Rabbi David Rifkin
Former Training Coordinator at Torah Mitzion
When we examine the Pesach story and the lead up to the actual Exodus from Egypt, we find an interesting question that arises based on Moshe’s actual request to Paroh that Bnei Yisrael should leave for three days only “The God of the Hebrews has summoned us, let us go please for three days in the wilderness, and offer up offerings to the Lord our God”. It might appear that the actual request based on the words “let us go please” are the words and inspiration of Moshe, but the Abarbanel (1437-1508) and others differ. Indeed he claims that Hashem instructed Moshe to also ask for the three day request, and therefore the pasuk could in fact be interpreted in the following way-“The God of the Hebrews has summoned us, and told us, thus you should say to Paroh, let us go please for three days in the wilderness, and offer up offerings to the Lord our God”.
If we do accept this interpretation, the commentators ask two significant questions. Firstly, why did HASHEM suggest that they request only three days and not simply say the truth- send away the Hebrews permanently. The ‘deceit’ here seems rather unbecoming of people with the statesmen status of Moshe and Aharon when dealing with Paroh. They surely could have said in plain language ” the time has arrived for the Redemption of Israel: let my people go!” without any three day commitment. The fourteenth century commentator Rabbeinu Nissim, addresses this question in Drashot Haran. He claims that the three day request that Hashem told Moshe to demand was part of the overall plan to punish the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Since the three day period passed and Paroh realized that they were not returning, he chased after them and as a result was ‘swallowed’ up in the Red Sea. Had the request been unlimited as suggested above, Paroh would not have chased after Bnei Yisrael and therefore the episode at the Red Sea would not have taken place etc. Furthermore, he claims that there is also a connection to the “gold and silver” that Bnei Yisrael took from the Egyptians. “…they requested from the Egyptians silver vessels, gold vessels and garments. Hashem gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians…so they emptied Egypt” Shemot 12:35-36. According to the Ran, this was also part of the overall plan and yet another reason to chase after Bnei Yisrael; not only must the Hebrews return to be our slaves, we also want our silver and gold that they stole. Hence “and he chased after Bnei Yisrael”
The Abarbanel differs with the Ran in explaining the ‘three day syndrome’ and offers the following explanation. He opines that the reason for the three day request was to demonstrate in a very obvious way the absolute stubborn arrogance of Paroh. Since he would not even agree to the three day plan, kol sheken, there was no logical way that he would agree to a permanent exit visa! Therefore, Paroh and his people needed to be educated in no uncertain terms about who the real boss is, and subsequently, the Abarbanel maintains that this was all part of justifying the ten plagues etc
The second question, based on a fascinating commentary of the Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) is directed at Moshe. When Paroh finally agreed to send Bnei Yisrael, he said the following: “…arise, go away from amongst my people, you and Bnei Yisrael and serve Hashem, as you have spoken [kedaberchem]” Shmot 12:31. The Ibn Ezra comments based on the word kedaberchem, “that you should go on a three day journey”. In other words, this has been your request all the time, until now I have said “no” now I am prepared to grant you your request- go for three days. Perhaps Moshe should have honored the deal and returned after three days. Furthermore, once again referring to the gold and silver mentioned above, the verb used in the Torah is vayishalu- which is the verb used for borrowing: perhaps Bnei Yisrael should have also returned the borrowed goods and, simultaneously, honored the ‘3 day tourist visa’ they received from Paroh?
Two Torah commentators the Bechor Shor (approx 1140) and the Chizkuni (approx 1250) both claim that Hashem intended that they indeed return to Egypt and return the borrowed goods. They base this on the pasuk” Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them turn back and camp before Pi-hachirot…”Shemot 14:2 From the word veyashuvu- “and let them turn back” they learn that the intention was exactly that, namely to return after three days. So why did they not fulfill this intention? The answer is actually quite simple. Paroh chased after them, and therefore they had to run for their lives in the opposite direction, ie away from Egyypt! Yes, their intent was to return the goods etc and fulfill their commitment, but Paroh prevented them from returning! Had he not chased after them they would, acccording to the Chizkuni, have returned. Regarding the ‘stolen’ goods, the Chizkuni maintains that this is not a problem since Bnei Yisrael left behind their own possessions, homes and fields which no doubt the Egyptians would take for themselves.
The Pesach story is full of intrigue. We invest or should invest many hours delving into the background, the story, the lessons to be learnt, and, of course the message for our generation and for future generations. We see clearly from the above example and many, many other aspects of this fascinating and crucial period of our History how Yad Hashem directed events in every single way: from the initial diplomacy with Paroh to the miracle of Kriyat Yam Suf. May we always appreciate, and never take for granted, the power of Yad Hashem in our lives.
Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom!