A Parting of the Ways
The Israelites had witnessed the effect on the Egyptians from the plagues sent by HaShem, especially the final three concluding with the death of the firstborn of all Egyptian males; both man and beast.
They also gained much in the way of treasure and weapons from their former captors on their way out of Egypt.
With all this as a testimony of the power of HaShem why would He say to Moshe,
”The people may have a change of mind when they see war, and return to Egypt.” Exodus 13:17
HaShem knows the heart of men. We are reminded by the Rambam — Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) in the Thirteen Principles of Faith:
I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed is His Name, knows all the deeds of men and all their thoughts as it is said,
”He Who forms all their hearts as one, Who comprehends all their deeds.” Psalms 33:15
These were a people who had struggled against untold suffering at the hands of brutal Egyptian taskmasters for 210 years. Their lives had been cut short from unrelenting forced slave labor from dusk to well into the night seven days a week day in and day out for over five generations. Even though they were now a large and well-armed mass of men (600,000 men of fighting age) they were neither physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually fit for war with the well-armed and highly trained Philistines in the area of modern day Gaza, which would have been the shortened route into the Promised Land (a 3 day journey on foot).
Therefore, HaShem, knowing well the state of His people, takes them on a “roundabout” trek through the wilderness of the Sinai to a place He has chosen by the Sea of Reeds that separated the Sinai from the Land of Midian.
As an aside, we are told that Moshe (not the people) brings with them the bones of Yosef as the great Viceroy of Egypt had requested and instructed his people centuries earlier. This is one more indication of HaShem keeping His promises.
I think it is safe to assume that Pharaoh would have used spies or trackers to keep an eye on the Israelites to see if they would really be gone only three days to have a festival to their G-d. When it was reported to him that they had altered their course that would have taken them well out of his range beyond the Sinai; HaShem used this intelligence information to once again tighten the grip on the resolve of this king whose earlier repentance is now shown to be disingenuous.
As the Israelites moved at a more restful and leisurely pace toward the Sea of Reeds, one that allows them to begin regaining some of their strength, they are miraculously guided by HaShem with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night — which helps light their way for safe travel in the darkness.
Seeing the direction they are traveling and knowing that if they continue on this route their backs will soon be against the sea with no way of escape, especially at the slow pace they are moving; the Pharaoh strengthens his antagonism, amasses his chariots and army (600 chariots in all) and sets out to drive this scourge from him forever.
The Israelites are now encamped with the sea before them and the wilderness hills and mountains behind them. They are basically boxed in. On top of that they hear and soon see the 600 chariots of the Egyptians pouring out of the wilderness straight for them. Put yourself in their sandals. You are a people with a slave mentality having been promised freedom by this stranger (Moshe) who has now led you into a boxed-in canyon with no escape route and the might of the greatest empire of the day ploughing its way toward you. Does it surprise anyone that they cried out and began blaming Moshe for their predicament?
”Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?” Exodus 14:11
Moshe tries to calm the fears of the people by telling them basically — you think what you saw HaShem do in Egypt to gain your freedom was something? Just watch now!
”Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which Adonai will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. Adonai will battle for you; you hold your peace!” Exodus 14:13-14
What took place next is so unimaginable that only if you were actually there, as was Moshe — who is the author of it, could you even begin to take in the awesome power of the event. The pillar of cloud and fire moved and was set between the Egyptian army and the Israelites for one full day and night, not allowing Pharaoh and his army to advance upon the Israelites. At the same time a mighty wind blew across the Sea of Reeds splitting it apart causing a wall of water on each side with a path of dry land between the walls. All through the night the Israelites hurriedly made their way across the dry pathway reaching the other side, all of them and all they brought out of Egypt.
As morning approached Pharaoh and his army were no longer hindered by the pillar of cloud and fire and began their pursuit driving their chariots across the same path led by their king but the waters were beginning to slowly return back into place causing the chariot wheels to become stuck and mired in the mud, Upon the command of HaShem Moshe holds out his arm over his side of the sea allowing the walled up water to come crashing down onto Pharaoh and his mighty army.
”— not one of them remained.” Exodus 14:28
We’ve all read the story, seen the movies yet the mighty power of HaShem displayed for His people that day is still hard to imagine in its scope and awesomeness. The reaction of the Israelites was what I would hope our own reaction would have been after witnessing such a mighty display of power over nature.
”And when Israel saw the wondrous power which Adonai had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared Adonai; they had faith in Adonai and His servant Moshe.” Exodus 14:31
What followed next was an outbreak of song and joy over their deliverance and to their Deliverer. This is likely the first time after generations of brutal slavery that they were able to sing to HaShem with such genuine joy, exuberance and thanksgiving. The next 21 verses of Chapter 15 are the lyrics to that glorious praise of thanksgiving and gratitude to their Almighty Deliverer.
Now, they are truly free without fear of becoming enslaved by Egypt ever again. They begin their journey to the Promised Land. They have to travel through an area known for its brackish waters; this will be their first test of freedom. Will they whine and complain, or truly trust in Adonai — the One who had just delivered them in such a mighty way? You got it, they complain. So, HaShem, ever patient with His begotten, sweetens the water and makes it drinkable; not by another miracle like the Sea of Reeds or the ten plagues but by using a natural homeopathic method known by all the peoples of the region. It is here that Adonai offers His first criteria to the freed Israelites for the way He wants them to be the people He has set-apart and chosen to be His people.
”If you will heed Adonai diligently doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I, Adonai am your Healer.” Exodus 15:26
This pronouncement of HaShem was to be a preamble to the Laws He would be giving to His people in just a very short time. He was preparing His people to be set and ready to willingly promise to obey and receive those Laws from His own mouth.
Soon there is another round of whining from some in the camp about foodstuffs so HaShem provides manna (bread of heaven) to feed them and quail for meat.
It was during this time of going out to gather the manna and quail that the Shabbat was reintroduced back into the lives and practice of the Israelite people. Over the last 200-plus years under slavery the Shabbat had been lost since their taskmasters required them to labor seven days a week. Now Moshe re-introduces them to this command of HaShem.
”On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moshe, he said to them, ‘This is what Adonai means: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Shabbat of Adonai…” Exodus 16:22-23
We humans can be a very stiff-necked people at times. After all HaShem has done you’d think the people would realize that regardless of what may come their way He would take care of them and the situation. Yet, there are always a few rotten apples spoiling the whole bunch. Over the next few weeks we will be introduced to these usurpers by name and tribe and what will become of them. Until then there will be more complaints against Moshe (which are really their complaining against Adonai), questioning his authority and so forth. There will also be some actual battles against the people from the likes of the Amalekites. In fact, it is at this time that HaShem says to write down the future annihilation of Amalek — which will take place many, many years later during the days of Samuel the Judge and prophet of Israel [SEE: 1 Samuel 15:14-35].
”Then Adonai said to Moshe, ‘Inscribe this in a document [SEE: Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:17-19] as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven!’” Exodus 18:14
Until next week’s parsha — Shabbat Shalom.