Doing the right thing can have far-reaching consequences that last a lifetime, especially when people make sacrifices to spare others from suffering.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Beshalach” (Exodus 13:17–17:16), and boy is it action packed!
We have the story of the Exodus, the splitting of the Red Sea, the drowning of the Egyptians and the elaborate song of thanks that the Jewish people sang, the giving of the Manna (which sustained the Jewish people during their 40 years of wandering in the desert) and much more.
So let’s tackle one of these exciting episodes: If Pharaoh willingly let the Jewish people go, what made him run after them? Did he want ten more plagues to come upon Egypt?
Pharaoh was somehow led to believe that the Jews were lost in the desert. As such, he probably thought that God had abandoned them, and this was his chance to get back about two million slaves. So he decided to take out his entire arsenal and run after them.
In describing Pharaoh deciding to run after the Jews, the verse says, “He said to the Children of Israel: ‘They are lost in the land!’” The commentators raise the obvious problem with this verse: how can the verse say that Pharaoh “said to the children of Israel”? There were no children of Israel in Egypt! They were long gone already! What’s going on over here?
One answer is that the verse means that he was speaking “about the children of Israel” not “to the children of Israel. That’s the easy interpretation.
Another answer offered is that Pharaoh was speaking with the two Jews who had indeed remained behind in Egypt: Dathan and Aviram. These were two miserable and trouble-making people who decided to stay behind and not leave Egypt. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that we are told that all the bad and evil Jews died during the plague of darkness.
Indeed, we are told that about 80 percent of the Jewish people were killed at this time. That’s right! Only one-fifth of the Jewish people left Egypt according to the Midrash. Dathan and Aviram were the worst of the worst! So how and why were they still alive? How did they survive the plague of darkness?
It is explained that the slave industry in Egypt worked as a hierarchy. Pharaoh delegated the job of enslaving the Jews to Egyptian taskmasters. The Egyptian taskmasters then appointed Jewish policemen to force the Jewish slaves to work hard and meet their quotas. The Egyptian taskmasters would beat the Jewish policemen but the policemen would not, in turn, beat the Jewish slaves. This conduct went way beyond exemplary…it was sacred.
Although Dathan and Aviram were two horrible people, they served as Jewish policemen who would not beat the Jewish slaves. It was in this merit that they were spared from death during the plague of darkness when all the other evil people were killed.
We see from here how great it is to assist in minimizing the suffering of others. Apparently, doing so really gets God to forget the suffering we cause Him!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.
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