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Parshas Beshalach 5771

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Beshalach

Jan 15, 2011

In the portion of Parshas Beshalach, the Jewish nation emerges. The connection to the slavery of Egypt is severed. Their souls burst out with the praise of Az Yashir, which is the preliminary to the receiving of the Torah.

The posuk says, “Vayehi beshalach Pharaoh es ha’am” – and it was when Pharaoh sent out the nation, and G-d did not lead them along the way of the Philistines, lest ha’am (the nation), upon encountering war, seek to return to Egypt. So, G-d turned ha’am in the direction of the Sinai desert, towards the Yam Suf. The Bnei Yisroel were armed, as they arose from Egypt. 1

Initially they distanced themselves from the land of Egypt. Contrary to expectations, Hashem instructed Moshe Rabeinu to turn back. The nation appeared to be on the verge of returning to Mitzrayim. They camped by Pi HaChiros. 2

It was told to Pharaoh that ha’am fled in confusion. He underwent a change of heart towards ha’am. And they said, “What have we done, that we’ve sent out Yisroel from slavery.” Pharaoh bound up his chariot and, with his nation, went out to recapture the former slaves. 3


Why is Pharaoh the one credited with sending the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim?

Pharaoh sent out ha’am. G-d is concerned that ha’am will seek to return to Egypt. It is ha’am that are confused and lost. Pharaoh changes his heart concerning ha’am. Yet, it is the Bnei Yisroel who arose from Egypt. These are just a few of many examples. Why does the Torah switch back and forth between the name Yisroel and the description ha’am?

Why would Pharaoh change his mind just because the Jews were seemingly lost and confused? Doesn’t he fear G-d’s vengeance?

Background/Deeper Understanding

The Egyptians fortified the land of Mitzrayim. They worked through their ko’ach hatum’ah to restrict those seeking to escape. It was unprecedented for even one slave to escape the bonds of Mitzrayim. The land was closed. It was locked. The Medrash says this is the greatness of G-d. He freed, not just one slave, but 600,000 slaves. 4

Is this the greatness of G-d? That he overcame the security defenses of Egypt? (In actuality there was no need to do so. Pharaoh sent the Bnei Yisroel out willingly).

This is only the way it appears superficially, but beneath the surface something deeper is going on. The most formidable defenses can be overcome. Eventually a way will be found. Where there is a resolve and determination, it’s just a matter of time.

The actual reason why no slaves ever escaped Mitzrayim was because the allure of Mitzrayim imprisoned them. All things and everything were possible and obtainable. Hashem expects us to believe in His mastery over creation, in His divine providence, and in reward and punishment. He makes it difficult for us. He tests us. Mitzrayim is the test of all tests. In Mitzrayim were found all the riches of the world. There was nothing lacking. There was no need for a dependency upon a higher power. The water supply did not have to come from elsewhere. It was close at hand. The food supply was self generated and sustained the whole world. There were no limits placed upon lust or passion. All was for the taking. They were masters of kishuf. Everything they desired could be obtained by the wave of a staff. They were even able to unravel the mysteries of the future.

All of this was to be had without a single thread of responsibility. This is an irresistible attraction. It is also the epitome of slavery. Once one is caught up in the web of pure unmitigated ta’ava (desire), the will to break free is severely hindered.

There were security measures taken, grand ones, but the reason why they were so effective was due to the sad fact that no one really mustered up the strength to leave. 5

The power of the Egyptians was spawned from their idol worship. They worshipped an idol named Ba’al Tz’fon, Master of the North.

What is it about the North that is noteworthy? The gemora states that when praying, one should face in the direction of the Holy Temple. If one wishes to pray for wisdom, he should turn slightly towards the South. If one seeks riches, then turn towards the North.

The positioning of the Menorah and the Shulchan in the Beis HaMikdash alludes to this. The Menorah, which is the source of wisdom, is situated in the South of the Heichal, while the Shulchan, the source of physical blessings, is in the North. 6

The idol of Ba’al Tz’fon is the arch-rival of the Shulchan in the Beis HaMikdash. The worship of this idol represents receiving all the bounty of this world, without any connection to the source of the world.


The word am (meaning nation) is related to the word amum. The gemora uses it to describe a coal that has no visible flame. While a bright fire burns within, it appears black and lifeless. 7

At the time of Yetzas Mitzrayim, the people were an am. Outwardly, they very much resembled the Egyptians who enslaved their bodies and souls. Hashem took them out due to the potential fire within each and every one of them. The heretofore, unbeatable attraction of the Egyptian culture was about to be challenged. Hashem chose not to lead the foundling nation along the perilous route of the Philistines. They were still at the level of an am. Gradually, their faith would develop and grow. Therefore, they are referred to as an am when the Torah is laying out the map of their journey.

When the Torah states, “The Bnei Yisroel were armed, as they arose from Egypt”, it is referring to the process of rising up from the state of am. The root of the name Yisroel is sar. 8 A Sar denotes royalty. One who has attained the title of Sar is one who has freed himself from his animalistic passions and is worthy of the title of nobility. The posuk calls them Yisroel as they exhibited their faith in Hashem and followed his servant Moshe Rabeinu into the desert. They arose. 9

Hashem tricked Pharaoh, twice.

The first time:

Hashem required of Moshe Rabeinu to obtain permission from Pharaoh prior to leaving. This allowed Pharaoh to delude himself into thinking that it is he who is actually controlling the situation. He mistakenly assumed that Mitzrayim still has some hold over the am. That is the cause for the Torah expressing, “Vayehi beshalach Pharaoh es ha’am”. 10

The second time:

The Mechilta tells us that during makos bechoros all the idols were obliterated in Egypt, except for one, the Ba’al Tz’fon. It is for this reason that Hashem instructed Moshe Rabeinu to lead the Jewish nation back towards Mitzrayim and encamp across from Ba’al Tz’fon. It was told to Pharaoh that the am is lost and confused. The am is locked up in the desert. He changes his heart towards the am and exclaims, “Why did we send Yisroel out? We thought they were Yisroel, but the hold of Ba’al Tz’fon rules over them. They are still slaves. We are their masters. The Exodus has failed. It is therefore safe to pursue them. 11

He was wrong.

1 Perek 13, posuk 17-18

2 Perek 14, posuk 2

3 Perek 14, posuk 5

4 Mechilta, Parshas Yisro, parsha 1

5 Rav Moshe Shapiro

6 Meseches Baba Basra, daf 25b

7 Meseches Pesachim, daf 75b

8 Parshas VaYishlach, perek 32, posuk 28

9 Rav Mordechai Gifter

10 Ohr HaChaim, perek 13, posuk 17

11 Rashi, perek 14, posuk 2 

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