(Pesach 5771) A Bit Too Early
Thirty years before the Jews left Egypt, 200,000 members of the tribe of Efraim escaped making their way to the Promised Land of Canaan via the Land of the Philistines. When they reached the city of Gat, the Philistines waged battle against the escapees and wiped them out.
What prompted these members of Efraim to leave Egypt prematurely without Moshe’s leadership?
The Torah relates that G-d revealed to our forefather Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years. In reality, G-d began counting this four hundred year period when Yitzchok, the son of Avraham, was born, which was thirty years after the revelation to Avraham.
The Tribe of Efraim began counting the 400 years from the time of G-d’s revelation to Avraham, which was 30 years before the prescribed time of freedom.
The Torah relates that when the Jewish nation was freed from Egypt, G-d directed them not to travel through the Land of the Philistines which was the shortest route to the Land.
Commentators explain that had they seen the bones of their brethren on the Philistine battlefield, the Jews would have been fearful and returned to Egypt. Therefore G-d redirected the Jews to a different route.
A question raised is why was it specifically the Tribe of Efraim that felt compelled to escape Egypt at the earliest possible time?
Commentators point out that Yosef’s son was the tribal head Efraim and he was still living at the time of the servitude. Being that he witnessed the salvation, blessing and dedicated leadership that his father provided for Egypt during the 80 years he served as second in command, it was very difficult for him to tolerate the servitude, oppression and brutality that the Egyptians brought upon the Jews. The Egyptian’s disloyalty and ungratefulness towards Yosef’s family in particular was personal and intense; therefore, when they saw the first glimpse of the end of the psychological, emotional and physical oppression, a portion of them escaped.
The last two days of Pesach commemorate the salvation of the Jews from the Pharoh and the Egyptians during the miracles that occurred at the Red Sea, when Moshe and the Jews sang the prophetic song of Az Yashir. In the song it expresses that when the Philistines heard of the Jews’ awesome and miraculous salvation, they were gripped with fear that the Jews may retaliate for their assault on the Tribe of Efraim.
In the Haftorah that is read on the Shabbat of Pesach from the Book of Yechezkel, the prophet describes that G-d instructed Yechezkel to resurrect the dry bones in the valley of Gat, and he did so. The Talmud relates that the bones were from those of the Tribe of Ephraim who were smitten by the Philistines many years earlier.
Rav Hai Goan comments that this Haftorah which speaks of the resurrection of the dead is read specifically during Pesach since the eventual Resurrection of the Dead will occur during the month of Nissan.
The verse states, “Behold they say, ‘Our bones have dried and our hope is lost. We are doomed.” “Thus says G-d: Behold – I open your graves and I raise you from your graves.”
Commentators explain that this is also a reference to the living who have strayed and distanced themselves from G-d to the point that they feel totally ‘dried up’ with no hope of returning and reconnecting to G-d. G-d says: “One always has the ability to raise themselves from the lowest levels.”
Pesach is a time when we experience such encouragement. Our Sages tell us that prior to the Jews’ exodus from Egypt they had sunk to the lowest levels of impurity and G-d extracted them and raised them to the highest level of purity in just 50 days when they received the Torah.
Each year during this time, these same impulses and stimuli of redemption afford us the opportunity to deepen our connection to G-d.
Wishing you a most restful, uplifting, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos and Yom Tov!
Rabbi Dovid Saks