Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Parshat Beshalach

The 3 Day Game

"It was reported to Pharaoh that the people had fled" (Shemot 14:5). This has got to be the strangest passuk in the Torah. Pharaoh himself had freed the Israelites. They had been gone for three days: what new information could he possibly be receiving?

Nevertheless, this news might have shocked Pharaoh. In all of Moshe's encounters with Pharaoh, he had only asked to leave for a three day festival. Not once had he stated that they would never return. So, when Pharaoh was told on third day that the Israelites had fled and were not returning, his father's fear, that they would: "depart from the land" (ibid 1:10), was realized. This may have been a shock for him.

Why these games, why doesn't Moshe tell Pharaoh outright that Israel was leaving Egypt for good?

There are three ways to answer this question:

1. If you want to win a war you have to play dirty. The enslaved nation had limited resources to defeat Pharaoh: words were one of Israel's few weapons and it was necessary to use them effectively (Rashbam). This was also part of the tactic needed to coax Pharaoh to follow the Israelites into the Red Sea (Ibn Ezra).

2. Moshe's intentions were obvious, howver, he used evasive language that could be understood either way. The "three day" motif appears many times in the Bible and means an "indefinate period of time", and in this instance: "for good". God therefore, gave Pharaoh the choice to understand Moshe in the way he saw fit, even though he knew what Moshe really intended .

3. Pharaoh understood fully what was going on, in fact he certainly had spies amongst the Israelites and knew what they were up to. The ancient world believed that different gods controlled different lands. For example, the new inhabitants of Samaria began worshipping God after the Assyrians forcibly transported them there, for He was the god of that Land (see II Kings 17:24-41) . Additionally, Naaman returned to Aram with soil from Israel so that he could use it to worship God (ibid 5:17). Therefore, Pharaoh was totally aware that Moshe's request to leave Egypt's borders and the control of its gods was the same as asking to be set free, never to return (Daat Mikra).

So why not say it clearly?

Moshe spoke about about worshipping God in the wilderness; an ownerless land unclaimed by no nation. He wanted to teach that God was not tied down to national boundaries: He was God of all the earth. Indeed the Torah was to be given in the wilderness, for God's law is universal and not subject to geographical borders. Furthermore Adam and Eve, humanity in its ideal state, originally lived in the Garden of Eden - once again an area of land not subject to any nation.

God is the God of all the earth and His Glory fills it.


Blogger Moshe Abelesz said...

the Avot sojourned ארץ מגוריהם in the land, Israel will have a possession מורשה

2:50 PM  

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