|This week we read about Pharaoh’s final last-ditch attempt to stop the Israelites from making their ultimate escape. Pharaoh asks his servants, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” After everything that had transpired in Egypt, Pharaoh is still not willing to admit defeat. Pharaoh doesn’t tell his servants to prepare for war with the Israelites; instead, he asks, “why have we let them go from serving us?” Pharaoh was so obsessed with controlling a people that weren’t his that he willingly sacrificed his own people on behalf of his failing mission. Pharaoh’s goal was to take the Israelites back to Egypt as slaves. Yet, doesn’t Pharaoh understand that Egypt is tottering on the brink of complete destruction? The plagues (that brought each of Egypt’s gods to their knees) affected the entirety of Egypt, yet Pharaoh remained hard-hearted. “How could Pharaoh possibly think that after all the miracles the Almighty did for the Israelites to save them…now when they were finally liberated He would forsake them? …Anyone with any level of intelligence whatsoever should realize that it would be impossible for the Egyptians to harm the Israelites.” (From Book “Growth through Torah” pg 171)
Pharaoh’s intellect had become blinded by his own will and desires. God tells Moses in Exodus 14, “turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them…” In Hebrew, the word used in this verse for “turn,” as in “turn and camp” is the root word “Shuv” meaning “to return.” God is making it seem to Pharaoh as if the Israelites have become lost in the desert, trapped “between a rock and a hard place = the sea.” They are a seemingly easy target and a most tempting prize.
Pharaoh hears that the Israelites are encamped opposite “Baal Zephon” a title that means “the god of the North.” The one Egyptian god that has remained untouched by the plagues gives Pharaoh hope. Pharaoh thinks that perhaps this god will be the answer to his problems. In Hebrew, the word “Zephon” comes from the root word “Tsaphan” which is translated as “hidden, treasured.” The final god Pharaoh puts his hope in is “Baal Zephon—the Hidden/Treasured god.” The gods of Egypt are not vanquished until even the hidden ones; the ones most precious to Pharaoh are utterly demolished. Pharaoh rides out of his palace in full regalia. 600 choice “elite” chariots together with all the chariots of Egypt, with “officers—shalishim” on each of them ride out to attack the Israelites. The term “officers—shalishim” comes from the Hebrew root word “shalosh—three.” This term could be understood to mean that there were 3 men in each chariot. Under normal circumstances there would have been a 2 man-team in each chariot, a warrior and a driver. However, because Pharaoh “took his people with him” (Ex. 14:6) he appointed an officer over each chariot that left Egypt.
|As you read through this section (Ex. 14:6-10) there is something interesting, which must be noted. Twice in these verses it says something along the lines of “Egypt pursued after them (the Israelites).” It wasn’t just “Pharaoh’s army” or just the “military of Egypt.” No, instead it was all of “Egypt;” meaning the Spirit, army, people and horses of Egypt all left in pursuit of the Israelite nation. In the Artscroll Chumash commentary we read, “The Jews saw not only a huge and strong force pursuing them, but a united and well-organized one, as implied by verse 10 that describes the Egyptian army in the singular [nosea—going] rather than the plural [nos’im—going].” Ibn Ezra makes a similar observation concerning the horses of Egypt in verse 9. In Hebrew it uses the singular word “sus—horse” when describing “all the horses  of Pharaoh.” Ibn Ezra says that this implies that all the horses of Egypt had been massed into one giant, united force. Pharaoh had created a united entity, an “army of the people” with which he hoped to capture and re-enslave the Israelite nation. Pharaoh, at this point in time thinks he has several things going for him.Israel is a nation of slaves. Egypt (in this time period) has the most powerful military.Israel has no prior battle experience. Pharaoh and his generals are military veterans.Israel seems lost in the wilderness in a strange land. Pharaoh knows the strategic lay of the land. The Israelites are in Pharaoh’s territory.Israel seems stranded by their God. Pharaoh still has “Baal Zephon—the Hidden god” at his disposal.Pharaoh doesn’t realize that he is being setting up so that “[God] will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that [God is] the Lord.” Pharaoh and his generals think that they can outmaneuver the L-rd, the One who is described in this portion as “A Man Of War.” Pharaoh and his generals know that one of the most important rules of an ambush is to have a solid egress plan. Well, in their eyes, they’ve got Israel cornered like a cat plays a mouse and are set for a sudden surprise attack. What they don’t know is that God has set them up for ambush and He does have a solid egress plan. His plan includes a solid wall of water through the very heart of a sea, with solid ground under the Israelites feet. At the end of everything, the words of King David ring loud and clear, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.”As we read through the entire Exodus story, we must realize that everything we read about deals with the physical birth of a nation. The crossing of the Red Sea was just the final act, which brought life and freedom