In this week’s parasha the Israelites finally left Egypt.
But how did they feel? Were they excited? Were they scared? Were they eager? Were they reluctant? Maybe they were all of these.
There is a subtle difference in the wording of two verses that sheds light on the mood of the masses.
In Exodus 12:41 we read: “On that very day, all the battalions of the L-d left the land of Egypt.”
Ten verses later we read: “On that very day, the L-d brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt, by their battalions.”
It would seem that there were two types of people who came out. There were the courageous ones, described as “battalions” who were prepared, immediately, to leave when the permission was given. Then there those who needed to be brought out of Egypt, persuaded by those same “battalions.”
The same distinction is apparent in next week’s portion as the Israelites stand on the brink of the Red Sea.
One verse says: “The Children of Israel walked in the midst of the sea, on dry land.” [Exodus 14: 22]
Seven verses later: “The Children of Israel walked on dry land, in the midst of the sea.”
There were those, like Nachshon ben Aminadav, who were prepared to take the initiative and plunged right into the sea, at G-d’s command, to find that it miraculously split for them. Others followed, only later, when the sea had split with a clear path to follow.
In every generation, in every crisis, there are those who lead and those who follow. At the extremes, there will also those be individuals who throw caution to the wind and take irresponsible risks, while others become frozen with fright and feel unable to act.
We shouldn’t underestimate the courage that every one of our ancestors showed in being prepared to leave Egypt. It gave our people a spiritual credit balance that we, their descendants, continue to enjoy.
In the famous lines of the prophet Jeremiah (2:2) that are part of our Rosh Hashanah prayers: “Zacharti Lach Chesed Ne’urayich – I remember on your behalf the kindness of your youth, your love when you were a bride; how you followed Me into the wilderness, through an unknown land.”
May their courage, so many years ago, be a zechut, a benefit for Israel, the soldiers, the captives, and the people who are undergoing such difficult challenges at this very time.