B’SHALACH (Exodus, 13:17-17:16) — “Is Democracy a Torah Concept?”

Every leader has his detractors.  No leader in history has had unanimous acceptance among his followers.  Moses was no different.  Dasan and Aviram are two examples.  They were the brothers whose fight Moses tried to break up. (Exodus, 2:13-14) The two of them became lifelong enemies of Moses.  In this week’s Torah Reading, we learn of their efforts to discredit Moses by challenging his credibility.  First, they violated his command that no Manna be left overnight.  When that happened, they found that the Manna became spoiled and wormy.  Then, when a double portion of Manna fell on Friday, Moses told the nation that the second portion could be safely stored overnight.  The reason for the double portion was that no Manna would fall on Saturday.  Dasan and Aviram distributed their Manna around the camp late Friday night.  The plan was to embarrass Moses when people would see Manna on the ground on Saturday morning.

Their plot was foiled because birds ate the Manna before anyone woke up and looked outside.  (Many people have the custom of putting out breadcrumbs on Friday before sundown for the birds. This is our annual “thank you” to the birds for protecting Moses’ reputation.)

Fortunately, Dasan and Aviram were two exceptions to the overwhelming support Moses enjoyed among the Israelites.  Right?  Hardly.

The Torah describes the exodus from Egypt, on the way to the Red Sea: “G-d took the people on a roundabout path, by way of the desert to the Red Sea.  The Israelites were ‘CHAMUSHIM’ when they left Egypt.”  (Ibid, 13:18)

Commentaries differ as to the translation of the word “Chamushim.”  Among the more common translations is “armed,” that the Israelites were prepared for the possibility of war.  However, Rashi quotes the Mechilta as finding the root word “Chamesh” — five, in the word Chamushim.  He then states that the word means “one fifth,” which leads to the following translation of the verse: “The Israelites were ‘CHAMUSHIM — one fifth’ when they left Egypt.”  In other words, only one fifth of the nation left Egypt.

Where were the other four fifths?

Four-fifths of the Nation of Israel preferred not to leave Egypt.  Why not? Midrash Rabbah (13:3) says that they had “Patronin” (translation: patronage?) from the Egyptians and they didn’t want to give up their wealth and honor by leaving Egypt.

This is truly mind-boggling.  80% of the Israelites preferred to remain, at best, as second-class citizens in Egypt, rather than to follow Moses to freedom. Obviously, Moses was far from universal popularity.  He was not the heroic freedom fighter leading a grass-roots rebellion against the Pharaoh.  If anything, he was probably considered a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser.

What would have happened if there had been a New York Times/Gallop Poll in Egypt?  Can you see the headlines? “Eighty Per Cent Choose Status Quo…Moses Said to be Preparing Concession Speech.”

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It is not always easy to do what is right.  When the Assyrian Greeks tried to water down Judaism by introducing a statue of Zeus in the Temple, many Jews thought it was a wonderful idea.  There is a holiday called Chanukah because a few Kohanim stood up against seemingly insurmountable odds.  They did what they knew was right, rather than what was popular.

It is common that people leaning toward more observance are reluctant to actually take that step.  The problem is a fear of what their friends will say.  Most Jews don’t observe Shabbos (yet).  Many Jews are afraid to be, as a well-known comedian who has rejected his religious roots would say, “too Jewish.”

Freedom from Egypt was not popular or politically correct.  But it was the right thing to do.  You and I are alive as Jews today because our ancestors bucked the system and went with the minority.

As for the 80% majority?  They faded away into obscurity.

The four-fifths who had chosen to stay in Egypt perished during the ninth Plague — the Plague of Darkness.  Rashi writes that G-d didn’t want the Egyptians to see them die.  They were all buried before the darkness lifted.

I would like to suggest another reason for them to die during that particular plague.  The Egyptians weren’t the only ones “in the dark.”  The majority of Israelites chose Egypt over freedom because they lacked the enlightenment to see the obvious.  Moses was sent to fulfill G-d’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These people were too blinded by the darkness of their wealth to understand that it was time to go home.  They listened to their “friends” instead of to G-d and Moses. Therefore, they followed the masses on a path to nowhere.

We could accomplish so much more good if we would stop worrying about what others say and think.  When you side with G-d, you are always in a majority of ONE.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“Get Rich THIS TUESDAY!!!!” (2010)

… In all due respect to the great Rabbi Mendel, I am troubled by this concept.  Is it possible that a once-a-year reading of ninety-nine verses (33×2 in Hebrew +33 in Aramaic) is all we need to do to make a living??

