Pesach Day 7
Ex. 13:17 – 15:26; Num. 28:19-25
Rabbi Gary Pokras 

We did it! We left Egypt! Now what? 

As our celebration of Pesach concludes, the Torah narrative shifts from the moments of the actual Exodus from Egypt to what comes next: 

“And it happened when Pharoah sent the people off that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines though it was close, for God thought, ‘Lest the people regret when they see battle and go back to Egypt.’ And God turned the people round by way of the wilderness of the Sea of Reeds, and the Israelites went up armed from the land of Egypt.” [Ex. 13:17-18] 

The direct route to the Promised Land could have been completed in only ten days. The problem was that, as the only coastal route to Canaan, it would have been heavily fortified by both the Egyptians and the Canaanites.  

It makes sense that God would choose to take the Israelites by a more circuitous path. After all, the last thing refugees need is a one-way ticket to a war zone. That said, the text specifically mentions that the Israelites left Egypt armed for battle. If God has no intention of bringing us into direct conflict, why does the text tell us that the Israelites left Egypt armed?  

Most of us sit around our seder tables and recount the Exodus within the framework of personal safety. We do not experience the horrors of war in our daily lives, and we do not expect violence to interrupt our seder. This year, even as we have turned our thoughts towards those who are suffering in Ukraine, we have done so from the comfort of our own homes. This creates a cognitive dissonance, a significant disconnect between our reality, and the reality of refugees – both ancient and modern. 

It is easy to forget that the relative safety and security we currently experience in the United States is the exception rather than the norm for Jewish diaspora history. Our history, our very spirituality, is marked by a continuous cycle of exile and return, of homelessness and rootedness. Beginning with Abraham and Sarah, every generation of our people has lived within this cycle, and the story of the Exodus is as much about creating a new and free nation in the Promised Land (rootedness) as it is about leaving oppression in Egypt (homelessness). Over the course of our history, far more of us have experienced exile than return. Yet, we have survived and, over time, even thrived.  

How does this connect with our Torah portion for today? God leads the Israelites out of Egypt armed, but not ready for battle … yet. We were not ready for any of the many tasks that are necessary to establish a lasting nation and a just community. We had to learn and to grow in fundamental, significant ways. 

Passover begins with the great story: how God saved us with awesome signs and wonders from slavery in Egypt. Passover ends with a reminder that Judaism is not about surviving miracles, but about the practice of living – even in exile. In other words, Judaism is not about the destination, but the journey.