In the beginning of this week’s parsha the Torah describes the Jewish people as ascending from Egypt
“chamushim”, there are several ways to interpret this word:
1. Rashi explains that the simple translation of this word means, armed with weapons.
2. Rashi goes on to cite a well-known Midrash that the word chamushim is derived from the word
chamesh, five, or in this case chomesh, one fifth. This is because, according to the midrash, only
one-fifth of the Jewish people left Egypt, four-fifths died during the plague of darkness.
3. Targum Yonason ben Uziel, also explains that the word is related to the number five, but unlike
the Midrash he writes it is because each Jewish family had five children.
4. Targum Yerushalmi, translates the word to mean armed, but unlike Rashi he writes that they
were armed with mitzvos.
The Sefer Be’er Yosef raises a number of questions that reveal that many of these explanations are truly interrelated.
Firstly, he asks on the Targum Yonason be Uziel, how is it possible that every family leaving Egypt had exactly five children? The Targum Yerushalmi is also difficult, there are clear sources that indicate that the Jews in Egypt were devoid of mitzvot and needed to be given the mitzvos of Pesach and bris milah to have enough merit to be worthy of redemption. How then is it possible that they were “armed with mitzvos”, how did they accumulate their new arsenal so quickly?
The Be’er Yosef answers these questions with the midrash’s explanation that four fifths of the Jews died
in Egypt during the plague of darkness. Why did they die? Because they did not want to leave Egypt,
they were therefore not worthy of redemption and were punished during the plague of darkness. But
what about their children? Certainly, their children wouldn’t be punished. This would mean that for
every five families, four were left parentless.
The Be’er Yosef suggests that the entire Jewish people performed an awesome act of kindness and adopted all the parentless children. Every family left Egypt with four additional sets of children. This explains the Targum Yonason ben Uziel, every family did leave Egypt with exactly five children, five sets of children! This also explains the Targum Yerushalmi, they were indeed armed with mitzvos as they left Egypt, as they marched into the desert unprepared for their trip they none-the-less took responsibility for many orphans that would have otherwise been left stranded.
The Be’er Yosef uses this fascinating piece of the story-line that he has created to answer yet another
question. According to both the midrash and the Targum Yonason ben Uziel the Torah uses the word
“chamushim” to express the number of Jews leaving Egypt, either one fifth or five children. Why then
does the Torah place this detail in the beginning of parshas Beshalach? The Torah records the number
of Jews who left Egypt in the end of parsha Bo, that would be a more appropriate place for this detail?
The Be’er Yosef explains that the Torah includes this detail in the beginning of parshas Beshalach to
emphasize the great kindness they had done. The beginning of parshas Beshalach describes that
Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt, and He took them on the scenic route. It is one thing to
bring an orphaned child with your family to the museum or to the zoo but taking that responsibility for a
long journey through the desert is much greater. Despite all this the Jewish people were willing to bring
many orphaned children along.
The Be’er Yosef quotes “one wise man”, who suggested that this explains the language of the pasuk we
recite in the Rosh Hashana Musaf Zichronos, “… I recall the kindness of your youth, when you followed
me out into the desert, into an unsown land.” (Jeremiah 2). Why does Hashem mention the “kindness”
of our youth, it should be our faith and trust in Hashem to journey out into a barren desert?
Hashem is recalling the kindness of caring for the many helpless children that we took along as we left Egypt!
Loving-kindness has been the hallmark of the Jewish people from the very beginning. The Jewish people
today continue this tradition. Whenever a baby is born, when a family is in need, help and support
comes pouring in from all directions.
May we continue to embrace the ways of our ancestors, and may we be zoche to be redeemed from our current exile armed with those very same acts of kindness.