to the nation of Israel. Think of the Hebrews/ Israelites as an embryo in the womb at the beginning of the book of Exodus. I find it interesting how a baby in the womb’s development is counted. It takes 10 sets of 4 weeks to bring a child into the world. It took 10 different plagues to bring the Israelites into freedom. The development of the Israelites, which was preparation for their time in the desert, all happened during the 10 plagues leading up to their “birth” into freedom.The Israelites weren’t ready for freedom when Moses first arrived on the scene. They needed to be developed and prepared to enter into their new life and calling. The Israelites, like a baby in its mother’s womb, were asking the question, “Is there life on the other side?” All the Israelites had known was Egyptian slavery. How does one function after having the routine drudgery of life taken away? After the Parting of the Red Sea, just like a baby passing through the birth canal, Israel passed through the waters. Even though this was their new birth, as parents know, this is just the beginning. Now God’s task, through Moses, involves parenting His nation into spiritual birth and full maturity.When the Israelites came out on the other side of the sea, we read “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord.” The joyous cries of children who’ve been given life are songs to God. The scream of a newborn is music to God’s ears. In Leviticus 10, when Aaron the Priest’s two sons die it says that Aaron “kept his peace.” However, in Hebrew it says, “Aharon V’yidom—Aaron was silent.” Death brings silence; as the Psalmist writes, “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence.” (Psalm 115:17) King Hezekiah (after he was spared from death) also declared in Isaiah 38, “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. The LORD is certain to save me; So we will play my songs on stringed instruments All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.” Death brings silence, but as King Hezekiah said, “the living  give thanks to You.” Rabbi Weinberger, in his book “Sparks from the Fire” writes, “When the power of speech is free, it can be expressed on a number of different levels. The highest of these is song, the mouth’s highest mode of expression. Song is the greatest expression of man’s essence as a living being. When a person is filled with vitality, he cannot be satisfied with speaking alone. He must sing.” The Israelites realized they were free! They had to sing! It specifically states, “the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” Weren’t the Israelites already saved from the Egyptians? Why was this day recognized as the day that God truly saved his people? Because the Israelites “saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” As long as the Egyptians were still alive, Pharaoh still had a grip on the hearts and minds of the Israelites. Once the entire Egyptian army was defeated, there was no more fear, worry or terror. The grip of Pharaoh over the minds of the Israelites was gone. He was dead and they were alive singing! What a tremendous sound that must have been! Over 2 million people singing praises for God’s miraculous deliverance!
|In Exodus 15 it says “Az Yashir Moshe Uvnei Yisrael Et-HaShirah HaZot L’Hashem— Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord.” The words “Az Yashir” are an interesting combination of words. The word “Az” which means “Then” is a past tense word, while the word “Yashir” meaning “will sing” is in the future tense. Why are these two words phrased like this? The Berditchover Rav writes the explanation behind these words is, “Az is in the past tense, referring to the moments even before the sea had split; Yashir is in the future tense – Klal Yisrael (All of Israel) was already certain they would sing. Even before their salvation had arrived; B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) already knew they would sing upon being rescued…salvation [for them] was a complete certainty…Stuck in what appeared to be the most hopeless and desperate situation, Klal Yisrael (All of Israel) had already begun singing.” I think this is great advice for us in our time. If we believe God is in control, then even when we face the worst of situations, we should sing because we will sing on the other side of our trials. Just as life is opposite of death, singing is opposite to silence. Rashi writes that the phrase “Az Yashir” points to a time in the future when “God will bring the dead back to life in Messianic times – and then they (those resurrected) will sing God’s praises once again.”Rabbi Weinberger writes that, “When the Jewish People were in Egypt, they were compared to ‘a fetus in its mother’s womb.’ The redemption from Egypt and the Song at the Sea represented the birth of the Jewish People…Chazal (The Sages) say that the song [the Jewish People] sang that day is reminiscent of the ultimate resurrection of the dead.” Just as the Israelite nation was born on the day of the crossing of the Reed Sea, so too the Ultimate redemption will be very similar in that the enemies of Israel will be vanquished and the redeemed ones will sing a new song to the God of the Greater Exodus! May that day soon come! And until then, remember that silence is death, so keep singing! As it says in Psalm 126, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Keep singing!
Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant, Shabbat Shalom, Samuel