Beshalach 5784


Realistic roundabout reclining[1]

ויהי בשלח פרעה את-העם ולא-נחם אלקים דרך פלשתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלקים את-העם דרך המדבר ים-סוף וגו’‏
And it was that Pharaoh sent the [Jewish] nation. Hashem didn’t let them travel through the land of the Philistines, for it was [too] close…Hashem circumvented the people to go through the way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds…[2]

Our Sages connect[3] the verse in this week’s parsha, which says Hashem circumvented [ויסב] the people, with a well-known practice during Seder night: “From this verse our Sages said that even a poor person in the Jewish people shouldn’t eat unless they recline [שיסב][4], for this is what Hashem did for them.” However, it’s hard to understand how the mitzvah of haseibah, reclining while eating matzah and drinking the four cups on Seder Night is connected in any way to the circumventing described in this verse. The latter is merely referring to traveling in a long, out of the way fashion. Some suggest that the verse is merely an allusion to the idea later created by the Sages, but perhaps there’s more going on here.

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Shemos 5783


Sagely exegesis, suffering, and salty meat[1]

ויעבדו מצרים את-בני ישראל בפרך: וימררו את-חייהם בעבדה קשה בחמר ובלבנים ובכל-עבדה בשדה וגו’‏
The Egyptians worked the Jewish people with backbreaking labor. They embittered their lives with difficult labor, with bricks and mortar, and all the work of the field…[2]

Our Sages have a disagreement[3] about the significance of the Torah’s usage of the word בפרך, usually translated as backbreaking labor. One opinion says it’s a contraction of two words: בפה רך, a soft voice. Meaning, initially the Egyptians were very gentle in their subjugation of the Jews. They spoke softly with them, and even offered to pay them for their services. Once the Jews got used to manual labor, the Egyptians enslaved them. The other opinion reads the word literally, that they enslaved the Jews brutally and destroyed their bodies with backbreaking labor.

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