“And it was [Vayehi] when Pharaoh sent out the people” Exodus 13:17
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This week’s sidrah contains some of the most exciting and uplifting moments in our history; the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracles of the manna and our victory over Amalek.
Yet it is this sidrah which begins with the word “vayehi” — which, according to our sages, is an expression of sadness. How can we possible explain this?
When God summons Moses to announce to Israel that they will go free, their unenthusiastic response is ascribed by Targun Yonatan to their unwillingness to leave behind those gods which they worshipped together with their Egyptian neighbours.
According to our sages, four-fifths of our people died during the plague of darkness because they adamantly declared that Egypt was their home. Even the fifth who remained alive insisted that while a land of their own was desirable, the time was not yet right.
Is this not a contemporary message for us the post-Holocaust generation? How clearly it has been brought home to us that our destiny is not in the diaspora and yet the state of Israel, a dream for two thousand years, has left the vast majority of Jews unchanged. The diaspora is their home and its values are their values.
The Talmud tells us that Resh Lakish, who lived after the destruction of the Second Temple, had no time for Babylonian Jews:“Had all of you returned with Ezra and left your wealthy businesses to start anew in Israel, then the Temple would never have been destroyed. Because you remained in exile, the minority of Jews in Israel battling valiantly, succumbed to the events that overtook them and exile occurred.”
Is this not a contemporary message and was the Torah not correct in writing “vayehi”? The journey to the Promised Land is tinged with sadness.