July 24, 2014

>This Shabbat we read the final portion of the book of Numbers (Bamidbar)

א אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם–לְצִבְאֹתָם: בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה, וְאַהֲרֹן. ב וַיִּכְתֹּב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מוֹצָאֵיהֶם, לְמַסְעֵיהֶם–עַל-פִּי יְהוָה; וְאֵלֶּה מַסְעֵיהֶם, לְמוֹצָאֵיהֶם. ג וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרַעְמְסֵס בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן, בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן: מִמָּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח, יָצְאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּיָד רָמָה–לְעֵינֵי, כָּל-מִצְרָיִם. ד וּמִצְרַיִם מְקַבְּרִים, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה יְהוָה בָּהֶם–כָּל-בְּכוֹר; וּבֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, עָשָׂה יְהוָה שְׁפָטִים.

1 These are the journeys of the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt with their armies under the hand of Moses and Aaron.
2 And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD: and these are their journeys according to their goings out.
3 And they departed from Ram’eses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the passover the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians.
4 For the Egyptians buried all their firstborn, which the LORD had smitten among them: upon their gods also the LORD executed judgments.

Rashi focuses on a seemingly insignificant side point.
Verse 4 “And Egypt was burying those whom Hashem had smitten, every firstborn, and Hashem inflicted punishments on their gods.”

Egypt was burying – RASHI: They were preoccupied with their grief.

Why does Rashi tell us that the Egyptians were preoccupied with their grief. What is Rashi’s point? What does it matter what they were doing?

The Torah is telling us of the journeys of Israel. What has the fact that the Egyptians were burying their dead have to do with that theme? We know that the firstborn Egyptians were killed, and we can assume that the Egyptians buried them. After all, Egyptians were famous for their burial ceremonies. Take the pyramids, for example. But what is the relevance of this to the main theme of the Exodus? Why the need for the Torah to tell us that the Egyptians were burying their dead? This is what Rashi sees as problematic.

The previous verse said: “The Children of Israel went out triumphantly, before the eyes of the Egyptians.” Rashi tells us that Israel was able to escape triumphantly “before the eyes of the Egyptians” because the Egyptians were preoccupied with other, more pressing matters – burying their many dead. Rashi’s words explain the significance of the Torah’s words “Egyptians were burying their dead,” i.e. they were too busy with their mourning rites to be concerned with the loss of their slave force. This shows us the clever interweaving of themes in God’s plan. Not only did He punish the Egyptians for the enslavement, He also used this as a cover for the Exodus, without harassment, of His People.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


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