Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Don’t Miss the Strategy

The story of the Exodus is one that is, perhaps, all too familiar. It is read annually as part of the weekly Torah readings, of course, at the Passover seder and has been integrated into popular culture by such films as The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt. However, its very familiarity makes it easy for a reader to overlook the important details of the narrative. One excellent example of this is the journey of the Israelites to the Sea of Reeds/Red Sea.

Have you ever wondered why, if the Children of Israel were being guided by God, they ended up trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army? It was not, as one might assume on a quick read, a situation of a strategic error, but rather part of God’s purposeful plan for Pharaoh. Until this point in the narrative, every time Pharaoh had agreed to let the Children of Israel go free, he had changed his mind. The permission he granted after the tenth plague turned out to be just as fickle, and so God arranged for the Israelites to witness the miraculous closure to Pharaoh’s hold over them.

Exodus 14 begins with God instructing Moses to speak to the Children of Israel “and let them turn back and encamp in Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea” (Exodus 14:2). Since God then told Moses how Pharaoh would react, the important words here are “let them turn back.”

The Biblical commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac 1040 - 1105) writes that the Israelites “approached nearer to Egypt during the entire third day in order to mislead Pharaoh, so that he would say, ‘They [the Israelites] are astray on the road.’” The plan, as recorded in the Torah, went precisely as planned. Pharaoh was lured into chasing his former slaves to the sea, where God provided a miraculous salvation and a final resolution to the problem of Pharaoh.

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