In one of the most bizarre occurrences in the Torah, the Jewish people having survived the ordeals of Egyptand having miraculously escaped, decide to make a u-turn back towards the Egyptian border. Why would G-d command such a strange strategic move? Many of the commentators are baffled at this occurrence. What could it possibly mean?
The Ibn Ezra offers a beautiful answer that sheds light on the issue. G-d wanted the Jewish people to learn an important lesson, which they will take with them throughout their history. The fundamental idea that there is a divine plan to all that we shall encounter. We may not understand certain historical trends and events as they are taking place but eventually we will. The Jews at that time surely could not make sense of returning to the place of untold misery, which they had been subjected to. Many complained, contemplating revisiting the scene of so many afflictions, which they had suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. Only later did they see G-d’s hand in the events. They had to return to give Pharaoh the impression that they are lost in the dessert and that he has a chance to capture them again as slaves. Only this time he and his soldiers will all fall for their inability to see G-d’s hand in securing Jewish freedom from Egypt. Only at this point did the Jews realise that there was a purpose to all that had befallen them.
The Jewish people have applied this teaching to Jewish history .We Have always realised that we may not be able to understand G-d’s ways but we have always understood that there is a purpose to all that happens and as a result we have never lost faith in G-d.
I would however like to take this issue a step further: Couldn’t G-d have shown this in a way that would not need to result in the death of so many Egyptians? The Abarbanel offers an intriguing insight. The Jewish people were about to enter into the landof Israeland were required to fight the Canaanite nations in that area. How could such an afflicted nation possibly galvanize themselves to fight these unprecedented wars? The answer lies in the psychological change that the splitting of the red sea and the destruction of the Egyptians made upon them. They realised that they had nothing to fear and that G-d was with them.
Indeed, we cannot underestimate the changes that certain events have had on our collective self. Take for example the reestablishment of a Jewish State after 2000 years of exile. Suddenly the Jew emerged without fear. Many secular Jews felt comfortable with their Jewish identities. The pain and suffering of the past is slowly being obliterated. For the first time in two millennia, the Jew realises that we are in control of Jewish destiny.
The miraculous story of this week’s parsha illustrates the secret behind the survival of the Jew – ultimately in the hand of G-d. In the immortal words of Mark Twain: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” (Harpers 1898)