This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Beshalach is being sponsored by R’ Moshe and Marla Braun (Moshe Braun – Fine Judaic Art) and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of Marla’s birthday on 14th Sh’vat. To the Braun family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.
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In this year’s vort on Parshat Beshalach, this author examines why, once free of Egyptian enslavement and persecution, Hashem leads the B’nei Yisrael on a circuitous route through the Desert rather that a more direct route which would have meant a confrontation with the Philistines (P’lishtim).
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin gives context, asks questions and provides discussion regarding the circuitous travels of the B’nei Yisrael in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, pages 100-104):
No sooner do the B’nei Yisrael depart Egypt [Mitzrayim] than they are confronted by a Divinely ordained detour.
“And it was when Pharaoh sent out the people, and Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the P’lishtim, as it was near, for Hashem said: ‘Lest the people reconsider upon seeing war, and return to Egypt.'” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17)
What does “as it was near” mean? Should the text… have said that Hashem bypassed the way of the P’lishtim although it was near?
…Why is this detour necessary? Hashem, after all, has just decimated the Egyptian empire on behalf of the Jews. Can He not do the same to the P’lishtim, or, at the very least protect the B’nei Yisrael from the effects of an outbreak of hostilities?
[The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary renders the above phrase in Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17 as; “because it was near.”]
That interpretation [“because it was near”] leaves us with the basic question, why would Hashem avoid a specific path “because it was near”?
Numerous commentaries, including Rashi and the Ibn Ezra, offer an approach to this phrase… Hashem avoids taking the Jews through P’lishtim territory because the proximity of this path to Egypt would have encouraged and facilitated the B’nei Yisrael’s retreat from battle. At the first hint of hostilities, the nation would have returned to Egypt. The “nearness” of this path was thus not a potential benefit, as we might have assumed, but a drawback. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17, Ibn Ezra, ibid)
The Rashbam… explains that Hashem’s concern for the Jews transcended the possibility of war with the P’lishtim alone. The path through P’lishtim territory was “near” — the most direct route to… Canaan. The Jews, however were not prepared for all of the battles that would face them in the conquest of the land. Hashem, therefore, diverts them from the shortest way to Canaan and leads them on a circuitous path in order to prevent a disheartened retreat to Egypt. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashbam on Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17)
In stark contrast to the above suggestions, ….two… explanations are offered by the Da’at Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafot:
1/ The [above] phrase is not translated “because it was near”, but rather, “because He was near.” The Torah refers to the fact that Hashem was “near” to the B’nei Yisrael. Because of their preciousness to Him, Hashem refuses to endanger the departing [former] slaves by taking them along a path that could lead to war.
2/ The phrase refers to the P’lishtim themselves, not to their territory. The P’lishtim were near to the Egyptians in that they shared a common ancestry. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 10, posukim 13-14) Hashem does not want the Jews, upon their departure from Egypt, to encounter the P’lishtim because He knows that the P’lishtim will attack in order to uphold the honor of their relatives, the Egyptians. (Rabbi Goldin citing Da’at Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafot on Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17)
While the textual problems surrounding this posuk [Sefer Shemos, Perek 13, posuk 17] are… intriguing, of greater concern are the conceptual issues…. Could Hashem not have fought the battle for the B’nei Yisrael, or, at least, miraculously protected them from the ravages of warfare? Two possible approaches can be suggested, each carrying… eternal lessons:
1/ Hashem does not punish nations undeservedly. ….After predicting that Avraham’s descendants will be strangers in a land not their own… Hashem states: “And the fourth generation will return here [to the land of Canaan] for the iniquity of the Emorites will not be complete until then.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 15, posuk 16)
The very same principle may well be driving Hashem’s decisions during the days immediately following the Yetziyot Mitzrayim. Hashem punished the Egyptians because their acts warranted such penalty. The P’lishtim, however, have done nothing to this point to earn Divine retribution. Hashem, therefore, will not act against them even to protect His “chosen people.” He instead leads the B’nei Yisrael on a circuitous route in order to avoid the confrontation.
2/ The B’nei Yisrael have to learn to fight their own battles.
With the Jews’ liberation from Egypt, the rules begin to change. Until now, …Hashem fought on their behalf. Now, the transition to independence requires that the B’nei Yisrael must learn to fend for themselves. Even… when… Hashem does intervene to complete the destruction of Egyptian might in the waters of the Reed Sea, Hashem does not act until the B’nei Yisrael take their destiny into their own hands and begin to move into the sea. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 14, posuk 15)
Torah records (Sefer Shemos, Perek 14, posuk 15 as rendered to English in The Sapirstein Edition — The Torah with Rashi’s commentary, page 155):
“Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the B’nei Yisrael and let them journey!'”
Rabbi Goldin adds:
Had Hashem waged a battle against the P’lishtim, had He even miraculously protected the Jews from attack, the wrong message would have been transmitted. The time had come for the B’nei Yisrael to begin fighting their own battles. They are ill prepared for such a challenge, however, at this moment. Hashem, therefore, moves to avoid the confrontation.
The endpoint of Parshat Beshalach chronicles a striking transformation. While the Parshat opens with Hashem shielding the B’nei Yisrael from the mere possibility of conflict, it closes, ironically, with the Jews victorious in battle. The final posukim of Beshalach describe the unprovoked attack upon the Jews by the nation of Amalek and the ensuing battle from which the erstwhile [former] slaves emerge triumphant. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rashi on Sefer Shemos Perek 17, posukim 8-13)
Here, we refer to the portion of Rabbi Goldin’s summary of Parshat Beshalach which describes the attack upon B’nei Yisrael brought by Amalek (ibid, page 100):
The nation of Amalek attacks the B’nei Yisrael without warning and Moshe instructs Yehoshua to lead a counter-force in battle. Moshe then ascends to high ground where, with the assistance of Aaron and Chur (the son of Miriam and Caleiv [Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sota 11b-12a]), he raises his arms in full view of the B’nei Yisrael. As long as his arms are raised, the B’nei Yisrael prevail. In this fashion, they emerge victorious from the battle. Hashem commands Moshe to record a mandate authorizing perpetual struggle against Amalek until Hashem “erases their memory from under the heavens.” (referring to Sefer Shemos, Perek 17, posukim 14-15)
Rabbi Goldin concludes:
The band of Am Yisrael slaves, ready to retreat at the first hint of hostilities, has evolved, by the end of Beshalach, into a successful fighting force. The march toward nationhood has begun in earnest.
And so, this “march toward nationhood,” as Rabbi Goldin puts it, continues in our time. But could it be that in Israel, the B’nei Yisrael in our days, after heretofore successfully winning four major wars against multiple and more populous enemies, successfully undertaking the daring — against all odds — Entebbe rescue, and more, now collectively seems to suffer at least the same readiness to retreat at the first hint of hostilities by virtue of their military indecisiveness and vacuum of governance caused by severe fractionalization and lack of unity as displayed in two inconclusive national elections?
And can it be that our brethren in Chutz L’Aretz display that same trait by virtue of their stubborn spurning of the very idea of making Aliyah, throwing up any and every possible excuse, even as the rash of Jew-hatred grows in the United States, the UK, Europe and more?
We, in our day, don’t have a Moshe Rabbeinu who shared dialogue with HaKadosh Borchu, such as when He spoke to Moshe Rabbeinu at the Reed Sea:
“Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the B’nei Yisrael and let them journey!”
It seems to this author that these are still important points to ponder, respond to and act on, even as we celebrate Shabbos Shirah.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — which can only occur when he is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.