parshat beshalach, exodus 13 – 17
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday February 2,2023. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt and that they were armed and ready to fight. As divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism.
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/463446
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to Hamesh, the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt … armed and ready to fight. This is the first time that distinctions are made between one set of Jews and another. So, as divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism. So join us for High Five.
Well, welcome to the Madlik podcast. Rabbi Adam, welcome back. from Dubai. As I said in the introduction, we’re going to focus on really one word that many of the commentators have a challenge with. And it has to do with when the Jews came out of Egypt, it’s in the first two verses of our Parsha. So in Exodus 13: 17, it says, Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines. Although it was nearer, for God said, the people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt. So God led the people round about by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed, went out of the land of Egypt. So this went up armed out of the land of Egypt, is the crux of our question tonight, because the Hebrew is וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם And if you look at your standard in translation, for instance, the JPS puts a little asterik and it says the meaning of the Hebrew ḥamushim is uncertain. Everett Fox in his translation says, armed Heb. (hamush) unclear. he says, there are some that even say the possibility of groups of five or 50. So it’s a word that I think all of us have heard before, if you’ve even seen a hamsa, which is that iconic hand, you know that Hamesh means five. And here, we have just popped into the verse, a word coming from that show us from that route, and everybody is scratching their head. And of course, the flip side of scratching your head, if you’re a rabbi is coming up with an interpretation. So we will be exploring some of those interpretations. And seeing where they do lead us. Rashi, who is always our go-to guy, he combines the two verses, and we’re gonna see a lot of that, obviously, when you study pesukim, it should be in context. So, he says, because God led them by a circuitous route through the wilderness, he brought it about that they went up from Egypt, well provided. So there’s a certain logic and at one level Hamushim, which comes from the word five as in five fingers, you can make the case it means armed, which is kind of nice. And the English, the word armed is related to the word hand, it’s provided for. And he also goes on to say, this verse is written only with the view of making the ear understand in parentheses (preparing you for later statement that you should not wonder with regard to the war of Amalek.) So, at the end of our Parsha, we have a walk with Amelek, how do you fight a war without arms? And finally, he says that the word Hamushim has been used before he quotes Joshua. And he says, if you recall, there were two and a half tribes who decided to stay on the other side of the Jordan. And it says when you pass over the Jordan, you should do so Hamushim – armed so rabbis, what is your sense of Hamushim? It’s not actually a word that you can kind of ignore. I mean, it’s right in the in the pasuk. How rare is it that we get a word that really baffles pretty much everybody?
Adam Mintz 04:54
Yeah, I mean, let’s start from the beginning. The fact that the word Hamushim is related to the word Hamesh is what’s most interesting about the word? Because the question is, what is the what is the idea of being prepared for battle have to do with the word Hamesh? Right? They couldn’t use any word. Why is the word Hamushim that always interested me?
Geoffrey Stern 05:19
I mean, I think the English is kind of helpful here, because the word armed, literally comes from something that you bear in your hand. I mean, I did a Google search.
Adam Mintz 05:32
So, you know, that’s interesting, if that’s true, meaning that’s an English phrase. The question is whether the Chumash has the same use of the word arm, that we say that in English, but we don’t say that in Hebrew, I don’t think. Right?
Geoffrey Stern 05:49
Yeah, yeah. And that’s why you get variations like, wow, she kind of, he talks about arm but he also talks about being provided for, you know, you look up in Google, for instance, handshaking. And in Wikipedia, it says people would shake hands to make sure the other person wasn’t armed. It is kind of natural, when you get arrested when you hold up your hands, to show that you’re unarmed. So I think it’s more than just linguistic. I really do think that in a world where people are fearful for their lives the way most animals are, their ears perk up, they want to know if someone is a friend or a foe…. You look at the hand. So, I mean, it’s it is kind of interesting. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it is fascinating that the rabbi’s at least some of them jump to that kind of a conclusion.
Adam Mintz 06:45
Yeah, it is interesting. I agree with you. That is interesting. I don’t know what to make of it. But that’s interesting.
Geoffrey Stern 06:51
So, I started by talking about this is the beginning of divisions within the Jewish people. And so Rashi says, and there was another explanation. He gets away for a second from being armed. And he says commotion is only one out of five went forth from Egypt, four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness, because they were unworthy of being delivered. So here’s what I was referring to. And of course, the most interesting part here is if you look at this word, which defies a straightforward translation, and it does become a Rorschach test What pushed the rabbi’s to read into it, something that would say that not all Jews merited or deserved or chose to leave the land, all of a sudden, for the first time, the Birth of a Nation, five seconds into the birth of the nation, we already have divisions within that nation being imposed upon them.
