Our סדרה continues picks up the narrative of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, following a brief discussion about בכורים and תפילין. Immediately, we learn that G-d, in His infinite wisdom, decided to reroute the Jewish People through the wilderness, and not the Waze-recommended route through the land of the Pelishtim, though the reasoning why is not particularly clear:
וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה–וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה.
And it was when Pharoah sent the nation out, and G-d didn’t allow them to travel the way of the land of the Pelishtim, because it is close, for G-d said; perhaps they will be afraid when they see war and will return to Egypt. (שמות יג:יז)
The first cursory glance at our פסוקים seems to make it pretty clear why G-d didn’t lead the Jews to Canaan via the closest route- as Rashi explains, if the Jews went this way, the Pelishtim would surely make war with them, and the Jews would regret leaving slavery, wanting to return to the relative safety it offered.
This logic seems solid, and it seems to hold ground… for about five פסוקים until the Egyptians decide to pursue the Jews. All of the sudden, despite not being routed through the Pelshtim‘s land, the Jews are faced with war at ים סוף, and, lo and behold, they decide that they would like to turn around and go back to Egypt. While we know that the story ends well, and the Jews’ faith leads to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Sea, we must take a closer look at our פסוק, because clearly something deeper must be going on, for G-d must have known that no matter what, the Jews would be faced with war and question their faith. So, why couldn’t they take the direct path to Canaan? What could be a deeper reason for the Jews being led into the wilderness?
Chizkuni answers that the key lies in the words “כי קרוב הוא.” If the Jews’ journey to Eretz Yisrael had been too easy (and it would be, for of course G-d would have helped them overcome the Pelishtim just as He helped them defeat the Egyptians), then the end result would have been worth less. If the Jews would have made it to Canaan shortly after leaving Egypt, if they would have had a smooth trip, beautiful weather, lots of food, and a pleasant time, then they would value their arrival there even less, and they might, G-d forbid, decide to leave again when things got tough. Or, in the words of Chizkuni, מידת הדין would “מקטרג” (prosecute) them to turn back to Egypt, and they would unfortunately be much more inclined to give in, for they would not feel like they are giving up very much by leaving. By taking them on “scenic route,” by making the Jews’ journey to Israel a long, painful forty years, full of important tests and lessons, G-d ensured that, upon arrival in Israel, they would appreciate every moment of living there, and not give it up too easily.
This is an important lesson for us as well. In the anti-Zionist world, there is a constant claim that the State of Israel could not possibly become the גאולה. After all, it was started by secular Jews, under the mandate of the gentile United Nations, and, even now, non-Jewish minorities are slowly but surely catching up to the Jewish majority. How could this possibly lead to the משיח?
If G-d just sent the Davidic redeemer on a donkey with Eliyahu Hanavi towards Jerusalem right away, and dropped the Third Bet Hamikdash from the sky just as they arrive, then we would surely know that משיח had arrived. But, what would that say about our journey towards getting to redemption? If all of world Jewry would arrive instantaneously in Eretz Yisrael in confluence with משיח בן דוד and the Third בית המקדש, then we would not properly value our journey there, for it would be too “קרוב” (keeping in mind that the previous two Temples were destroyed because the Jews of those times had begun to take their worship for granted and stopped appreciating the miracle of a בית המקדש- imagine how quickly that would happen if we didn’t even have to work towards building it, or at least making the journey there to join it).
We must take strength from Chizkuni’s interpretation of “כי קרוב הוא,” and realize that the most important journeys in life are the most difficult. Without a forty year detour through the wilderness, the Jews would not have properly appreciated the miracle of Eretz Yisrael, and without the sixty eight year journey of the אתחלתא דגאולה, Jews of our time would also turn back all-too-quickly when faced with conflict, without a second’s thought for what they’ve left behind.
Right now, almost halfway through 5775, we have left Egypt and are enroute for the redemption of Eretz Yisrael. Like with our biblical ancestors, G-d has decided in His ultimate wisdom that we should not be taking the easy and non-stop route, and instead has guided us on the “קמעא קמעא” and “בעתה” path. Eventually, all of the Jews of the world will have clarity that we are truly headed in the direction of redemption, but, in the meantime, all too many are afraid of war and have chosen not to leave Egypt yet. We must remember that all roads lead to Eretz Yisrael, take strength in the direction that we are heading, and follow the call to leave Egypt and undertake the journey to Israel.