Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews -- For those who like their news and truths frank and sharp

Why did we fear Pharaoh would kill us when he pursued us after we left Egypt?

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.

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and, lehavdil bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff, and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years, he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, LGBTQIA, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quite a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second-generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500th blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * To find his earlier blog posts on a certain subject XXX, among his over 1200 ones, go to the right-top corner of the Times of Israel page, click on the search icon and search "zuiden, XXX". His second daily active less tame blog, to which one may subscribe, one may find here: or by clicking on the globe icon next to his picture on top. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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