Adam Mintz 08:01
Yeah, that mean? Well, first of all, you know, the idea that four out of five didn’t make it out. That’s a wonderful kind of Midrash. Because that’s clearly not what it means. But that the Torah is trying to hint to us something, I think, is really fantastic.
Geoffrey Stern 08:22
Well, you know, the, we’ve gotten a few different explanations so far, you know, why not throw a bunch out there. And then we can start maybe to think in terms of, on the one hand, what the verse means, which I think probably is above our pay-scale, seeing as no one has come up with a complete solution. But the other interesting part about it is, how do people react to it? How do rabbis react to it? So the first interesting thing that you pointed out, was, it’s one thing to say, as I did that, four fifths stayed in Egypt, why are we creating these divisions? The next thing is, we’re starting to see this trend that we get in the Haggadah, also, where you multiply numbers, because, you know, we all know that the Jews left Egypt, traditionally, there were 600,000 men, so you figure another 600,000 women, and then you figure it children. And so you know, you think it’s maybe a million two, a million four. But if this is the case, think of what those numbers could possibly be. And there are other commentaries like the Rabenu Bachaiya, who even goes further and he says it was one in 50. It was one in 500. It is this tendency, I think, to exaggerate, which is is kind of interesting, especially because is the miracle of a million two is a pretty big miracle by itself.
Adam Mintz 10:07
Yes, That is that is absolutely true. I mean, let’s go back to the idea that four out of five didn’t make it. I mean, so you say we’re exaggerating, but the exaggeration says something, it really tells you that the Jews were not worthy,
Geoffrey Stern 10:24
or that some Jews were not worthy.
Adam Mintz 10:26
But no, but a majority, that’s 80% weren’t worthy.
Geoffrey Stern 10:32
That is a big number.
Adam Mintz 10:34
That’s a big number. I just want to point out. That’s a huge number.
Geoffrey Stern 10:39
And so from that perspective, I guess you could take it in a different direction. And you can say that what it’s trying to show is, don’t ever take this Exodus for granted. Yeah, a bunch of slaves, few plagues got out of Egypt, started a nation. Don’t ever think that this wasn’t the most amazing story that has occurred in history. Don’t ever think how daunting this was for the participants; you’re focusing on the four fifths that didn’t leave. The commentaries are kind of interesting. When they focus even on the 1/5 that did leave. They make this connection between God taking them in a circuitous path and giving them arms and almost in a sense saying, but even though I gave them the arms. It still didn’t happen. It still didn’t work. The Seforno says they did not have the courage to face the Egyptians in combat, in spite of their being armed. There’s another Chiba Yeterah says נפל לבם Their heart felt. So, it’s almost saying that God did everything in his power to make this happen. But it was an amazingly large challenge. And I think from that perspective, that kind of makes me more in awe than any raw numbers.
Adam Mintz 12:12
Yeah, o what you’re saying is that the raw numbers, even 80% could ultimately be misleading.
Geoffrey Stern 12:23
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, because you focus on the ones that were left behind, and you forget the ones that left how daunting it was, and how, you know, as much preparation as there was to take a people from slaves and a slave mentality. And to give them the ability to stand on their own two feet and defend themselves is something that we should never, you know, kind of take for granted. So that’s kind of one of the stories that one of the lessons that I take from this. The other interesting thing is, and I mentioned that we were starting to see now different groups. Now we have a group that didn’t leave, and a group that left at the end of last week’s Parsha, we had the mixed multitude, they a lot of love. So now we have not only people that left, and they were armed, and they believed or at least they were closer to believing than anywhere else. But we also have this mixed multitude. And this comes up even later, there’s another word for them. They’re called the Riff Raff in numbers, the soft stuff Eek, there are, all of a sudden, we see this is not the plagues were kind of easy. You had darkness, it was dark. For the Egyptians, it was light for the Jews. But now as we get out there, we’re starting to see different types of Jews, quasi-Jews, maybe Jews. It’s very early in the story. And all of a sudden, this is starting to happen to us. And I think that’s kind of fascinating. We don’t even get a honeymoon.
Adam Mintz 14:09
Yeah, that that. Now, that is an interesting point. The fact that we don’t get a honeymoon means it just seems to go from one to the next. Right. The question is why we don’t get a honeymoon. Why didn’t God just let everybody out? What Why was there this, this decision to only let out say 20% of the people means was it a punishment? What was it about?
