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    The long way around

    Szyk Haggadah depiction of the Yam Suf

    The Israelites set off on their trek to the Promised Land by crossing the Yam Suf. The name does not mean “Red Sea”, but rather “Sea of Reeds”.

    It is not until about the 3rd century BCE that the identity of the water with the Red Sea was introduced in the Greek version of the Torah, the Septuagint.

    The Yam Suf was probably a shallow lake near the sea. The route from Egypt to the Promised Land is likely to have been a north-west passage known as “The Way of the Philistines”, a phrase the Torah uses in Exodus 13:17-18.

    CSA Jarvis, the last British governor of the Sinai Peninsula, endorsed the idea of a northerly route and thought that Yam Suf was Lake Bardawil, which has clumps of reeds on its southern shore. He believed the only area of the Sinai which could have supported the Hebrew people on their trek tom the Promised Land was northern Sinai. This places Mount Sinai not in the south but in the north of the area.

    Of course everyone asks why it took the Israelites such a long time to get from Egypt to Israel when they really could have done it in about eleven days. The answer which Jewish tradition gives is that the people had to be ready for freedom.

    A quick dash of eleven days would have been too fast. It would not have welded them together as a self-governing population organised and moulded by Moses and prepared for life as a new nation in its Promised Land.

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