This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H & my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H & in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta, and my great aunt Rivkah Bas Etta
-Miriam Liba Bas Devora
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Aharon Ben Fruma
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamah of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
בְּשַׁלַּח ~ Beshalach
“The Disease of Egypt”
When leading the B’nei Yisrael forth from Egypt, the Torah specifies that Hashem did not take them on a direct path into the Promised Land, but on a roundabout path, through the wilderness [Shemos 13:17-18]. The reason which the Torah provides for this detour, as is elaborated on by Rashi citing the Mechilta, is that Hashem anticipated that the B’nei Yisrael would be afraid of war against the Plishtim on the way into Cana’an and subsequently return to Egypt on this quick and easy route. So, apparently, working with the tendencies of the B’nei Yisrael in mind, Hashem situated them on this longer, inconvenient route through desert and sea to prevent them from turning back.
What seems to be implied by G-d’s decision and line of reasoning is that really, for the larger purposes of the B’nei Yisrael and their destiny, it would have sufficed for Hashem to take them straight into the Promised Land. If not for their fear of war, it would have been that simple. They would not have required Krias Yam Suf (the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds). Perhaps they would not have even experienced the Divine Revelation at Har Sinai or any of the other experiences between those and the B’nei Yisrael’s ultimate entry into Cana’an. So, when would Kabbalas HaTorah (the acceptance of the Torah) have happened? Perhaps, if not at Sinai, then it would’ve taken place somewhere in Israel. Maybe, there would have been an immediate building of the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) too. But perhaps a lot of the other events would not have happened; as was mentioned, the B’nei Yisrael would not have experienced the Splitting of the Sea. And, if they were comfortable in the land, they would have never complained about a lack of food and water. And that means that they would have never received the “bread from heaven” known as Mann or Manna. And certainly, no one would have complained about Mann later if that Mann never existed. And you know what? They might’ve avoided the ambush by Amaleik too. And maybe, if the people were settled in the land, there would never have been a Golden Calf. Maybe, there would never have been such a thirst for water that would have led to Moshe Rabbeinu hitting the rock and losing his right to enter Israel. Maybe, there would never have been a plague of fiery serpents against the B’nei Yisrael. There likely would not have been forty years of wandering in the desert if they were safely settled in the land.
But, of course, the B’nei Yisrael were apparently afraid of war, so that necessitated this really long detour. The question though, if it’s not already bothering you, is how this “fear of war” was so dangerous and undesirable to the Divine plan that it required the long years of travelling in the desert, the complaining, the depression, the starvation, the death of a full generation, the punishment to Moshe Rabbeinu, and so on. This is not to say that the people who suffered or were punished along the way were not responsible for their own actions, despite the situation. But if Hashem was willing to go so far to avoid what would happen in the scenario of war against the Plishtim, why was this alternative “situation”—this really long and hard “situation” not worth circumventing? Why was all of this necessary?
And if one thinks about it, G-d could really have just lead the B’nei Yisrael on the direct path to Cana’an and simply block the road some other way to keep them from going back. Why resort so quickly to a long path of hardships, inconvenience, and frustration?
Further along in the Sidrah, when the B’nei Yisrael emerge unscathed from the Yam Suf, they were challenged with one of their first of many recurring trials, lack of water [15:22-24]. When they finally found some water at Marah (literally, “bitter”) they were unable to drink any of it—because it was bitter (and thus the name). In response, Moshe, by G-d’s directive, performed a miracle in which he cast a tree into the waters sweetening them and making them drinkable [15:25].
The story and its presentation sound kind of simple; there’s a basic challenge. Yes, there’s a creative, miraculous solution, but that’s about it. Sure, the nation complains, but at this early stage, Hashem’s wrath does not burn against the people as it ultimately does on later occasions, rather Hashem merely alleviates the cause of their problems quite easily and leaves them off with a brief message: “…Im Shamo’a Tishma L’Kol Hashem Elokecha V’HaYashar B’Einav Ta’aseh V’HaAzanta L’Mitzvosav V’Shamarta Kal Chukav Kal HaMachalah Asheir Samti V’Mitzrayim Lo Asim Alecha Ki Ani Hashem Rofecha”-“…If you are sure to listen [be obedient] to the voice [whim] of Hashem your G-d, and that which is straight in His eyes you shall do, and you give ear to His commandments, and guard all of His decrees, the entire disease that I have placed in Egypt, I will not place on you, for I am Hashem your healer” [15:26].