Geoffrey Stern 14:35
So fascinatingly, there are different opinions about what went on? One of them…., it’s up pseudo Philo says “the children of Israel were split in their opinions according to three strategies. For the tribes of Reuben, Issachar, Zebulun and Simeon said: “Come let us cast ourselves into the sea. For it is better for us to die in the water than to be killed by our enemies”. The tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan and Naftali said: “No, but let us go back with them, and if they are willing to spare our lives, we will serve them”. But the tribes of Levi, Judah, Joseph and Benjamin said: “Not so, but let us take up our weapons and fight with them, and God will be with us! So, this becomes kind of fascinating because we and I am right there…. we always assumed when forfeits left behind, that they were left behind by, by God’s choice by Moses, his choice they were rejected. But what this interestingly, in given the whole arc of Jewish history suggests that maybe they didn’t want to leave, you cannot help but think back to Europe, in the 30s, when some Jews were leaving for Israel, or Palestine, and others were did not want to go. So so now we have differences of opinion as to what the right course was. And we’re starting to see opinions that in fact, there is one in our source notes, which I should post and I’ll put them up in a second. There’s an amazing article about Who with a Mixed Multitudes. And it’s by a professor called Professor Bar. And he makes the case that even some of those who are saying that the Hamushim means groups of 50. He makes the argument that the Erev Rav and these groups of 50 were paid mercenaries, were whether they were paid mercenaries, or they weren’t fighters is irrelevant in my mind. But what you’re seeing is there were those who took charge those who took the impetus. They even use the words that were later used in Yehoshua’s time, which I think is a terrible translation. They translate Halutzim as shock troops. But they talk about these armed Hamushim also referred to as Halutzim, we’re the ones who decided to leave Egypt. And there were those who did not have enough self-confidence, or as we would see later, will dream about the fleshpots of Egypt and always want to go back Datan and Avirom there were these different groups. And according to this opinion, the Hamushim were a certain type of Jew who led the charge. Not all of them necessarily were armed. It starts to become kind of fascinating.
Adam Mintz 17:57
That is fascinating. Yeah, that is fascinating So the question is, … based on what the different explanations of Hamushim are. If Hamushim means armed, so the question is who exactly was armed? Right? And where did the Jews get these arms from? וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם Where did you get the arms from?
Geoffrey Stern 18:26
According to all of those who say that Israelites were left in Egypt, they were killed during the plague of darkness. That is the tradition. And of course, we also have a tradition, that during the plague of darkness, it was pitch black for the Egyptians, but the Jews could see. And there are various traditions that say that the Jews, the Israelites, would go into the houses of the Egyptians and stake out weapons; stakeout property that they would later ask for as they left when they were provisioned. We’ve talked about that before.
Adam Mintz 19:10
Geoffrey Stern 19:10
But the interesting thing to me is that in Exodus 10, when it talks about the plague of darkness, it says לא ראו איש את אחיו . And that one could not see one’s fellow. But if you take that metaphorically, again, if if this is when the allegory the myth, the concept of some Jews were left behind comes up in the plague of darkness. It’s this division started to occur when one Israelite could not see the other. The Division started to occur even within the land of Egypt. So, it’s almost a recognition of the text that this all began. And I guess, you know, I can’t say this hasn’t occurred before. When Moses came the day after he killed the slave master, the two Jews, said to him, what are you going to do? You’re going to kill us too. But so there always were divisions, there were divisions in every people and God for sure they have divisions within the Jewish people. But this is on a much larger scale.
Adam Mintz 20:27
Yes, I think that’s right. I mean, I think you know, and that’s what you talked about the numbers. It makes a difference how many Jews left Egypt in this discussion? What did it look like? I don’t even know what 2 million people leaving Egypt look like. Right? What did that look like?
