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Beshalach: Taking the Long Way Home

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The public intellectual and historian Francis Fukuyama at the end of the twentieth century wrote a very influential book, The End of History and the Last Man, which explored the rise of liberal democracy throughout the world, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Fukuyama argued that with the rise of global scale economies and open markets, eventually the entire world would politically evolve to participate in this new free global order. In essence, even if there would be minor setbacks, the road to liberal democracy was inevitable. A little over a quarter of a century later, we realize that history at best is very unpredictable. Freedom and democracy are not the only or even primary values that motivate people. Parashat Beshalach bears out this uncomfortable truth, a truth that seems more relevant today than ever before.

The Jewish people have just been liberated from Egypt with miracles and wonders, and God is about to lead them to the Promised Land. A collection of slaves is given a future of blessing and freedom under a Divine law, a law that will liberate them from their more basic instincts. God ensures them if they follow these commandments, ultimately they will prosper in the land God has promised. Yet, no sooner are the Jews liberated than we begin to hear a complaint that will arise repeatedly throughout the desert- the desire to return to Egypt. In this week’s parashah alone, we hear this complaint three times (14:10-12, 16:2-3, 17:2-7). What motivation could these liberated Jews possibly have to return to their oppressors? It seems so counterintuitive. To understand this, we need to understand the state of mind of these people.

Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt (Ex. 13:17).

The ‘route of the Philistines’ is the main coastal road along the northern reaches of the Sinai Peninsula, leading to the region which would later become the land of the Philistines, the modern-day Gaza strip. If you want to go to the land of Israel from Egypt, this is the fastest route. The verse tells us that God led the Jewish people in a circuitous route towards the Sea of Reeds because of a potential for armed conflict. What conflict are we speaking about, and why would there be any need for concern? If God could defeat the Egyptian armies, certainly God could take care of any battle with the local inhabitants! Indeed, only a verse later God informs Moses that by leading the Jews deeper into the desert, Pharaoh will be convinced they are confused, and will chase after them. In other words, God seems to lead them specifically into the wilderness to lure Pharaoh and the Egyptians into a conflict!

There are various explanations given to explain these elusive verses, but I would like........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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