Now, while the event itself does not seem to carry so much weight in the larger narrative, for some reason, Hashem was sure to leave His signature at the end of it. The question here then is what exactly the meaning of Hashem’s message is. What is He trying to convey? Certainly, the basic message makes sense, that if the B’nei Yisrael listen His directive, then everything will be okay, but if one thinks about it, He seems to convey this message in a negative and sort of backhandedly threatening way. It’s kind of haunting actually; “Obey Me and the fate Egypt suffered won’t happen to you…” Why not promise some reward as opposed to promising not to punish? It sounds so negative.
Even the final line, “I am Hashem your healer,” has ominous implications. Wouldn’t we rather hear something more like “I am Hashem your protector”? The fact that Hashem describes Himself as our “Healer” indicates that there is, in fact, some disease that we might have which we need to be healed from. But, wouldn’t it just make more sense contextually for Hashem to refer to Himself as the B’nei Yisrael’s “protector” or something of that nature? He just said that He will not place a disease on them, so, if there’s no disease, there’s no need for a “healer,” is there? Is there going to be a disease or not? Why is Hashem sending the B’nei Yisrael mixed messages?
Also, why is Hashem referring specifically back to the “disease” that He placed in Egypt? Presumably, He is referring to the one, or some, or all of the plagues that He smote Egypt with, but why? Why would Hashem be specifically threatening the B’nei Yisrael this way? What would the B’nei Yisrael have done so bad to deserve something like that? They’re not guilty of enslavement or infanticide. What relevance does Egypt have here at Marah?
Going back to the first question, we asked why Hashem was so concerned about the B’nei Yisrael being afraid of war and returning to Egypt that He created a seemingly more inconvenient situation which would result in more trials, sins, lost lives, and broken dreams. We wanted to know why He would go at such lengths to circumvent one bad situation over the other one. The simple answer to this question is that, yes, the situation which G-d avoided was apparently a worse one—that apparently, returning to Egypt would have been that bad. Why and how? The simple answer to that is that although trials and risks for messing up are a given in any situation that one encounters in life, for the purposes of the B’nei Yisrael, returning to Egypt would be a guaranteed failure. Because if the B’nei Yisrael would just return to the source of their spiritual filth and the house of their physical bondage right after being freed from it, they would be erasing everything that Hashem had taught them, everything that created their redemption in the first place. They would permanently regress from redemption and Yetzias Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) back to Galus Mitzrayim (Exile of Egypt).
So, the question is: Why not just take them on the quick route to Cana’an and block them from returning? What is the benefit of taking them through the difficult route we’ve described at length earlier?
The answer to this question depends on what it is Hashem was truly trying to accomplish. If the goal was only to prevent the B’nei Yisrael from returning to Egypt, Hashem could have simply pushed them into Cana’an and blocked them. He could have done whatever He wanted. He could’ve forcefully prevented us from making every mistake we’ve ever made; He could’ve done that in the desert and He could do it now. But that would be pointless. As a rule, G-d does not remove free will. So, if keeping the B’nei Yisrael from returning to Egypt was not the true goal, then what was Hashem trying to accomplish? Doesn’t the Torah say that the concern was that the B’nei Yisrael would return to Egypt?
The answer is: Yes! That was the concern exactly!—but not just that they would return to Egypt, but that they would think of going back to Egypt. What is so bad about the B’nei Yisrael being afraid of war? Isn’t that natural? Maybe, but the B’nei Yisrael were not in a natural position. They just saw the wonders Hashem performed against Pharaoh in Egypt. They got front row seats in Hashem’s lesson to the world—you know, the lesson that Hashem exists and that there is no one greater or more powerful than He. They just watched G-d slaughter the Egyptian gods. They watched Egypt fall to the plagues! Now, they would actually go back? Did they not forget that their destiny was to be Hashem’s nation? Hashem wasn’t only concerned that the B’nei Yisrael would successfully make it back to Egypt, though that was part of it, but He was concerned because of the fear and lack of faith that would lead them back there. He was concerned because, apparently, despite seeing His display in Egypt, they were still unready to fully accept His Will and follow Him faithfully. They still hadn’t learned. It was this fear and lack of faith that Hashem was methodically targeting when He led them into the wilderness. He brought them out there to educate them.
