Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Beshalach) Early Departure

Although the quickest and easiest route from Egypt to the Land of Israel is along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and modern day GPS would have directed the Jews this way, nevertheless, G-d directed the Jews differently; He told them to travel toward the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.

The reason for this detour was because the Philistines dwelled on the west coast of Israel (where the Gaza area is today) and the Philistines were sure to fight the ‘intruder’ Jewish nation. G-d knew that if this were the case, the Jews would lose heart and return to Egypt. They were therefore diverted to travel through the Sinai desert.

It is interesting to note that Noah’s son Chum had sons whose names were Canaan and Mitzrayim – Egypt. Mitzrayim bore a son named Philistine. The countries that carried these names were nemesis of the Jews. It would not have worked out well for the Jews, if after their freedom from Egyptian slavery they would have been met immediately with the challenge of the hateful Philistines.

Our Sages give us an additional reason why G-d steered the Jews away from the Philistines. Thirty years before the Jews were freed from Egypt, a false leader by the name of Ginon led 200,000 Jews from the Tribe of Efraim on an escape from Egypt making their way through the Land of the Philistines. The Philistines battled with them killing them all and leaving their corpses strewn in the battlefield.

Had the Jews seen the carnage of their brethren, they would have immediately returned to Egypt. G-d therefore had them avoid the area.

What was the Tribe of Efraim thinking when they planned to escape Egypt early? After all, the Jews had a tradition dating back to their forefather Avraham that they would be enslaved for 400 years, and that time was not up. Efraim’s plan was surely going to fail.

The Tribe of Efraim had calculated the 400 years of servitude beginning from when G-d communicated with Avraham. They were unfortunately 30 years off, for G-d began counting the 400 years from the birth of our forefather Yitzchok, 30 years after G-d’s communication with Avraham.

The Tribe of Efraim were particularly perturbed with the Pharoh’s injustice of enslaving the Jewish people because they felt it showed an appalling ungratefulness towards the wonderful good and prosperity that their ancestor Yosef as Viceroy had brought to Egypt.

The Tribe of Efraim couldn’t handle this unfairness and escaped at the first window of opportunity. The Tribe of Efraim was wrong, for the servitude only came to a conclusion with Moshe leading the Jews and bringing the ensuing ten plagues.

The Haftorah chanted on the Shabbos during the Holiday of Passover is taken from Chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel. There the Prophet describes his instructions by the Almighty to resurrect a massive amount of human dry bones. One opinion in the Talmud is that these dry bones were actually the remains of the Tribe of Efraim who had escaped Egypt. This incident is purposefully read on Passover, to underscore the inclusion of these Jews who desired to enter the land of Israel.

It is interesting to note that even after Moshe came on the scene in Egypt and uttered the secret code that he was G-d’s appointed leader, there was an undercurrent among many Jews that the 400 years of actual servitude was not up, and their escape to freedom no matter how miraculous was to be doomed as was case with the Tribe of Efraim.

These Jews actually planned to prevent the others from leaving Egypt at the time of the Exodus. G-d had these Jews eliminated during the plague of darkness, so that their death would not be noticed by the Egyptians and to give time for their fellows Jews to bury them.

Rabbi Yaacov Kamenetzky o.b.m. made the following observation: Imagine what the Jews were thinking when they saw so many of their brethren dying. They certainly were confused and puzzled what G-d was doing to them. Yet, in just a few days, they merited an awesome redemption and then witnessed the demise of the Egyptian tyranny at the Red Sea when they burst into Song to praise the Almighty. A short six weeks after that event, they merited witnessing the Revelation of G-d at Mount Sinai, where they were inducted as G-d’s elite nation.

The message is a message of hope. No matter what we are faced with, be it anti-Semitism, setbacks or challenges, when a Jew believes that G-d is in control of all events it instills within us hope and optimism – and it means that Redemption is close by!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks