Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Parashas B’shalach

ha-mibli ein kevarim b’eretz Mitzrayim l’kachtanu lamus bamidbar ... halo zeh hadavar asheer dibarnu eilecha b’Mitzrayim laimor, chadal mimenu v’na’avdah es mitzrayim (Shemos 14:11-12) - are there not enough graves in the land of Egypt that you took us to die in the desert ... this is what we said to you in Egypt when we said: Leave them alone and we will be servants to Egypt!

Rav S. R. Hirsch writes that these pesukim reveal that am Yisrael does not lose its sense of humor or cynicism even in the darkest moments in history. Rashi wonders where the source is that Jews had actually said to Moshe, chadal mimenu v’na’avdah es mitzrayim - leave them alone and we shall be servants to Egypt. He points out that this statement is the implication of the comment made when Moshe and Aharon left Pharaoh’s palace in dejection, having tried to win freedom for the Jews but having worsened their working conditions instead. The pasuk (Shemos 5:21) states: Vayomru ailehem: yeireh hashem aleichem veyishpot asher hivashtem es reichenu b’ainai Pharaoh uv’ainai avadov loses cherev b’yadam l’hargenu - And they [Israel] said to them [Moshe and Aharon]: Hashem shall reveal Himself to you and He will judge, for you have ruined the scent of us in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants by providing a sword in their hands with which to kill us.

Two questions seem to immediately present themselves; one grammatical, the other logical. Our pasuk, for some reason, changes person in midstream - chadal mimenu - literally, leave him alone in third person singular which then changes to v’na’avdah - and we shall serve in third person plural.

Furthermore, the source that Rashi offers, for you have ruined the scent of us in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants by providing a sword in their hands with which to kill us, seems to be telling us something entirely different than the quote from our pasuk, leave them alone and we will be servants to Egypt. The former phrase seems to suggest that the Jews were accusing Moshe and Aharon of being failures; you promised that we would be redeemed and all you accomplished was worsening our conditions of servitude. Indeed, Moshe then voiced this very complaint to Hashem. In the latter citation, however, the complaint seems to be that G-d was going to allow them to be killed in the desert and that there was therefore no point in having been redeemed from Egypt. And indeed, Moshe later raises this point when he pleads with G-d not to destroy them at the incident of the golden calf. There he says (32:12): lamah yomru Mitzrayim leimor, b’ra’ah hotziam laharog osom beharim - why should Mitzrayim state that He took them out with evil intent so as to kill them in the hills - a parallel to what the Jews were claiming here.

Perhaps, in our resolution of the first question, we can find a means of dealing with the second. I would like to suggest that the reference in the first phrase -
chadal mimenu - leave him alone - is to Israel as a nation or group whereas the phrase v’na’avdah - and we shall serve - uses the third person plural because it is referring to Jews as a collective of individuals. Whoever was speaking in this pasuk noted that the Jews as a singular nation did not yet exist, they had not yet shed their past identities and taken on their national character which would mold them into a single people who could be referred to in singular. The second phrase therefore refers to them in third person plural, indicating they still needed time in the forge of Egypt, for it was there that the refinement process would take place.

This was the essence also of what the Jews told Moshe when he failed to convince Pharaoh to release them from Egypt. They believed that G-d would one day remove them, the message and promise to their forebears was still clear to them. However, they were not sure that they were ready to begin their mission as a people, and when Pharaoh hardened their work load, that only served to convince them that G-d agreed.

This fear of not being worthy, of lacking the requisite ability or merit, seems to repeat itself throughout Chumash. We find that upon hearing the Divine voice reveal the Torah at Sinai, the people plead with Moshe to serve as the conveyor of the Divine message, for they are concerned that their intrinsic shortcomings may lead them to die. Similarly, we shall iy”h see that this fear factor rears its head at the time of the manna and slav, the m’raglim and the other incidents of rebellion in the desert.

The Kotzker rebbe zt”l is reported to have once said: It is one thing to remove the Jews from Egypt. It is a greater miracle to remove Egypt from the Jews. Part of the legacy of our years of servitude in Egypt is the sense of our being unable to fulfill what G-d expects of us, a fear that can often cause us to become depressed or paralyzed. Little do we realize that by very definition G-d would not expect us to accomplish something that we were physically - or spiritually - incapable of. It’s a message we would do well to consider and share with our children.


Tobie said...

I am not an expert on Biblical grammar, but how would you say live us alone? Isn't it also ממנו?

charadiation said...

I would have used me'hem for the third person plural [sorry for the tranliteration, but I can't firgure out how to get the machine to enter Hebrew].