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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Beshalach

Long Path for Close Nation

Great rabbis have said that “ki karov hu” refers to the fact that Hashem is close to us, not the path. Even during difficult national times, let us remember that events that seem to be to our detriment can really be for our benefit.
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Our parasha explains that Bnei Yisrael did not take the close route of the Land of the Plishtim (the coastal road along the Mediterranean) to enter Eretz Yisrael quickly (ki karov hu) out of concern that the nation would have a change of heart upon confronting war and return to Egypt (Shemot 13:17). Commentaries struggle with the meaning behind this pasuk. Taking a historical and spiritual view will add an understanding of the past and a lesson for the present.

It is noteworthy that not only was battle with the Plishtim avoided then, but even after Yehoshua led Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael 40 years later, the Plishtim’s land went untouched. Not one Plishti city is listed among those conquered in that generation (Yehoshua 12), whereas prominent Plishti cities, including Aza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron, are listed as cities that remained unconquered (ibid. 13: 2, 3). This area corresponds with the present-day Gaza strip and a significant part of the surrounding, south-western section of modern Israel. One can simply say that Bnei Yisrael could not immediately conquer the land because they lacked the merits that would have entitled quick success. However, several midrashim advance alternative explanations.

Mechilta D’R. Yishamel says that if Bnei Yisrael would have entered the Land immediately, their preoccupation with their fields would have lessened their focus on Torah study at that formative period. Therefore, they remained in the desert for 40 years, being sustained by the manna and the water of the well, while absorbing the Torah in their bodies. Shemot Rabba (20:15) offers a parable to a king who wanted to leave a lot of property to his son but was afraid that if he gave it when the son was too young, he would ruin it. So too, it was unwise to give Bnei Yisrael the Land before they became proficient in its mitzvot, such as tithes. These two explanations indicate that the delay was caused by the hope of a direct spiritual gain.

The midrash brings an additional opinion, which relates that the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael, upon hearing of Bnei Yisrael’s imminent arrival, uprooted trees to prevent Bnei Yisrael’s benefit. After receiving the impression that they were settling in the desert, the inhabitants replanted the trees. Thus, because of the wait, Bnei Yisrael entered a cultivated land, rather than scorched earth. A final opinion posits that Eretz Yisrael had natural portions for only ten tribes. Therefore, Hashem waited until they captured the east bank of the Jordan, satisfying two tribes and leaving the main area for only ten tribes. According to the latter midrashim, the matter was for Bnei Yisrael’s physical well-being.

Great rabbis have said that "ki karov hu" refers to the fact that Hashem is close to us, not the path. Even during difficult national times, let us remember that events that seem to be to our detriment can really be for our benefit, as Hashem is close to us. The closer we are to each other, the more likely we are to benefit from His blessings.
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