What did the Hebrews take on their trudge through the wilderness? Wives, children, clothing, matzah to eat, water to drink?
All these, but the Torah says something more: they went “chamushim” (Ex. 13:18), which Onkelos and others understand as “armed”, ready for the journey ahead and for any encounter with hostile tribes.
Cassuto says the word meant “disciplined”: they were not a mob but an organised people.
The rabbis saw that “chamushim” is reminiscent of “chamesh”, five. Maybe each Hebrew had five children.
Some thought that only a fifth of the people left with Moses (some said one in 50 or even only one in 500). This indicates that there were many who had made their peace with their degraded status and wanted what they were used to instead of the unknown future.
Or does it mean that only a minority were really worthy of the redemption?
PAST & FUTURE REDEMPTION.
The Jewish calendar derives its days, weeks and years from creation and its months from the Exodus: “This month (Nisan, the month of redemption) shall be to you the first of the months” (Ex. 12:1).
It is months that record the events of history. Our first event as a distinctive people was Pesach, and hence its month, Nisan, begins our list of months.
But the celebration is not merely an act of identification with the past, but an act of faith in the future. There is “Pesach Mitzrayim”, the Egyptian Passover – and there will one day be “Pesach L’Atid”, the Passover of the future, also in Nisan.
What brought about the historic Passover?
Not simply God’s pity on our ancestors, but, according to the sages, the piety and loyalty of the women, who maintained the people’s morale and hope (Sotah 11b). And the Passover of the Future depends on Jewish women ensuring we do not lose our way as Jews but remain firm in our Jewish identity and commitment.
That is why women’s participation in every possible aspect of Jewish life is so important.
A WHOLE YEAR OF PESACH.
All that effort to get the house ready for Pesach, and the festival is over in a week!
Actually, there is a sense in which the observance of Pesach should continue for the whole year. Avoiding leavened food is done on Pesach in a literal, physical fashion, but refraining from leaven in the sense of puffed-up arrogance is a permanent part of Jewish ethics.
There are two extremes to be avoided – being so arrogant and puffed-up that one is impossible to live with, and being so little concerned with one’s personal worth that one is too self-effacing.
Modesty is a wonderful thing, but not when it turns someone into a nobody. At the same time one’s modesty should not be turned into an art form to such an extent that it’s a type of arrogance. Boasting of one’s modesty is still boasting.
When Dickens creates the character of Uriah Heep, he deliberately makes him the sort of person who keeps on and on saying how ‘umble he is and as a result one gets the impression that Humble Heep is nothing but a show-off.
THE UNIQUE EXODUS.
The Exodus story has repeated itself time and time again.
Some Exoduses are voluntary: people moving to another place to find a better life. Others are involuntary: people escaping or being forced out and seeking a haven.
The Biblical Exodus was different again: a persecuted people struggling for liberation and finally seeing their yearning realised.
The subject was analysed at a national Bible convention in Israel in 1963 in the days of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion not only attended but gave a lecture, as did at least one other member of his Cabinet.
Well may we envy the days when heads of government were capable of more than mere political machination!
The speakers compared the Exodus from Egypt with the return to Zion from the Babylonian exile. It was pointed out that the Exodus was an escape from oppression whilst the return from Babylon was a free-will aliyah.
The Israelites who left Egypt found none of their own group in Canaan whilst those who came from Babylon rejoined a Jewish community that had remained in the Land.
These and other aspects are relevant to every experience of movement and migration.
Do people move because they want to or because they have to? Is their integration different if they find some of their own people already present in their new home? To what extent do beliefs and ideals provide an impetus for migration or is the motivation more pragmatic? Is every Exodus unique?