Geoffrey Stern 20:46
So so we get to, I believe I’m on safe ground to say that the reason why Hamesh was related, and maybe you don’t agree with me on this, but the reason why her Mace was related to arms was for the same reason that the English word for armaments comes from the word arm. This is where power is exerted. And I think that if you start then to look at the story of the Exodus, and look at how Yad is used as a metaphor, it starts also to make sense, I was talking to you before about how I was preparing with my grandson who’s going to be Bar Mitzvah in a few months. And we were discussing tephilin and of course, fill in his first referenced as an וְהָיָה֩ לְךָ֨ לְא֜וֹת עַל־יָדְךָ֗ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן֙ בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן תִּהְיֶ֛ה תּוֹרַ֥ת ה בְּפִ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה הוֹצִֽאֲךָ֥ ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם , a sign on your arm, and it references that outstretched arm. [also וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק ה’ אֶת־לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּרְדֹּ֕ף אַחֲרֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֹצְאִ֖ים בְּיָ֥ד רָמָֽה׃ ה’ stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, where yad rmah is according to Ibn Ezra: They didn’t leave the impression of fleeing but rather had all the weapons of war [and so did not go out like fugitives.] ]And we have to note that the Hebrew word Yad, we always talk in terms of a hand, but I think if you look at the text of the Bible, Yad can just as easily mean arm, as it can mean hand. So now you look at all of the verses that we’re very well acquainted with, about God out stretching his arm, about the power of the hand of God. And it puts that the where it talks about whether it’s כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ , whether it is the בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה the out stretched arm, it is a metaphor for power, for changing, for progress. You know, when it talks about the plagues, in so many of the cases, it talks about raising up the hand. So I think that this is a major kind of part of this story. And it makes us think differently about you know, what is going on here, and what is the power of this Hamsa of this hand?
Adam Mintz 20:47
Good. You know what, I’m willing to go with you? I don’t know that we could prove it necessarily. But I’m willing to go with you that, that that what we’re talking about here is that we’re talking about here is some something based on the fact that armaments are related to the hands. I’m good with that. Let’s run with that.
Geoffrey Stern 23:30
Great. So if we look back in the story, and we look all the way back to Genesis 41, where Joseph is advising the king, it says, Joseph says to the king, and let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. And there it says let him make וְחִמֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם . So here, Rashi says that they shall prepare, and he says similar to Exodus 13: 18 and be prepared for war. So now this is another nuance. We talked about provisioning, preparing the Jews that are going to be taken on a circuitous mission. Maybe it takes a little bit away from the military nature of this, but certainly it focuses as Hamesh as something that is preparing somebody for something. It’s interesting that the word comes up and it’s not a word that falls off your tongue easily. Even when you look at that verse. You need a Rossi to explain what’s going on.
Adam Mintz 24:51
Yeah, I think that’s right. The simple explanation of the verse doesn’t really mean anything. All right. I mean, it needs an explanation. I think that’s a very smart point. We’re running to different kinds of explanations. What is the simple explanation is and I don’t know what the simple explanation means.
Geoffrey Stern 25:16
No, and, and we probably will not know. But one thing that did come to my mind is that it’s strange that while the commentaries do talk about Hamesh as being prepared, and being armed, they don’t talk so much about being armed by God, which is kind of interesting. And if I had to say, one small, little Hidush, one small, little innovation in Genesis, where it talks about what we said a second ago, that you should organize the land of Egypt, it uses Hamesh in Genesis 47, it says, “And Joseph made it into a land law in Egypt, which is still valid, that a fifth should be Pharaoh’s; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s. So here, Hamesh, it belongs to Pharaoh.” And maybe and this is my small innovation at Pharaoh was the king Pharaoh was the god of Egypt. And so it’s almost as though the fifth the Hamesh the Yad, the mover, the shaker, that’s what belongs to God. And so it seems to me it’s a little strange that the rabbi is don’t insert God into this Hamesh when the Yad of God is all over, but instead use it to look for the differences between some Jews and another that kind of struck me, especially if my if my explanation has any soil to it at all.
Adam Mintz 27:05
That’s good. So the יד חזקה is is actually the opposite of Hamushim, even though it both means the same thing. That’s your question really?
Geoffrey Stern 27:19
Well, I think that the Hamushim means to be prepared and protected in a very profound way. And if I had to argue from Jewish superstition, Jewish ritual objects, from Jewish tradition, if you think of that Hamsa, which, you know, people are not sure whether it come it came from Islam, or predated Islam, and it came from Judaism, in our superstitious tradition in Yemen, it’s the Yad of Miriam. But the idea is, I’ve seen pictures of hands, almost I wouldn’t say they were put in blood, but they are put on the wall as a sign of protection. They just recently discovered a hand impregnated into the wall around Jerusalem. This idea of God protecting us with his hand, to me seems to be where the Jewish people might have taken this concept of God’s hand. And from that perspective, it gives a new insight into what God gave these people, they still didn’t stand up to the task. But they were appointed by God, they were armed by God, they were prepared by God. That certainly is one way to look at it.
Adam Mintz 28:47
I have a question to ask you.
Geoffrey Stern 28:48
Adam Mintz 28:49
When did they use these armaments that they were prepared with? There’s a war with a Amalek at the end of our parsha, there’s a war with Amalek, but it’s a miraculous war. Moshe raises his hands and they win Moshe lowers his hands, and they lose.
