by Rabbi Avigdor Miller
"LEST HE INCREASE..."
This is said not only as the fear that Pharaoh expressed, but it also expresses the fear of the nations in every generation: “In every generation they arise against us to destroy us," (Haggadah). This fear was the motivation for the decrees of Pharaoh.
But the Voice of Hashem speaks up in reply: “As they will afflict him, so will he increase" (1:12). The efforts of the nations, "Lest he increase" will be answered by Hashem: "So will he increase. "
The people who came out of the Wilderness had been prepared by Hashem
Here we see an illustration of the principle, "Whenever a virtuous undertaking is begun, the Evil Inclination begins taking steps to oppose it," (R. Yisrael Salanter). Hashem’s great plan to increase the numbers of Israel was now initiated by His people (especially by the women), and therefore Pharaoh began his plans and decrees to frustrate the growth of the sons of Israel.
In particular, this decree was made by the forces of Evil to frustrate the advent of the greatest of the seed of Israel. This decree against the male children was issued shortly before the birth of Moshe. In fact, it was intended for him.
Thus began the long period of the fashioning of the people of lsrael. "Who is this that comes up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the powders of the merchant?" (Songs 3:6).
The people who came out of the Wilderness had been prepared by Hashem, who perfumed them with every form of perfection: "With all the powders of the (spice-)merchant." Every form of treatment was now to be administered in order to adorn the Shulamith (the perfect one; e.g. Israel). "The most beautiful of women," the most beautiful of all nations because of their character traits and traditions which they had inherited from the men most beloved by G-d (Devarim 4:37), were now being adorned and additionally beautified by a long series of trials, tests, and instruction.
The first of these perfections was now to be gained in the battle for the increase of the family of Israel. Everything that Pharaoh and his people did was planned, “Lest he increase,” but the people of lsrael (especially the women) battled with all their strength that as they afflicted him (meaning: in proportion to the attempts to reduce their numbers), so he should increase and so he should spread."
Therefore the entire narrative is prefaced by the story of Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives who resisted his decree to destroy the Hebrew boys. All the women participated in this struggle: "For the merit of the righteous women, Israel was redeemed from Egypt," (Sotah 11B). Thus an especial spirit of noble enthusiasm was created among the women of Israel, so that at the spectacle of the Rending of the Yam Suf, we see that Miriam led the daughters of Israel in a separate song of praise to Hashem in addition to the song of the men. Thus also we see the eagerness of the women to donate their personal jewelry and even their mirrors to the work of making the Sanctuary.
Thus, now the Shulamith began to receive the perfumes and ornaments that bedecked her for the role as “the most beautiful of nations." — A Nation is Born