Parshat Beshalach (2011)


Parshat Beshalach
Exodus 13:17 – 17

Doesn’t It Seem that Sometimes Life Takes Us On the Long Path to Our Destination?

“When Pharoh let the people go | Vayehi beshalach Par’oh et-ha’am
G-d did not lead them | velo nacham Elohim
by way of the land of the Philistines | derech eretz Plishtim
even though this was closer. | ki karov hu.
Because G-d said, | Ki amar Elohim,
‘Otherwise the people will regret it | ‘Pen-yinachem ha’am
when they encounter war | bir’otam milchamah
and return to Egypt.’ | veshavu Mitzraymah.’
Therefore G-d brought the People around | Vayasev Elohim et-ha’am
by way of the the wilderness [near the] | derech hamidbar
Sea of Reeds. | yam-suf.
The Children of Israel were well prepared | Vachamushim alu veney-Yisra’el
out of the land of Egypt. | me’eretz Mitzrayim.

Exodus 13:17-18

Why Did They Go That Way?

As we begin this weeks parsha we are brought into a confounding situation when we critically examine the path of the exodus. Our parsha wants to first note on this, because it is obvious that there is something unusual about this path.

Though today we have the Suez canal by which many large vessels can pass from the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, we must keep in mind that this is a modern invention. There used to be an ordinary land bridge there that was the choice path between the two continents of Africa and Asia, on the way to Europe. This was an important trade route. The most logical way for the Israelites to orient and direct themselves was to continue north and get on this route.

There was a highway that ran directly through this land, as testified by Josephus. But this area (which is present day Gaza) was constantly prone to outside occupation.

This coastal region would later be occupied by the Philistines, as well as Joppa in the north; of course the latter is not mentioned in the exodus story. Also they had not yet ventured that far into that land, and would not do so for another generation. But historically we now understand that these regions were colonized by people who were pre-Mycenian Greeks. These settlers became known as Philistines. And of course, every western school child knows the Greek myth of Perseus destroying the sea-monster in Joppa (Tel Aviv-Yaffo, the world’s oldest port); this was not a state on the edge of the map culturally, nor economically. The Promised Land was a lucrative outpost for coastal invaders.

We must recognize that these coastal lands were at this time most likely held by strong and advanced non-Canaanite people, maybe more powerful than the Israelites could even have appreciation for. These groups would defend their control for existential reasons. The appearance of Israel in mass would be understood as another invasion and could lead to war. G-d thus leads them away from going into immediate conflict with more powerful foes at this time.

Rashi is less dry when getting to the point of why this move was chosen, though he comes to the same conclusion, it was to avoid war. Rashi tells us that G-d did not lead the People in a direct route because “it would have been easy to return that same way to Egypt.” Rashi then goes on to point out that when the Israelites encountered the wars of the Amalakites and the Canaanites (Numbers 14:45) they decided they wanted to appoint a leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:4) because they didn’t know the way. Rashi therefore says if they had gone in a direct route they would have surely turne

d back on their own and returned to Egypt at the first sign of armed resistance.

So we find that the people were “vayasev/therefore brought around.” (Exodus 13:18). This does not mean that the people were taken in a circle, as we so often hear when it comes to wandering. Rashi tells us that instead of taking them in a direct route, He led through a roundabout way.

So we find that the people were brought into the Land by the the way of the wilderness adjacent to the Sea of Reeds.

We They Ready For That?

When we examine this choice of routes we naturally are driven to the next question, what justified going around instead of going by way of the Philistines? What did they have to lose? The Torah beats us to the punch in quickly pointing out “Vachamushim alu veney-Yisra’el me’eretz Mitzrayim / The Children of Israel were well prepared out of the land of Egypt.”

Rashi tells us that when we read this phrase we should understand it not so much as meaning prepared, but more so as armed. Rashi explains to us that when the people go into the desert they don’t go unprepared, they take everything they need with them. They would travel from place to place but there would be nowhere for them to purchase the items they needed. Therefore they had to take everything they would depend on, naturally this included weapons. They left Egypt fully stocked. Rashi points out that lest we ask ourselves were the get the weapons for the later wars with Amalak, Sihon, Gog, Midian, ect, we are told here that they are armed. We can clearly see this word means to be armed when it is used in reference to these later conquests in Joshuah 1:14, where it says that the armies of Israel went out “chamushim/armed” to posses the land.

Rashi also makes point by way of Targum Onkelos that one can even suggest that the Israelites were trained and enthusiastic about going up to take the land at this point. He does this by comparing the way Onkelos translates this word and another word similarly in reference to the standing army of Abraham that went to war against the four kings. He’s hinting that they were equally mighty and deployable as a reckoning force.

Nonetheless, Rashi stands by his point that this means they were armed, but not necessarily prepared. They were completely provisioned for going to battle at anytime, which is agreed by Ibn Ezra. But G-d decided instead to take them in a round about way. Rashi seems to be making the point that they were not emotionally prepared for what they were up against.

In that way they had everything it took to make it happen, except for the emotional motivation needed to make it possible. This entire process of the People inheriting and possessing the Land was a detour. It didn’t happen at once, though it could have happened at any time. But G-d took them by another route so that they would not lose heart.

True, there was some differences between the days of Abraham and that of the exodus. Our father Abraham was such a man of peace that the only thing that motivated him to war was the capture of his nephew Lot, his love compelled him to use his might to protect his relative. But he saw no reason to dislodge the people in the land by force, though it was promised to him. That is one of the reasons the Hebrews did not become a nation at that point.

But similarly when the Hebrews became a people, known as the Nation of Israel, they did not have anything against the Philistines as they made their exodus. Though they had hard feelings towards the Egyptians who subjugated them, there was no animosity between them and the Philistines as they were strangers to them. It was only once attacked by their enemies that the Israelites were em-brazed to engage in direct conflict. They only did so when they were sure their reason was surely just, in defense of their own right to exist as they had nowhere else to go. The land that they came to inhabit were spoils of wars that were not of their making. Under these circumstances they could allow their sense of justice rise up inside of them to justify their defense and temper their fear; this they could be emotionally dedicated to. And so it was that they matured in the wilderness on an emotional level, and waited until the cause for conflict was just.

What Does All This Mean For Us?

Often times we look at our path in life and it seems perplexing why it took so long to actualize our dreams. We know where we wanted to go. We might even know the normative path on how to get there. We are anxious, ambitious, excited when we set out. It seems like we had all the skills and all the tools to make it happen. Instead we got sidetracked and taken by another way. The detour path was inconvenient and taxing. At times we ask ourselves why G-d allows people to be distracted and turned around, why isn’t the path to our goals more direct?

The reason the fulfillment of our dreams does not always happen on our own timetable is because sometimes we are not ready on a heart level for what is necessary to make our goals a success. Often times there are unseen obstacles that we need to be ready for. And then at other times the timing of our ambitious ventures is not yet right. This does not mean that we are lacking or even unprepared. It just means that the situation is not yet right for us.

Sometime we just need to sit back and chill-out and realize we will go that direction when we are ready. G-d does not place in front of us challenges that we are not yet ready for. G-d does everything in the right time, to aide us in our success.

Instead of complaining about why things take so long for us to achieve, it’s better for us to realize that we are still on the path to our goal. When we are ready the opportunity will arise.

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