And although it would be tough—the people would make mistakes, lives would be lost, and leaders would be punished—the nation would ultimately learn that indeed, He is Hashem, and that they must have faith in Him and His Torah to succeed. Yes, they will continue to yearn to go back to Egypt. They would continue to panic in the face of war and other misfortune, but eventually, through it all, the nation would learn. That’s what they were there for.
The above brings us back to Marah. Hashem performed a wonder for the people and then basically threatened them: “Remember Egypt.” Why was Hashem doing that? The idea is, as we’ve explained, that although Hashem made it abundantly clear in Egypt that He is G-d, capable of anything, if they could still display a lack of faith, it meant that perhaps the lessons from Egypt needed to be reinforced. Since the B’nei Yisrael would not integrate the lessons concerning what happens to rigid skeptics who refuse to submit themselves to the Divine hand when they saw it on someone else, they might have to relearn them firsthand.
Thus, Hashem made this point first by leading them to Marah where the water was bitter and undrinkable. This location is significant for, if one thinks about it, this trial is semblance of the first plague against Egypt, Makkas Dam, the Plague of Blood, where Hashem made the waters of the Nile and all of Egypt undrinkable. After the B’nei Yisrael complained and Hashem sweetened the waters, Hashem conveyed that if the B’nei Yisrael would believe in Him and His Will, and follow Him humbly—if they would learn from Egypt—then they won’t have to suffer the same way that Egypt did. More specifically, says G-d, “Kal Machalah Asheir Samti V’Mitzrayim Lo Asim Alecha”-“the entire disease I placed in Egypt, I will not place upon you”—for right, now Hashem has merely given them a taste of the disease. But if they continue to test Him—and indeed, the B’nei Yisrael, throughout their travels, do push the buck a bit further—Hashem will continue to mete out “the entire disease” in order to educate them. Why? For it was because Egypt denied G-d and His Will that they suffered the plagues. They tested Him, and in response, G-d taught them.
All of the above explains why they are out here in the desert. Hashem has brought the B’nei Yisrael here to wean them off their affinity to Egypt. And as their impatience has quickly grown and their faith has quickly lessoned, Hashem has begun to afflict them like the Egyptian example. And this is why, despite the fact that Hashem is telling the B’nei Yisrael that in the right circumstances, they won’t suffer, yet He still implies that they need a healer. Because right now, at the rate they’re going, the expected result would be their own “disease of Egypt.” In the meantime, they have already caught the disease, and in order to cure themselves of it, they will need to follow the doctor’s instructions. And as Rashi explains following the Mechilta, that’s what Hashem means when He refers to Himself as their “Healer.” Because, yes, there is danger, and yes, they need, not only a remedy, but to follow His “medicinal” advice to protect them.
What all of the above illustrates is that the entire journey through the desert was absolutely vital for the growth of the B’nei Yisrael as a G-d fearing and G-d trusting nation. It’s no question why they had to be led out there and why many individuals had to be weeded out of the nation along the way. They were not truly ready to enter the Promised Land because they hadn’t yet perfected their faith in Hashem or in their destiny to enter the Promised Land. They were still learning. They would test Hashem, and Hashem would test them back. They would complain, and Hashem would remind them until they got it right. They had to follow clouds that indicated that Hashem was leading the way. They had to rely on G-d sending the Mann, food from the heavens, so that they wouldn’t starve. They had to stop gathering the Mann to observe Shabbos properly despite their concerns that there would not be enough food. They had to listen to G-d’s voice and observe His commandments. They had to understand and appreciate their destiny before they could actually reach their destination.
This crucial process could only be completed on their long journey in the wilderness. The mission could only be realized once they’d dispel from themselves the disease of Egypt.
May we all be Zocheh to purge ourselves of our negative ideologies, develop true trust and devotion to Hashem and His instructions, and Hashem should be, not only our Healer, but our Protector and Ultimate Redeemer once again, with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos & Tu B’Shvat!
-Josh, Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