the Ga'on on this matter is the Ramban (Shemos 1:10), who deals with your question as well. The Ramban writes that at first, Pharaoh attempted to hide the killing of the babies as much as possible so as to avoid a mass rebellion. When he saw that his plan with the midwives did not work, he found himself forced to reveal to his fellow Egyptians the plan to kill the Jews, making them accomplices in his crime. He asked them to throw any unattended Jewish babies they could find, into the sea. When the Jewish parents came crying to the court, the court played dumb, asking the parents to prove who killed their baby (which they could not.)
According to Chazal (Sotah here), the Gezeirah to throw into the sea was only for a day and was based on astrological predictions. It was within the realm of the king to pass such a Gezeirah, since it could be justified by astrological predictions.
It is interesting to note that although the Pasuk originally refers to Pharaoh as "king of Egypt," nevertheless after his plan of using the midwives is foiled and he passes the Gezeirah to throw the Jews into the sea, he becomes simply "Pharaoh." (See Alshich.) According to the Ramban and the Ga'on the reason is clear. When he enacted the second decree his actions more befitted an anarchist than a king, and so he was denied the royal appellation.