Who Gets to Make it Out of Galus?

Amongst the greatest tragedies of Yetzias Mitzraim is the Medrash regarding the ratio of those who were saved.

Rashi quotes this Medrash at the beginning of our parsha:

וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – חֲמֻשִׁים אֶחָד מֵחֲמִשָּׁה יָצְאוּ וְאַרְבָּעָה חֲלָקִים מֵתוּ בִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת יְמֵי אֲפֵלָה

Now the Israelites went up “armed” out of the land of Egypt – Another explanation of “חמשים” is: only one out of five (חמשה) went forth from Egypt, and four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness.

If only a fraction of Klal Yisrael left Egypt, then Pesach becomes a far more complicated holiday. Without doubt, almost every Jew who crossed the Red Sea had barely finished sitting Shiva for a loved one.

With this ratio of redeemed Jews, everyone leaving Egypt felt like Noach, watching their world flooding behind them. Everyone felt like Lot, feeling the blistering heat of destruction on their back, fleeing Mitzrayim like fleeing Sedom.

They were not simply leaving their Egyptian tormentors, but almost everyone and everything that they knew.

The Ibn Ezra rejects this reading entirely; arguing that if this was the case, Yetzias Mitzrayim would be more of a horrific tragedy than a holiday. Instead, he explains that the word חֲמֻשִׁים means “armed”.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, finds common ground between the Ibn Ezra and the Medrash: being armed for battle and being resilient in the face of our cultural enemies are two sides of the same coin.

The Pesach Hagada explains that were certainly Jews who did not wish to be redeemed. Every year, we say about the wicked son “if he were there, he would not have been redeemed.” Clearly, there were those who denied Moshe’s message and Hashem promise. Or perhaps there were those who couldn’t find the courage to charge into the desert when the Nile was the only world they knew.

But imagine the resilience, the tenacity, the mental fortitude of our ancestors who did leave Egypt. Some of them must have been surrounded by families and friends, an entire society who were unwilling or unable to reject the pull of Mitzraim. Against this backdrop, our forebears were the ones who chose leave.

Indeed, the survivors of Mitzrayim were armed; perhaps with weapons, but perhaps with a counter cultural mindset. They were bold, perhaps a little foolhardy and more than willing to chase a dream. The Jews who stayed in Egypt, however, have faded into the dust of history.


Sometimes I wonder which camp I fall into.

I’d like to believe that I would not have hesitated to leave Mitzrayim. I’d like to think that I would have followed Moshe enthusiastically into the Midbar, come what it may.

But then again, I’m here in Boca Raton. I am not one of the חֲמֻשִׁים – the brave Chayalim who are armed and fighting.

Those who are giving their lives in Gaza are not only young boys, eighteen or nineteen years old. Many of them are my age, with wives and families. Bnei Torah, Bnei Yeshiva. They are fighting and dying. They are the armed soldiers marching out of Galus, while I am sitting, writing about about them, reflecting on their lives and sacrifices.

Perhaps I’m part of the four fifths who didn’t make it out. Or perhaps not yet. Has the door closed for us here in the USA? For my friends and family in South Africa? What does one need to do in order to merit redemption?


Every student of Chumash learns at some point about the two great villains of the Chumash: Dasan and Aviram. Every complaint, issue and rebellion in the desert was spearheaded by these two trouble makers. Indeed, it was these two men whom Moshe saw fighting each other on the day he left Paroah’s palace. It was them who turned him in to the Egyptian authorities after he killed the Mitrzi, and them who sided with Korach years later.

Indeed, the Targum Yonasan in our Parsha notes that they were the ones who told Paroah that the Jewish people had no intention of coming back to Egypt. When the nation escaped, these two stayed behind to inform on them.

There is an obvious plot-hole question that needs addressing: If Dasan and Aviram were still in Mitzrayim when Klal Yisrael left, how did they ever rejoin the nation to cause problems later?

The Beer Mayim Chaim (בשלח ד”ה ובני ישראל) quotes from Chazal:

ובני ישראל הלכו ביבשה וגו'. מיעוט רבים שנים, לומר כי על שנים מישראל לבד נקרע הים והם דתן ואבירם שאמרו חז”ל שנשארו ונקרע הים עליהם לבד.

Even though Dasan and Aviram stayed in Egypt, when they eventually arrived at Yam Suf the sea split again just for them!

It seems a bizarre thought – that Hashem would perform such a miracle for these two Reshaim, but perhaps we could explain it in light of the challenge of the Rosh (שמות י:י)

יש לשאול מ”ש שמתו כל הרשעים בתוך ג' ימי אפלה ודתן ואבירם לא מתו שהיו רשעים גמורים. י”ל אע”פי שהיו רשעים לא נתייאשו מן הגאולה:

One could ask: If those who were truly wicked perished in the three days of darkness, why did Dasan and Aviram survive? Surely they were total Reshaim. However, we can explain: Even though they were clearly wicked people, they were saved, since they never lost hope in the possibility of redemption.


It seems then, that the greatest guarantee of eventual Geulah is ensuring that we never give up hope.

This is true for our Chayalim, living through the hell of war. This is true for our hostages, and their tortured families. It’s true for our kids on college campuses and embattled Jews throughout the world.

It’s also true for you and me in Chutz La’Aretz; feeling distant and ineffective. So proud of our nation and our home land, and so ashamed to be so far.

Most importantly, we can now reorient our perspective about other Jews, our brothers and sisters. Perhaps they are not all tzadikim. Perhaps some of them are Reshaim. But so long as we are all yearning, hoping, dreaming and fighting for Geulah, then the sea will split yet again for us and them.

This is the Tefillah of David HaMelech in Tehillim 130, which we have all been saying: נַפְשִׁי לַה’ מִשֹּׁמְרִים לַבֹּקֶר – My soul is more eager for Hashem than watchmen for the morning.

But the Alshich adds: Sometimes, my body is not quite purified yet. Sometimes, only my soul is desperate for you Hashem. But please, redeem me for my soul, remember us for Your sake.

Bring them home. Save them.

Save us. Take us home as well.