“Therefore, they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Ramses.” – Exodus 1:11, JPS 1917 Tanach
The midrash explains that the location where the slave labor was being done, was upon marshy land. So that the structures being built would continuously sink into the mire to no avail. According to this rendering, the effort being made was of no feasible purpose. The work assigned was for the sole purpose of keeping Bnei Yisrael occupied with useless activity, because Pharaoh thought that this would keep them from any schemes of rebellion.
It is interesting to note that in Rome, the gladiator games and other events at the Colosseum were meant to keep the people’s minds off of politics. Today, in modern society, the same premises may be at play, inasmuch that entertainment is a distraction, busy work lives can wear down a person, leaving little time for anything of lasting value to focus upon outside of one’s job, career or vocation. Yet, the time and the effort must be made. Forasmuch that we let ourselves be robbed of the precious time that we have, we lose out on what can truly benefit the soul.
The Ramchal, in Mesillas Yesharim denotes how the yetzer hara compels one to be preoccupied with burdens, to the extent that no time can be found to contemplate one’s path in life, namely, by examining one’s behavior through introspection. He compares this to the plight of Israel, subjugated to the harsh work that Pharaoh imposed upon them, especially, when he decided to increase their burdens, to prevent them from even thinking about redemption. G-d forbid, that we should fall prey to the same machinations of our yetzer hara (evil inclination).
Furthermore, it is regrettable for those who do not even realize that the Adversary attempts to keep us blinded to our own condition and “enslaved to sin.” The Ramchal advocates deliberately setting aside time for what is called heshbon hanefesh, literally “an accounting of the soul,” so that we may become aware of the quality of our lives from a moral perspective, if only we would take the time every day to subject ourselves to introspection upon our own initiative. Change can only take place through awareness of our faults, and where we need to make improvement in our lives.