Rarely has the outcome of an election seemed so certain. The Israeli electorate was fully expected to make a sharp turn to the right, but instead moved towards the center of the road. During the campaign, there was talk of Benyamin Netanyahu being the “bus driver” with the role of coalition partners being to “hold the wheel steady.” If the driver were to fall asleep at the wheel and the bus that is the State of Israel drift to the left, there would be an alert, uncompromising majority ready to pull it back to the right.
That was three days ago. Now, the pundits are struggling to predict what will happen, the parties to understand what already happened and the media to spin it all into place. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding an election, which until a few days ago had been so predictable. Are we lost, found, there yet? Who will be leading us and what are we moving towards?
As Parshat Beshalach opens, the Jewish nation is beginning their journey towards freedom. The original itinerary called for them to cross the Red Sea, travel the desert a short time, receive the Torah, and then proceed immediately to enter the land settled by their forefathers.
וָאֹמַר אַעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵעֳנִי מִצְרַיִם… אֶל אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָש. וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אֵלָיו יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִיִּים נִקְרָה עָלֵינוּ וְעַתָּה נֵלֲכָה נָּא דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר וְנִזְבְּחָה לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ
I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt…to a land flowing with milk and honey. And you shall say to him (Pharaoh), ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has met with us, and now, let us go for a three days’ journey in to the desert and offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God.’ (Shemot 3:17-18)
נֵלֲכָה נָּא דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר וְנִזְבְּחָה לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ
Let us go on a three day journey in the desert and sacrifice to the Lord our God. (Shemot 5:3)
Hashem had already revealed that the Jewish people were to be taken from Egypt and brought to the Land of Israel, yet He instructs Moshe to tell Pharaoh they are only leaving for three days in order to offer sacrifices in the desert. Moshe does not question Hashem on this apparent contradiction, nor do we find any instance of the Jewish people questioning Moshe on this point. Pharaoh may have been commander of the world’s most powerful military, but it is doubtful that G-D would have to rely on deception to free His people. It is also doubtful that Moshe could not be entrusted with detailed knowledge of the route and E.T.A. to Israel.
Moshe repeatedly delivers this exact message to Pharaoh between plagues. At a certain point while ‘negotiating’ with Pharaoh to free the Israelites, it becomes very clear that Moshe himself does not know the amount of presumed livestock required or even the very nature of the sacrifice they are to offer at the end of the three day journey. Furthermore, there is no indication whatsoever that Moshe is concerned about or shares this lack of knowledge with his ‘constituency.’
וַאֲנַחְנוּ לֹא נֵדַע מַה נַּעֲבֹד אֶת יְהֹוָה עַד בֹּאֵנוּ שָׁמָּה
And we will not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there. (Shemot 10:26)
The Jewish people are only a few days into the desert when Hashem suddenly instructs Moshe to make a U-turn. Rashi, commenting on the word “וְיָשֻׁבוּ (turn back)”, points out that it was indeed on the third day of travel that the people abruptly change course and begin back in the direction of Egypt.
וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ וְיַחֲנוּ לִפְנֵי פִּי הַחִירֹת בֵּין מִגְדֹּל וּבֵין הַיָּם. וְאָמַר פַּרְעֹה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם הַמִּדְבָּר
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, speak to the children of Israel, and turn back and encamp in front of Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel, ‘They are trapped in the land, the desert has closed in upon them.’ (Shemot 14:1-3)
At this point we learn the true nature of the ‘sacrifice’ to be offered in the desert on the third day. In a test of bitachon, the Jewish people are instructed to turn around and go back towards Egypt, apparently commanded to sacrifice their most valuable national possession – their freedom. It is this sacrifice, their commitment to follow the will of Hashem, which will determine if they are now deserving of a complete and final redemption from Egypt.
We are all passengers on the bus of Jewish history with those of us privileged to live in Israel tasked with plotting the course. As we speed towards another major intersection, still arguing over which direction to turn, the aftermath of the 2013 election begs the question – who is really driving this bus?