IDF soldiers
IDF soldiersPhoto: Yissachar Ruas

Written l’ilui nishmat my son Naftoli Meir z’’l.

We are informed at the start of the Sedra that Hashem was concerned that if war would break out between the newly emancipated slaves and the Philistines (Plishtim), that the Bnei Yisrael would rush back to Egypt (Mitzrayim). Consequently, instead of leading them directly to Eretz Yisrael, Hashem took them on a journey into the desert and round to Jordan and only then would they enter the promised land.

However, when the Egyptian army catches up with the Bnei Yisrael they are told to stand still and be silent and Hashem would take care of things for them. If so, why doesn’t this solution work against the Plishtim? Why couldn’t Hashem take care of them too? The Egyptian’s were a far more formidable army than the Plishtim!

The Midrash presents different understandings as to why Bnei Yisrael needed the detour into the desert. Hashem had told Moshe at the Burning Bush that he would return with the nation and serve Hashem on the mountain.

  • Had they entered Eretz Yisrael via the land of Plishtim they would never have arrived at Har Sinai.
  • Additionally, Hashem didn’t want the nation to enter the land and immediately get busy with working the land without establishing a connection to Torah which happened over the 40 years they were in the desert.
  • Finally, the local Canaanite population had sabotaged all the fields and waterholes so that the conquering forces of Bnei Yisrael would struggle to establish themselves.
  • Hashem had promised them a blessed land with house filled with all good things. Delaying the nation for a time in the desert would allow the land to be re-established.

These are interesting perspectives but they still do not give us a reason why Hashem couldn’t step in a deal with the threat of the Plishtim , as He did with the Egyptians.

Rav Goren in his drashot on the Torah gives a fascinating insight. There is a difference between how we behave as individual Jews and when we are a nation that is fighting for its’ land. When we are called upon to fight for our land, there is no place for weakness, fear or self-interest. There is a Mitzvah to fight and conquer the land. Had our ancestors walked via the Plishtim lands there would have been an absolute obligation to fight to redeem the land and not to rely passively on Hashem for divine protection.

At that time the nation were certainly not ready for a military conquest. So, Hashem caused them to avoid any such possibility. With a Milchemet Mitzvah, miracles happen after we demonstrate the correct fighting attitude. There is no bypassing this type of commandment with the law of Pikuach Nefesh, as war is inherently dangerous. The nation must be brave to activate divine assistance.

No such commandment exists in regards to a war against Egypt. Thus, only with this war could Moshe reassure the nation that Hashem would take care of everything which would not be the case had they needed to fight the Plishtim.

War has blighted our history from its infancy, let us pray for the time when nation no longer lifts up sword against nation. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Benjy Rickmanis a former shaliach in Capetown (1998- 99), today head of Kodesh in King David High school Manchester and Assistant Rabbi & Baal Tefila at the Holy Law Shul. Comments: [email protected]

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Dedicated in memory of Yaakov ben Avraham and Sarah Aharonov z"l