Geoffrey Stern 29:06
So the Rashi on Exodus 13: 18, which I cut short, says that the reason why they have arms is that you should not wonder with regard to the war with Amalek. And then he continues, and the war with Sihon and Og and Midian where they obtained weapons, since they smote them with the sword.
Adam Mintz 29:22
So good. So that’s what I’m saying. It’s interesting that the pasuk here says that they’re armed. But basically, they only use the arms 40 years later.
Geoffrey Stern 29:35
And I guess once you have your first battle, there’s always an explanation of how you got your arms… you captured them from the enemy.
Adam Mintz 29:43
But I’m saying isn’t that interesting means that they’re actually preparing to enter the land of Israel. Now before the sin of the spies. They thought they were entering the Land of Israel immediately. So therefore, they needed the arms because they had to fight these battles. And the answer is they didn’t fight them for 40 years.
Geoffrey Stern 30:03
Yep. So, yep, yep. So so the question is, you know, is is, is the, the answer worse than the question? You know, they’re clearly looking at this word and trying to figure out, you know what it means. But in the Haggadah, we have so many elements that we’ve kind of touched on today, we have this element of exaggerating, of multiplying the numbers, but to me, the most challenging one is the wicked son, because it’s the wicked son that now takes on a whole new meaning. When they say, you said, “you” had you been there, you would not have been worthy to ever be redeemed. Now we have a tradition of four fifths of the people (did not get redeemed).. But let’s forget about numbers; about a portion of the people decided or were forced not to be redeemed. And I would argue what makes this fascinating, especially for recent history, in terms of the establishment of the State of Israel, where you almost flipped the coin, where it was the God-fearing who, for many reasons, said, We are going to wait to be saved, we will stay in where we are. And it was the Halutzim, and it’s amazing that it uses the same word as these forward troops, who were the humashim, who went out and had the confidence to create a new land, which just goes to show that, you know, everybody has a lesson to take away from the portion and everybody should be struggling and bothered by the questions that are raised as we read the weekly portion, and this week is no exception.
Adam Mintz 32:01
I think that’s great. We I mean, we looked at a word you know, sometimes we look at an idea today, we looked at the word, it’s no question. It’s the best word in the parsha. It’s my favorite word in the parsha. It’s one of my favorite words in the Chumash. Just because I love that Rashi. So, we really tried to get to the bottom of it. And whether we did or we didn’t, we at least had an interesting conversation, something to think about the Shabbat. So wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy, and we look forward to seeing you next week.
Geoffrey Stern 32:26
Shabbat shalom. Great to have you back high five to you from one street on the Upper West Side to another and look forward to next week. Well, thank you for listening. And for all of you who listen to this as a podcast tonight, we have an extended version, because as you know, this is recorded on clubhouse live. And we have two amazing Hasidic stories from my buddy Yochanan, who is the Rosh Kollel of clubhouse. And we also have some interesting comments from my buddy Lauren. So you are welcome to leave now. You still get all of Madlik points, and all of the benefits that come with those Madlik points. But if you want to get a sense of what happens on clubhouse, stay tuned. Yochanan how are you today?
Yochanan Lowen 33:21
Hey, hey, Rob, is it’s a pleasure to be here. And Rabbi Adam said that Hamushim is his most favorite word in the Humash. Did I hear correctly?
Adam Mintz 33:31
Yeah, I like that word.
Yochanan Lowen 33:32
But Hi, how is it possible to be differently? If Hamushim is actually the same word as Humash. So obviously, this would be your most favorite word in the Humash.
Adam Mintz 33:45
That’s fantastic. Of course, they’re related words.
Yochanan Lowen 33:48
Exactly. It’s actually the same term, it’s the same route. It’s the same, you know, it’s the same word, it’s the difference in the conjugation, whatever what you call it in English.
Geoffrey Stern 34:00
And I will say that in my research of the Hamsah, the this iconic hand that we see some of the Sephardic customs are is that it represents the Hamesh Humsheh Torah the five books of the Torah. And the same goes for וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, which is the Heh, in the וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, is there Heh, of the Five Books of Moses, which will save us. So it really I think Yochanan you’re just adding another aspect to how this tree these traditions that we’ve talked about have kind of been recycled and grown and ruminate one with the other. Humash is a perfect, perfect example.
Adam Mintz 34:50
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Enjoy.
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/463446
Listen to last years Beshalach podcast: God;s Gracious Ruse