We (seemingly) read in the Torah (Exodus 14:5, weekly portion Beshalach, Seventh Day of Passover, I paraphrase) that Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart, realizing they lost all their Hebrew slaves. So, they started chasing after the liberated Jews. Those see them coming from afar and get scared to be killed. This makes no sense.
Why would the Egyptians kill the slaves they want to return to them?
And then, why would the Jews be scared of being massacred?
You could say that they don’t fear literal death but that being a slave is like being dead.
Quote: Matchmaker: “You told me your father had died. Now I hear he’s in jail.” Client: “Well, can you call that being alive?”
But, that’s not how the Torah uses words. Death is death, not a metaphor. Even, when the Sages are shocked that a most rebellious child must get the death penalty (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), they suggest that this is only for learning, not for execution (pardon the pun). And then, one of them says that he actually sat on a grave of such a child. He doesn’t reveal if that child really was executed, but his remark helps to maintain the deterrence, saying to parents: love your child but set limits. or things will go wrong.
I also reject any notion of Jews just happening to be paranoid. Chronic mistrust comes from millennia of betrayal, not the other way around.
Also, Moses calms down the Jews not to fear, and then, G^d had to stop him calling out to Him. Makes no sense.
Yet, a little closer reading solves it all — if you’d know that the Torah uses two descriptions, normally equated, for very different groups. When it says in the Exodus story, “the Sons/Children of Israel,” it means the offspring of Jacob. When it says “the people,” it means the Mixed Multitude, slaves from all kinds of nations who hitched a ride with the escaping Jews.
The former, in Egypt, may have turned to idol worship, but they’re still long-term Jews. The latter are new converts-in-the-making, still weak in their trust in G^d and Jewish resilience. So, G^d takes the Jews the easier route because otherwise, the people(!) would get scared (Exodus 13:17).
Pharaoh and his court want the Children of Israel back, not the other escapees. They pursue, the Jews get very frightened, and call out in prayer. Then, it says “They said to Moses …” These are not the Jews. They are praying. The ones talking to Moses are the Mixed Multitudes. How do I know? The next verse begins: “And Moses said to the people …”
The Mixed Multitudes were scared to die. Maybe because they understood that Pharaoh would take the Jews back and leave them there to die, without Moses and G^d. Also, because Jewish servitude had ended half a year ago. When the Jews were recaptured as slaves, they would do the work of the Mixed Multitude, making the latter superfluous. Or, maybe they had seen Gentiles at war, and that always ended with lots of killing.
The Jews, on the other hand, were scared to be recaptured, and we prayed. Moses reassures the Mixed Multitudes to calm down. G^d reassures the Jews, to stop praying, and start moving.
The Torah is very precise and rich. But to really get it, we must slow-read.