Former Shaliach in Melbourne
In this parasha we bid farewell to Pharaoh and his people. As we come across the last punishment that G-d bestows upon this nation, an intriguing question arises. What was the role that the Egyptian people played throughout this entire saga? Did they know about Moshe’s demands and warnings? Was it only Pharaoh who controlled the negotiating and did not let the rumor spread, in order that his people will not pressure him to let Am Yisrael go? There are a few plagues that the Egyptian people are warned and told to take their animals inside in order that they not get hurt. Did they know the reason for the these plagues? I tend to believe that they did not know. Pharaoh never seemed to me like the kind of king would share such a crisis with his people. I think that this can also be derived from the pssukim in our parasha.
Prior to the splitting if the sea, when the Egyptian people are standing just behind Am Yisrael with only the pillar of light splitting between them, the pssukim describe the following occurrences. The verses are quite difficult and the commentators argue what is the correct explanation of the words but we will try to sum up what happens. The angel, who until now led Am Yisrael, moved behind them – in front of the Egyptians. The cloud and the pillar of light move to the back of Am Yisrael as well – lighting up the night. Moshe raises his stick toward the sea and there is strong Eastern wind all night. The water splits and the ground becomes dry. Am Yisrael walks into the water when the waters are like two walls on both sides. The Egyptians follow and as the sun rises Hashem creates a great confusion in the Egyptian camp.
In these verses we can be reminded of things that already happened during the ten plagues. The fact that two different things happen to the Jews and to the Egyptians although they are so close to each other, is something that we saw already in a few plagues. Moreover, during the first plague the Egyptians dug around the Nile in order to find water. Here the situation is the opposite. G-d “digs” into the Nile and makes it into soil. The Eastern wind that blows all night already appeared in the plague of the locust. Last, the fact that there is light all night is opposed to the plague of darkness where the day was dark.
The point of these comparisons can be found in the following passuk. The Egyptians are quoted as saying: “We shall flee from Israel as G-d is fighting for them in Egypt.” This can be understood that the Egyptians are saying that G-d is fighting them now. The mechilta sees it differently. “They said: He who did the miracles for them (for Am Yisrael) in Egypt is now doing miracles for them in the sea”. According to this Midrash, the Egyptians now understand. They were shown before the splitting of the sea a bit of all the plagues that they suffered until now. This was the moment that the Egyptians realized that what they suffered until now was part of G-d’s big plan to take Am Yisrael out of Egypt and that they will receive the Torah.