It almost appears to be a “quick fix;” a short formula that guarantees results without too much work. (A “spiritual Amway!” :-))  Read the magical verses and the money will flow in!  No pain, big gain! …

Read more.

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“Because Your Father Said So!!” (2008)

… The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath. What’s more restful and relaxing than going fishing and then driving out to the ball park to watch the Red Sox? (Forgive the personal bias! 🙂 ) And who feels like walking to synagogue in the rain or scorching heat? The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.

Why can’t I rest MY way?!

Read more.
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“Don’t Leave Home Without It!” (2007)

… Men and women just don’t see things the same way. Men are practical. Women are emotional. Women pack for a trip to Mars as if they are going all the way to Venus. Men sometimes get exasperated over their wives’ lack of practicality.

… the Pharaoh has just done a political flip-flop. He is now DEMANDING that the Israelites leave. NOW!

You’re packing your bags. You can’t take much. You don’t even have time to let your bread rise. You grab your money, some weapons, all your credit cards… You’re going with barely more than the clothes on your back. Wait a second… “Honey! Where are you going with THOSE?!!”

Your wife has just packed her drum set into the back of the station wagon.

“Oh, I need these!” she responds…

Read more.
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“Sticks and Stones” (2006)

… Moses lifted his “magic wand” … This was obviously one very powerful stick. Moses had pulled it out of the ground in his future father-in-law’s garden, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish. As a result, Jethro understood that Moses was destined to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (The origin, perhaps, of the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur???)

… This was the staff that turned into a snake. This was the staff that turned the Nile to blood and wreaked havoc and destruction upon the Egyptians. This stick had punished the Egyptians at the Red Sea… the Israelites didn’t particularly care for Moses’ walking stick. It was destructive. It caused suffering in Egypt, and at the Red Sea. It was a killer stick. It seemed only good for punishment.
Was it capable of doing anything POSITIVE??

Read more.
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“Some People Just Don’t Get It!” (2005)

Ah, they don’t make kings the way they used to! Or do they?

The king of Egypt was, to say the least, a very stubborn man. He never did seem to get it. His country was absolutely destroyed over his obstinate refusal to release his Hebrew slaves. Repeatedly, Moses told him to let the Israelites leave. Repeatedly, he refused. Repeatedly, he responded to G-d’s punishment with a contrite promise to comply. Repeatedly, he changed his mind… Sort of reminds us of most of today’s world leaders. No matter what Israel does, it’s no good. No matter what the Arab terrorists do, they are “freedom fighters,” peaceful people who have been driven from their homeland by vicious Zionist marauder. The U.N. and the European Union don’t seem to recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. They just don’t get it… Why can’t the world’s leaders be more like the king of Nineveh? …

Read more.
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“Singing the Red Sea Blues” (2003)

… It was a sacred symphony; a song of praise totally unprecedented in world history. It was such an exalted event that the angels themselves could not be silent. They too, wanted to join in and sing to G-d. (After all, that’s what angels DO. They sing praises to G-d!)

G-d silenced them…

Read more.
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“Is Democracy a Torah Concept?” (2002)

… Four-fifths of the Nation of Israel preferred not to leave Egypt. Why not? Medrash Rabbah (13,3) says that they had “Patronin” (translation: patronage?) from the Egyptians and they didn’t want to give up their wealth and honor by leaving Egypt.

This is truly mind-boggling. 80% of the Israelites preferred to remain, at best, as second-class citizens in Egypt, rather than to follow Moses to freedom. Obviously, Moses was far from universal popularity. He was not the heroic freedom fighter leading a grass-roots rebellion against the Pharaoh. If anything, he was probably considered a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser.

What would have happened if there had been a New York Times/Gallop Poll in Egypt? Can you see the headlines? “Eighty Per Cent Choose Status Quo…Moses Said to be Preparing Concession Speech.”…

Read more.
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“Restoring ‘G__’s Thr__’” (2001)

… when the nations of the world saw what G-d had done for us, they were united in their fear of the Israelites. They didn’t love us, but at least they respected us.

Only Amalek had the Chutzpah to attack… What G-d is telling Moses is that “Neither My Name nor My Throne will be complete as long as Amalek is around!”

Why would G-d’s name be incomplete with Amalek around? Is it possible that Amalek has the power to affect G-d??! How could that be?…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at http://www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.
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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.
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Published in: on January 23, 2002 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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