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    Who left Egypt? – B’shallach

    The Exodus from Egypt, Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, c.1300

    The Talmud (Sanh. 111a) declares rather strangely that very few Israelites left Egypt but most stayed there.

    The Torah says that those who did leave were chamushim. In the Mechilta the explanation is given that chamushim is connected with chamesh, five. Thus one person in five left Egypt – i.e. out of the six hundred thousand Israelites, only 120,000 left. There are other views – e.g. one in fifty and one in five hundred.

    These small numbers suggest that very few had the moral courage to seek freedom and a new life. Or possibly quite a number died in the final scramble after the plague of darkness.

    An alternative view – also found in the Mechilta – is that chamushim does not reflect numbers but equipment and the word means “armed”. Knowing that the king and his forces would chase them, the Israelites took with them whatever weapons they could find and they were thus ready and able to defend themselves.

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