Throughout the Ten Plagues and the beginning of the Jewish People’s exodus from Egypt, there is one seemingly reasonable request that Moshe consistently makes of פרעה every single time they encounter each other: “נלכה נא דרך שלשת ימים במדבר ונזבחה לה’ אלקנו-Let us travel a three day journey into the desert and bring offerings to our G-d.” פרעה, however, does not want to let the nation out, either because he didn’t want to lose the slave labor for a few days, or because he realized something was amiss (“כי רעה נגד פניכם”). As a result, G-d inflicts 10 מכות onto the Egyptians before פרעה finally lets them out, and the rest is history.
While this episode ended up having a happy ending for the Jewish People, an important question to ask is why did משה lie to פרעה about their intentions?
Rav Elchanan Samet, a famous parshan from Yeshivat Har Ezion, wrote a very interesting article on this issue where he first strengthens the question by looking at other instances of Jewish deceit in the months leading up to the Exodus and immediately afterward. Aside from the deceptive request for a three-day טיול to the מדבר, there are two other places that the Jewish people were not completely honest with the Egyptians:
- “וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ, מִמִּצְרַיִם, כְּלֵי-כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב, וּשְׂמָלֹת … וַיַּשְׁאִלוּם; וַיְנַצְּלוּ, אֶת-מִצְרָיִם- And [the Jewish People] asked the Egyptians for their jewlery and clothing… and [the Egyptians] lent them [to the Jews] and the Jewish people ‘looted’ Egypt.”- The Jews borrowed jewelry from the Egyptians without any intention of returning it
- “דַּבֵּר, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיָשֻׁבוּ וְיַחֲנוּ …עַל-הַיָּם- Speak to the children of Israel and have them camp out… by the Sea”- After בני ישראל’s escape, they camped next to the ים סוף pretending to be lost in the desert פרעה would chase after them, and, unbeknownst to the Israelites, G-d could destroy their army in the Red Sea.
So, we see that there are three places that G-d, through משה and בני ישראל, deceives the Egyptian People. But, why did G-d do this? Why did He have the Jews trick the Egyptians in these ways instead of just letting them go?
Rav Samet adds that after the Plague of the Firstborn had been inflicted on the Egyptians and פרעה runs to משה and אהרון, he doesn’t exactly let them go, he just says ” וַיִּקְרָא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן … וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִתּוֹךְ עַמִּי… וּלְכוּ עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, כְּדַבֶּרְכֶם- Paroah called to Moshe and Aharon saying ‘go up and serve your G-d just as you have said.” It is clear that פרעה had no intention of letting the Jewish People go indefinitely- he honestly believed that they would return after three days, as illustrated three days later ” וַיֻּגַּד לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, כִּי בָרַח הָעָם- It was told to the king of Egypt that the nation (the Jews) had fled.” However, the Jews had no intention of coming back after three days, so even in their last hours in Egypt, they were still deceiving פרעה.
The החנצלת משה (in חומש מקראות גדולות on שמות ג’:י”ח) answers by saying that “שראה בספר אחד שלא קשה כלל כי במלחמה מותר לעשות כל ערמות ותחבולות נגד האויב…- In war, it is permissible to engage in every type of deceit and wiliness against the enemy.” החנצלת משה continues by bringing an example from ספר יהושע where G-d commanded יהושע to deceive the city of עי in בנ”י’s attack to reclaim the city. There was nothing wrong with this, because it is considered “כל הבא להרגך השכם והורגו- anyone who comes to kill you, go and kill them first.” So too here, in ספר שמות, it was justified for בני ישראל to deceive פרעה and tell him that they would only go for a three day trip, so that after that, when פרעה and his army would chase after בנ”י, they could be drowned in the Sea just as they drowned Jewish children in the river. This also answers why it was okay for the Jewish women to ‘borrow’ property from the Egyptian women- this was also a motivation for the Egyptians to come running after the Jews after 3 days- to reclaim their property. החנצלת משה concludes that that “וכל זה היה מותר לישראל לעשות לאלה הרשעים אשר מררו את חייהם… והטביעו את בניהם ביאור- All of this was allowed for the Israelites to do to those evil people who had embittered their lives… and drowned their children.” In summary, החנצלת משה believes that the Jews’ deception to the Egyptians was allowed because the Egyptians had submitted the Jewish people to a spiritual and physical holocaust, and in that kind of situation, the Jews would definitely be allowed to deceive this enemy to gain their freedom.
I believe that this idea brought down by Rav Samet and the החנצלת משה is very relevant to the diplomacy of the modern Jewish State. Israel’s neighbors, evil people who have said many times that they wish they could torture the Jewish people just as the Egyptians, or even worse annihilate us as Haman wished to, have gained political legitimacy. These רשעים tell the world that they will stop firing rockets into Israel whenever Israel retaliates, much as פרעה always promised to let the Jews go whenever G-d smote him. Unfortunately, just as פרעה hardened his heart as the מכות ended, so too the terrorists in Gaza also harden their hearts with their hatred of the Jewish people and continue firing into Israel as soon as a מבצע (operation) ends. I believe that the Israeli government should learn a lesson from this teaching of Rav Samet and neutralize the Palestinian threat just as our ancestors neutralized the Egyptian threat- by getting rid of their armed forces, forcibly if they will not willingly give them up. This is the only way to ensure peace in Israel- not by negotiations, because we’ve seen from שמות and also modern times that both sides are very ready to be deceptive. Rather, we must get peace the same way that בני ישראל were taken out of Egypt- with strength.
On Tuesday, millions of Israelis will vote in the general election for new ministers of Israel’s כנסת (parliament), which will lead to a new Prime Minister being picked. For those of us who will be voting, it will definitely be a difficult choice between all of the candidates. When picking a candidate, it is important to remember how בני ישראל were taken out of Egypt: “ביד חזקה ובזרוע נטיוה”- the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt by G-d with an outstretched hand and great strength. These attributes of G-d led to the timely and effective release of our ancestors, as we’ve seen above. So too now, when choosing representatives of the Jewish State, our brothers who will make decisions that could affect world Jewry, we should make sure that the people we vote for will emulate G-d in this way and be prepared to use יד חזקה to ensure the safety and freedom of the Jewish People.
With Hashem’s help, we will see the continued safety of the Jewish State, the אתלתא דגאולה, until הקב”ה sends his משיח to rescue our remaining exiled brethren from the גלות, leading to the גאולה very soon.