Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Beshalach 2

“Moshe took with him the bones of Yosef.” (13; 19)

The previous verse states that “G-d led them through the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds”, and the following verse says “they travelled from Succot”. These two verses are connected, i.e. they list the order and direction of travel. Therefore it is not easy to understand why the Torah interrupts these two verses with the fact that Moshe took Yosef’s bones with him. This should have been written later, after verse 22. Here it doesn’t seem to connect at all with what comes before or after, and appears to interrupt the flow of the narrative.
Perhaps it is possible to explain (allegorically) based on the Midrash brought on the verse in Tehillim (114; 3) “The Sea saw and fled.” What did the Sea see (that caused it to split)? – the coffin of Yosef. Therefore since the previous verse states that G-d led them towards the Sea of Reeds, the Torah comes to explain here that Moshe took Yosef’s bones in order that the Sea should split.


“It was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled” (14; 5)

It is hard to understand what they told the king. He himself went to Moshe and Aharon to hurry them out of Egypt. Also the rest of the Egyptians pressured B’nei Yisrael that they should leave as quickly as possible, as explained in Parshat Bo (12; 31 – 33) “Pharaoh arose in the night and called to Moshe and Aharon and said to them ‘Get up and leave, you and all of Israel’ and the Egyptians pressured the people to leave.” What suddenly awakened in Pharaoh and the Egyptians the strong regret that they had let the Israelites go?
Furthermore the phrase “that the people had fled” doesn’t seem to make sense. There is no indication in the Torah that they were fleeing or running away quickly. In fact it was just the opposite, “The Children of Israel left with a mighty hand” (verse 8). Not only were they not fleeing, but they were going determinedly and deliberately.
Even Rashi is forced to explain according to the Mechilta that Pharaoh’s intention was only to send them for three days, and when he saw that they were not returning he chased after them. But this is not the simple reading of the verses at the end of Parshat Bo. When Pharaoh told them to “Get out” it seems as though he was trying to get rid of them for good.
Perhaps we can explain that the word ‘flee’ here does not mean to run away quickly. Rather it means leaving a place before the appointed or appropriate time. We find this meaning in Parshat Vayetze (Bereishit 31; 20) “For he did not tell him that he was ‘fleeing’ (leaving’)”. In other words that Ya’akov left without Lavan’s knowledge. Similarly with Yonah we find that “he ‘fled’ from before G-d” (chapter 1). In other words he tried to leave the place of prophecy – to leave Israel. Similarly in the Talmud we find ‘a slave who ‘flees’ before his time’ (Kiddushin 16a). In all of these cases the meaning is not that they fled quickly, running, but rather that it was before the appropriate time and not according to the proper fair behaviour.
So too here, as is known, the Israelites were supposed to be enslaved for 400 years (as it says in Parshat Lech Lecha – Bereishit 15; 13) “They will enslave them and afflict them for four hundred years”. Their slavery was only shortened because of outside reasons – either because the slavery was too harsh, or because of the merit of the patriarchs, that G-d had pity on them.
Therefore it could be that Pharaoh’s advisors and magicians informed him that the Jews had only been enslaved for 210 years and not the full 400 that they deserved (this secret was only known to certain individuals from the time of Avraham, and it was made known to the magicians).
This is the meaning of ‘fled’. In other words that the Israelites were leaving before the appropriate time. According to the original decree they still had another 190 years of slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh should have been able to keep them. These is what inspired Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites and try to bring them back, since he realised (according to this calculation) that he should still enslave them for many more years. Perhaps we can find a hint to this in the fact that the gematria of the word ‘barach’ (fled) is 210, which is the number of years that they had been in slavery.

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