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    Hanging on to Pharaoh – B’shallach

    Unexpected words commence the sidra: Vay’hi b’shallach Paro et ha’am – “It happened when Pharaoh sent the people out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:17).

    Did Pharaoh send them out? What about God?

    Some of the sages offered the view that Pharaoh accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt – not necessarily Pharaoh himself, but the Pharaoh-spirit. A trace of Egypt stayed with them.

    Perhaps that is why the sidra begins with the word vay’hi, literally “and it was”, which the tradition says always means something unfavourable has happened. Here it is not the Exodus which is unfavourable, but the people’s difficulty in breaking loose from the idioms and ways of Egypt.

    The point is made stronger by the fact that the former slaves are called “the people”, not “the Children of Israel”.

    According to the Zohar, when the Torah says B’nei Yisra’el, “Children of Israel”, it means the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; when it says ha’am, “the people”, it means a horde without firm identity.

    The Exodus is only a stage in the development of B’nei Yisra’el, and many years are necessary before the people will become a nation.

    This is one of the reasons why God does not lead them to Israel by the coastal route, which would have taken no more than about eleven days. They need to get Egypt out of their system and to grow into B’nei Yisra’el.

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