Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

No returns

In our weekly Torah portion, among the very logical instructions of setting up and maintaining the judicial system, Torah suddenly breaks out into a very personal and emotional narrative, albeit a short one.

Discussing the proper lifestyle of a future Jewish king, Torah spends a whole verse warning the monarch about the prohibition of acquiring too many horses for his personal needs. Nor is he allowed to send people to Egypt to bring even more. Here comes the short but deadly dagger of this passage, “You must not go back that way again.”

The commentators have been trying to explain that this prohibition concerned only the people living at those times.

Rabbeinu Bahya is almost panicking, “This does not mean that there is a permanent prohibition for Jews to reside in Egypt. Had the Torah intended these words as a permanent prohibition, it would be inconceivable that so many Torah scholars, pious individuals, made their home in Egypt after the destruction of the Temple.”

There is a long-standing discussion about the morality of Jews returning to dwell in the lands where we suffered. However, even without opening this particular Pandora’s box, one can apply this Torah’s advice to everyday life.

In the earlier commentary, Rabbeinu Bahya explains the reason for the prohibition on Jews going back to Egypt, “It was intended to ensure that Israelites traveling to Egypt would not learn to copy the abominations practiced in that country.”

It is hard to abandon the destructive behavior but incredibly easy to fall back into the familiar pattern. Having broken free from oppression and violence, do not ever be tempted to revisit its perpetrators. Never fool yourself by explaining that they have changed or citing the practical reasons.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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