14.7. The Israelites are Initially Confounded, but Ultimately Prevail (14:10-18)

 (10) As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord.

(11) And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?

(12) Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?”

(13) But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again.

(14) The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”

(15) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.

(16) And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.

(17) And I will stiffen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen.

(18) Let the Egyptians know that I am Lord, when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

(10) As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight: Literally, “the Israelites lifted their eyes.” As a general rule, this expression whenever used in Tanakh has a connotation of looking not afar but upward – toward Heaven. In other words, as the Jews turned their thoughts to the Almighty, they experienced a pronounced psychological and spiritual discomfort.

Caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them: Literally, “And, behold, Egypt is advancing upon them.” In other words, not just the Egyptians, but Egypt itself wants to capture them and return them to her. Until only very recently the Jews had been slaves to Egypt, but they were suddenly freed, and now, besides being terrified by the very real danger they face, they are also stricken with pangs of guilt for having abandoned their “lawful masters.” Even now the Jews believe that in the name of justice they should still be slaves in Egypt.

(10-11) Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What begins as a cry unto the Lord very soon becomes a serious grievance leveled at Moses.

(12) Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’? Even all the previous plagues have not yet convinced the people that God will protect them from Pharaoh. This ordeal of impending mortal danger and deliverance from it were also an essential aspect of Israel’s education.

(13-14) But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you … The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”: Because Moses is confident that a miraculous salvation is close at hand, he believes that there is no need to take independent action.

(15) Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward”: God now gives Moses a completely different instruction: Rather than standing idly by waiting for salvation, the Jews must advance on their own. This is a key moment of the Exodus. The people become capable of taking independent action, and thereby gain their inner freedom.

The Jews find themselves in an intermediate state. The Exodus has begun, but is not yet complete. Internally the Jews are still enslaved by Egypt due to their passivity. To complete the Exodus, they must demonstrate that they are capable of showing initiative. By surmounting their fears and actively entering the sea, the process of their transition to independence begins.

The difficulties that the Jews confront in the course of the Exodus serve the purpose of re-educating them, and allowing them to grow spiritually in the process of overcoming those challenges. God puts the Jews in a very tight spot to make them understand that problems do not solve themselves, and that one must learn to act.

(16) And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground: Because God wants the Jews to trust Moses, the sea now parts as if under his authority.

(17) And I will stiffen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen: God’s greatness does not consist in defeating the Egyptians, but in establishing justice. The Egyptians, who drowned Jewish children in the Nile, will themselves now be drowned in the sea.

(18) Let the Egyptians know that I am Lord, when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen: As with all the plagues, the goal here is to force the Egyptians to see and recognize the Almighty. The Jews are still so deeply enslaved psychologically that they can perceive the Almighty only through Egypt’s recognition of Him, i.e., through Egypt’s final destruction.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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