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B’shalach 5775-2015

“One Heart, as One Man”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat B’shalach, we read of the triumphant departure of the People of Israel from Egypt, and their miraculous salvation at the shores of the Red Sea.

In last week’s parasha, parashat Bo, we learn of the dreaded final plague–the Death of the Firstborn. Pharaoh awakens in the middle of the night, he and his servants and all of Egypt, and there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was not a single Egyptian home where there was not someone dead.

Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night (Exodus 12:31), and literally, chases the Children of Israel out of Egypt. The Egyptians urge the People of Israel to hurry to leave the land, for they were afraid and said, Exodus 12:33, כֻּלָּנוּ מֵתִים, “We will all die.”

In parashat B’shalach, Exodus 14:5, we learn that, when the king of Egypt saw that the People of Israel had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart, and said, Exodus 14:5, מַה זֹּאת עָשִׂינוּ, כִּי שִׁלַּחְנוּ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָבְדֵנוּ, “What is this that we have done, that we have sent away Israel from serving us?” Pharaoh immediately harnessed his chariot, took six hundred select chariots along with all the chariots of Egypt to pursue Israel, and succeeded in overtaking Israel who were encamped by the sea.

Scripture describes the scene in Exodus 14:9, וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיַּשִּׂיגוּ אוֹתָם חֹנִים עַל הַיָּם, כָּל סוּס רֶכֶב פַּרְעֹה וּפָרָשָׁיו וְחֵילוֹ, Egypt pursued them [the Israelites], and overtook them encamped by the sea, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen and army… Exodus 14:10 continues, וּפַרְעֹה הִקְרִיב, וַיִּשְׂאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת עֵינֵיהֶם וְהִנֵּה מִצְרַיִם נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, וַיִּירְאוּ מְאֹד וַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל הַשׁם, Pharaoh brought himself close; the Children of Israel raised their eyes, and behold!–-Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to G-d.

Students of the Bible know that the Torah always exercises extraordinary care in its choice of every single word. What is troubling in these two previously cited verses is the change from singular to plural and from plural to singular. In verse 9, Scripture uses the term, וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם…וַיַּשִּׂיגוּ אוֹתָם, The Egyptians [plural] pursued them, and they [plural] overtook them. Yet in verse 10, it states, “And Pharaoh [singular] brought himself close,” וְהִנֵּה מִצְרַיִם נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, “an Egyptian was journeying [singular] after them.” Even the description of Pharaoh’s animals in verse 9 states,כָּל סוּס רֶכֶב פַּרְעֹה , that all the “horse,” rather than horses, and “chariot” of Pharaoh, rather than chariots.

Rashi quoting the Mechilta states that the reason that it says נֹסֵעַ אַחֲרֵיהֶם, that an Egyptian was chasing [singular] after the Israelites, is because they pursued Israel, בְּלֵב אֶחָד כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד, with one heart as one man. Rashi thus underscores that the Egyptians were unified in their goal. Although they started out in verse 9 chasing and overtaking the Israelites as individual Egyptian soldiers, they were steeled by their enmity for the Jewish people, and became united in their pursuit, a unity that was a result of their rabid hatred of the Jewish people.

This rather well-known rabbinic maxim, בְּלֵב אֶחָד כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד, one heart as one man, is repeated again in a varied form in parashat Yitro. After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai. Scripture states in Exodus 19:2,וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי, וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר, וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר, They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived in the Wilderness of Sinai, and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain. This verse also starts with the plural, וַיִּסְעוּ…וַיָּבֹאוּ…וַיַּחֲנוּ, they [the Israelites] traveled, they came, they camped. But then it changes, וַיִּחַן שָׁם, and they [singular] encamped opposite the mountain. Quoting the Mechilta, Rashi states, כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, As one man, with one heart.

Why the difference? Regarding the Egyptians, Rashi declares: “With one heart as one man,” but now at Sinai, the unity of the Israelites is described by Rashi as “One man, with one heart.”

Apparently, when Israel encamped under the mountain, they were united as one man, and as a result, their hearts were united as a single heart. The Egyptians, however, in parashat B’shalach, were blinded by their hatred and their profound passion to destroy the Jews. While they had a common desire, their hatred confounded them, rendering them unable to pull themselves together to actualize their desire to destroy the Jewish people.

Whereas the love in the hearts of the Jewish people united the people at Sinai, the unity of the Egyptians in their hatred made all their chariots appear like רֶכֶב, one chariot, and all their horses as סוּס , a single horse. Their unity was not a sign of strength, but rather an indication of weakness.

The Midrash Rabbah Genesis 55:8 cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who teaches that the great power of love and the great power of hatred can distort the truth. אַהֲבָה מְקַלְקֶלֶת אֶת הַשּׁוּרָה וֽשִּׂנְאָה מְקַלְקֶלֶת אֶת הַשּׁוּרָה, love is blind and so is hatred. Both hatred and love cause people to do things that they would never normally do.

A prime biblical example (Numbers 22:4) is the long history of enmity that existed between the Midianites and the Moabites. Yet in the time of Balak and Balaam, they united because of their common hatred of the Jewish people. In our own times we see that the Shiites hate the Sunnis, the Syrians hate the Iraqis and the Iraqis hate the Iranians, but in their hatred of their common enemy, Israel, they are united!

Festering hate is not only painful, but destructive. Out of nowhere, Former President Carter blames Israel for the murders in France. Signs are raised, demonstrations are held worldwide, blaming Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians as the cause for the social unrest in Ferguson. Whenever a despot needs a way to unite his people, Israel is blamed. Hugo Chavez, the former leader of Venezuela, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leaders of Iraq and Libya respectively, frequently verbally attacked Israel. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, has raised calumny of Israel to an art form, using Israel as a way of distracting the people from the failures of his domestic and foreign policies as the leader of Turkey.

We need to look no further than the unity of our enemies to recognize that Israel and the Jewish people are being scapegoated. In our unity, כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד בְּלֵב אֶחָד, as one man with one heart, we need to commit and recommit ourselves to our G-d, Who is the ultimate source of Israel’s salvation.

May you be blessed.