Let My People Go!

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While many people are under the false assumption that when Moshe came to Pharoh he demanded that he let the Jews go free, this was actually not the case at all. Instead of sending Moshe to Pharoh and asking him to liberate the Jews, Hashem told Moshe to demand that Jews be granted religious freedom to serve Him in the midbar. All they want to do is to go on a three day journey into the desert so that they can worship G-d is what Moshe told Pharoh. Pharoh correctly assumed that this is just a pretext for them to escape, and therefore finally told Moshe that he is willing to grant the Jews full religious freedom, but they must remain within Egypt itself. There is no reason to travel into the desert. They are free to practice their religion in Egypt. Moshe replied that the Jewish religion demands the slaughtering of the Egyptian god, which is the sheep. This he explains, would put Jewish lives in great danger since the Egyptians would certainly never allow this to happen. They certainly would kill anyone who dares slaughter one of their sacred sheep. Finally, Pharoh agrees to let all the Jews leave on condition that they leave their young children behind as hostages. This way Pharoh will be assured that they will not decide to pull a fast one and escape. Pharoh was certainly no one’s fool and realized that Moshe’s intention was to escape and therefore demanded that the Jews leave their children behind. Of course, Moshe said “no dice!” Everyone’s going; men ,women and children. In fact he even demanded that they be allowed to take along their sheep in order to slaughter them to G-d. Pharoh, of course said, “only over my dead body,” and that’s what actually happened. Only when Hashem smote their first born did he finally agree to let them go. Pharoh, in fact, sent along his spies so that he can keep tabs on them and make sure they don’t escape.

Yet, all this seems rather strange. Why did Hashem tell Moshe that he ask for just a short three day respite when his true intention was to take the Jews out of Egypt for good? Why didn’t he just tell Pharoh the full truth and demand that he “let my people go”? Hashem didn’t have to play any “bait and switch” game with Pharoh. Hashem knew that Pharoh had no intention of letting the Jews out in either case. Even if Pharoh would finally agree to let the Jews out, it would be impossible for him to do so. That’s because Hashem now controlled his decision-making process and he couldn’t say yes even if he wanted to. He had lost his freedom of choice and was now in Hashem’s full control.

The Or Ha’Chaim gives a few answers. One answer is that it was done so that Pharoh would chase after them and thereby he would drown in the Yam Suf. This was also done so that the Egyptians lend the Jews gold and silver on their way out of Egypt. Had they known that the Jews would not be returning, they never would have given it to them.

Perhaps another explanation may be so that the Jews realize that Hashem’s ultimate intention was not their physical freedom but rather the freedom to serve Him. The entire purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim was Kabbolas HaTorah and not our physical freedom and this is exactly what Moshe told Pharoh the Jews intention is. This was no outright lie, since at no time did Moshe ever tell Pharoh that the Jews would be returning after their three day trip.

Perhaps it would help if we will examine the p’sukim (Shmos 3 18 and 51) very carefully and see exactly what happened. Hashem began by commanding Moshe and the Zekaynim to go to Pharoh and ask him to allow the Jews to go on a three-day journey into the dessert so that they can worship Him. Hashem assured Moshe that Pharoh will certainly not agree until after the final plague of Makos B’choros.

Later on, upon Moshe’s first visit to Pharoh, we find that Moshe begins by asking Pharoh “to send out his nation so that they can serve Hashem in the midbor.” He makes no mention of returning to Egypt after that. Pharoh replies, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice? I don’t know Him. Neither will I let the Jews out.” It is only after Pharaoh’s refusal to listen to Hashem that Moshe tells him that “the G-d of the Jews told us to set out on a three-day journey into the desert so that we can worship Him there.” Notice that it is only after Pharoh refuses to let the Yidden out that Moshe tells him that all they would like to do is take a three-day journey into the Midbar. At no time does Moshe make any promises to Pharoh that they will be returning after the three days are over. While Pharoh correctly presumed that this was Moshe’s intention, Moshe never made any such commitment. What we see happening here is that Moshe only began to deceive Pharoh after Pharoh told him that he had absolutely no intention of listening to G-d.

The Or Ha’chaim says that since Pharoh had fooled the Jews into working for him for pay and then later on, he enslaved them instead, Hashem therefore, gave him a taste of his own medicine and also fooled him by telling him that they only intended to go on a three day trip. It’s a two way street. If you steal, cheat or are dishonest with others, Hashem will do the same to you

We find that Yaakov, who embodied the middo of truth, dealt with Lavan on his very own level and outsmarted him with the same clever tricks he tried to pull on Yaakov. He gave him a sample of his own medicine. We find this very same lesson later on; when the Jews are commanded that before leaving Egypt, they are to borrow gold and silver from them. While they certainly could have been honest with them and told them that they were owed all this money for the many years they had worked for them, and had no intentions of giving it back, Hashem wanted to give them a taste of their own medicine.

While one would probably think that this is ethically and morally wrong, the Novi teaches us otherwise. “Im ikesh, tis’akesh” is what the novi tells us. One must of course be extremely careful only to use these tactics with a real Lovon Ho’arami like Esav, Lavan, Pharoh or Arafat. Let’s not chas v’shalom blur the borders.

In fact the Or Ha’Chayim (in Shmos 145) says that the three day request was just to fool Pharoh into thinking that Hashem lacked the power to take the Jews out of Mitzrayim. The mere fact that Moshe came to Pharoh and asked him to let the Jews go free, certainly fooled Pharoh into believing that he could do as he wishes. After all, why would a real G-d have any need to ask for his permission. Couldn’t G-d just do as he pleases? When the Torah says that Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart it probably means that Hashem did things in a way that fooled Pharaoh into believing that he truly had the ability to stop the Jews from leaving. The three day request may therefore have convinced him that this was Moshe’s own plan so that the Jews could escape. After all, a real G-d would have no need to deceive him. This is also why Hashem allowed one avoda zarah – Ball Tzefon – to remain standing and then had the Jews camp right in front of it. This once again fooled Pharoh into believing that the Jews were caught in his god’s clutches. Little did Pharaoh realize that Hashem drives the r’sha’im crazy in order to destroy them. (“M’shagaya goyim l’havidom.”) When someone dares to mislead others, Hashem misleads him in return. This is what the gemara means by saying that “b’mido she’odam moded , modedim lo.” G-d deals with us the way we deal with others. It’s tit for tat or quid pro quo.

This may explain why Hashem wanted Yaakov to take the blessings away from Esav through deceit. And so even though Rivka had received a prophesy that Yaakov should receive the blessings, she did not reveal this prophesy to Yitzchak. She must have realized (or told as part of her nevuah) that if Hashem didn’t tell it to Yitzchak who was also a novi, this meant that Hashem wants Yaakov to receive the blessings by deceiving his brother Esav. This was Esav’s punishment for always deceiving others as it says “ki tzayid b’fiv.” Hashem wanted to give Esav a taste of his own medicine.

It should be obvious that only Hashem who can read one’s mind and knows the secrets of ones heart can work in such ways. If we are cheated and deceived we must first take the person to Bais Din who must establish the fact that we are right and that the money belongs to us. Only when he refuses to listen to the Bais Din can we take matters into our own hands and try to recoup the money by other means. This halacha is dealt with in the gemara that discusses how one should deal with the Mafia who have stolen ones property. (What I have written here is certainly not halacha l’mashe and one must consult a posek and never chas v’shalom pasken on your own.