“Vayehi” is one of those words that sets a tone from which you
cannot escape. Chazal teach us that it flags painful, troubled times.
Beginning the parshah with the word veyehi is a give-away
that something is amiss. This is itself troubling. What, asks the Ohr
Hachaim, could be amiss at this moment of supernal triumph, as Hashem
reached out to dramatically save Klal Yisrael by splitting the Sea? There
are other questions. Was it Paroh who sent them out to freedom? Was it
not Hashem who led them? Furthermore, the Torah’s explanation of their
circuitous route seems unsatisfactory. They avoided the direct and well-
traveled route for fear of encountering hostile military action along the
way, which might demoralize them and convince them to return to Egypt.
But if such an incident would not be good for them, surely G-d could see
to it that they would not meet up with any! What was there to fear, when
all the circumstances of their existence were coordinated by Hashem
Taking this episode as an allusion to our avodas Hashem, we can
piece together an approach that will resolve these issues. Conscious of
our vulnerability and limitations, we often turn to HKBH for assistance in
resisting our yetzer hora. Sometimes, we simply entreat Hashem to
help us through a battle we fear is too large for us to handle on our
own. Effectively, we ask Him to awaken some response within us - for
isra’usa dele’eyla – that will meet the challenge. While this may
see us through a crisis, it does nothing to address the root problem.
Without dealing with the very basis and foundation of the yetzer hora
within us, we are just as vulnerable and exposed the next time. The
assistance we receive is more of a band-aid than a cure.
At other times, however, we take on the yetzer hora directly. We
rouse ourselves, rather than Hashem arousing us. Through this isra’usa
delesasa/ arousal below, we succeed in the first steps of taming the
yetzer hora, in subjugating it to some extent. Hashem indeed helps
us complete the process, but His help comes on the heels of, and is
preconditioned on, our fighting the first battles with strength we find in
ourselves. When we succeed in those opening skirmishes, the yetzer
hora is fundamentally changed. Its strength attenuated, it remains
less of a problem from that point on.
Prior to leaving Egypt our midos were coarse and unrefined. We
were incapable in such a state, explains the Be’er Avraham, of tapping any
reservoir of strength within our own internal chemistry. Our spiritual
tools were sent from above; we did not provide them ourselves. All of the
tumah of Egypt remained intact and unscathed, and showed itself
quickly enough in Egypt’s pursuit of them with a mighty army and fearsome
Full redemption required isra’usa delesasa. Hashem afforded them
the opportunity to display it by orchestrating the encounter at the shores
of the Sea. Those who found the strength to jump into the waters broke the
stranglehold of kelipas Mitzrayim2 . They completed the redemption.
Everything that happened prior to that moment was a precursor to this
event. Why was it that Paroh “sent” them out? In retrospect, it would
seem more efficient for Hashem to have taken them out against the wishes
of a protesting but helpless Paroh. But this is not what happened. HKBH
carefully brought Paroh to his own decision to let them go, by
gradually “persuading” him through ten plagues that turned the customary
laws of nature into a broken plaything. Paroh sent them out – but in his
mind, it was still his decision that was crucial. If he could make that
decision, he could renege on it as well.
A medrash3 reconstructs the dialogue
between Paroh and his advisors. The latter point out the magnitude of the
loss to Egypt: the spoils they took with them, the presence in their midst
of some well-heeled individuals, many wise men, skilled artisans, etc.
Paroh rues his granting the Jews freedom – and sets off for the trap that
At the Sea, the Jews “lifted their eyes, and behold, saw Egypt journeying
after them.”4 Rashi takes “Egypt” here
to mean the guardian angel, the spiritual force of the entire Egyptian
culture. At this point in time, that force was fully intact.
It’s “vehicle” traveled smoothly and efficiently. Through the mesiras
nefesh of the Jews who jumped in, through their isra’usa
delesasa, the redemption was completed. “He removed the wheels of
their chariots;”5 the Egyptian
tumah machine was immobilized. They could indeed be promised
that “As you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever
again!”6 The kelipah of Egypt
was permanently denatured, never to return.
Revisiting our opening questions, we now understand that something indeed
was amiss at the beginning of the parshah. When Klal
Yisrael left Egypt, redemption was far from complete. The damaging
negative force of Egypt was very much alive, and the Jews lacked the
ability to do very much about it. Should they see war – should they meet
up with the challenge of an encounter with kelipas Mitzrayim – they
might return to the spiritual position they occupied earlier. Even if
Hashem spared them such an encounter, they would have missed the
opportunity to rid the world of this tumah.
Instead, Hashem “turned the nation towards the way of the wilderness.”
7 All their meanderings, all their tests
in that wilderness were part of a Divine plan for them to achieve full
redemption through isra’usa delesasa. They left Egypt
chamushim8, an allusion to the
fifty times that yetzias Mitzrayim is mentioned in Torah, which in
turn alludes to their working their way past fifty aspects of Egypt’s
poison. The 42 “journeys” enumerated at the end of Bamidbar invoke the
same idea. Taken with the seven stops through which they doubled back
between Hor HaHor and Moseirah, there were 49, alluding to
the 49 days of Sefirah that form the body of the 50 day period of
spiritual growth each year.
Here, too, the result that we seek comes only through isra’usa
delesasa, through our own reaching within to find the substance with
which to begin the battle. This is the meaning of those journeys.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 94-96 2 The “shell” of Egypt; i.e. the encrusting of tumah that
accompanied Egypt 3 Shemos Rabbah 20:2 4 Shemos 14:10 5 Shemos 14:25 6 Shemos 14:13 7 Shemos 13:18 8 Lit. armed, but related as well to the word "fifty"