בְּשַׁלַּח, שִׁלּוּחַ הַזֶּה לְוָיָה, כְּמָה דְּאַתְּ אֲמַר: וְאַבְרָהָם הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם לְשַׁלְּחָם (בראשית יח, טז). וְכֵן הוּא אוֹמֵר: וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם יִצְחָק וַיֵּלְכוּ וְגוֹ' (בראשית כו, לא). וְלָמָּה פָּתַח הַכָּתוּב בַּלָּשׁוֹן הַזֶה? הַפֶּה שֶׁאָמַר לֹא אֲשַׁלֵּחַ, חָזַר וְאָמַר אָנֹכִי אֲשַׁלַּח אֶתְכֶם, לְכָךְ פָּתַח וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח. וּמַה שְּׂכָרוֹ? לֹא תְתַעֵב מִצְרִי (דברים כג, ח). הַפֶּה שֶׁאָמַר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת ה', חָזַר וְאָמַר ה' הַצַּדִּיק. וּמַה שְּׂכָרוֹ? נָתַן לָהֶן קְבוּרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: נָטִיתָ יְמִינְךָ תִּבְלָעֵמוֹ אָרֶץ. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go (Exod. 13:17). The word let go (shallah) indicates “to escort,” as in the verse Abraham went with them to bring them (leshalleham) on the way (Gen. 18:16). Similarly it states; And Isaac sent them away (vaye-shallehem), and they departed from him in peace (ibid. 26:31). Why does this scriptural portion open with this verse? Because the mouth (i.e., Pharaoh) that had declared: And moreover, I will not let Israel go (Exod. 5:2), now retracted and said: I will let you go (ibid. 8:24). This explains why this portion of Scripture begins with the words When Pharaoh had let the people go. What was his reward for doing so? Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian (Deut. 23:8), for the mouth that had said: I know not the Lord (Exod. 5:2) reversed itself and declared: The Lord is righteous (ibid. 9:27). What was his reward for saying this? He gave them a burial place, as it is said: Thou stretchest out Thy right hand—the earth swallowed them (ibid. 15:12).
וְלֹא נָחָם, נָהֲגָם, כְּמָה דְּאַתְּ אֲמַר: נָחִיתָ כַצֹּאן עַמֶּךָ (תהלים עז, כא). וְאוֹמֵר: וַיַּנְחֵם בֶּעָנָן יוֹמָם (תהלים עח, יד). דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, קָרוֹב הַדָּבָר שֶׁאָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְאַבְרָהָם. וְעוֹד, כִּי קָרוֹב הַדֶּרֶךְ לַחֲזֹר לְמִצְרַיִם. וְעוֹד, קְרוֹבָה שְׁבוּעָה שֶׁנִּשְׁבַּע אַבְרָהָם לַאֲבִימֶלֶךְ, אִם תִּשְׁקֹר לִי וְגוֹ' (בראשית כא, כג). וַעֲדַיִן לֹא בָּא נֶכְדּוֹ. וְעוֹד, קְרוֹבָה מִלְחָמָה רִאשׁוֹנָה לַשְּׁנִיָּה. דָּבָר אַחֵר, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, קָרוֹב הוּא שֶׁיָּרְשׁוּ הַכְּנַעֲנִים אֶת הָאָרֶץ, דִּכְתִיב: וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה (בראשית טו, טז), וַעֲדַיִן לֹא הָיָה לָהֶם דּוֹר רְבִיעִי. וְהִקִּיפָן בַּמִּדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: אֲנִי מוֹלִיכָן דֶּרֶךְ פְּשׁוּטָה, עַכְשָׁיו מַחֲזִיקִין אִישׁ אִישׁ בְּשָׂדֶה וּבְכֶרֶם וּמְבַטְּלִין מִן הַתּוֹרָה, אֶלָּא אֲנִי מוֹלִיכָן דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר וְיֹאכְלוּ אֶת הַמָּן וְיִשְׁתּוּ מֵי בְּאֵר, וְהַתּוֹרָה מִתְיַשֶּׁבֶת בְּגוּפָן. God led them not by the way of the Philistines (ibid. 13:17). He guided them in the manner indicated in the verse Thou didst lead Thy people like a flock (Ps. 77:21), and as in the verse By day also He led them by a cloud (ibid. 78:14). By the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. The word near indicates that the promise the Holy One, blessed be He, had made to Abraham was soon to be fulfilled. Near also implies that it was the nearest way to return to Egypt. Furthermore near relates to the oath Abraham had sworn with Abimelech. Now therefore, swear unto me here by God, that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, or with my son, nor with my son’s son (Gen. 21:23) was near fulfillment, even though his grandson had not yet been born. Furthermore, near implies that the previous war was too recent to risk another.1The “previous war” being the one referred to in the continuation of the verse: lest … the people repent when they see war (Exod. 17:1). A tradition exists that the descendants of Ephraim left Egypt before the designated time and 300,000 were killed. See Ginzberg, Legends, vol. 3:8–9. Only ten escaped. Another explanation of Although that was near. It was too close to the time in which the Canaanites had obtained the land, for it is written: And in the fourth generation they shall come back hither (ibid. 15:16), and the fourth generation had not yet come. God led the people about by the way of the wilderness (Exod. 12:18). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: If I lead them into the land by the most direct route, they will each take possession of a field and a vineyard and neglect the law. Therefore I will lead them through the wilderness for forty years and cause them to eat the manna and drink the water of the well so that the law may penetrate into their very beings.
וְעוֹד, כְּשֶׁשָּׁמְעוּ הַכְּנַעֲנִים שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל נִכְנָסִין לָאָרֶץ, עָמְדוּ וְשָׂרְפוּ אֶת הַזְּרָעִים, וְעָקְרוּ אֶת הָאִילָנוֹת, וְקָצְצוּ אֶת הַנְּטִיעוֹת, וְסָתְרוּ אֶת הַבִּנְיָנִים, וְסָתְמוּ אֶת הַמַּעְיָנוֹת. אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: אֲנִי הִבְטַחְתִּי אֶת אַבְרָהָם אֲבִיהֶם לְהַכְנִיסָם בְּאֶרֶץ מְלֵאָה כָּל טוּב, הֲרֵינִי מְעַכְּבָן בַּמִּדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה עַד שֶׁיַּעַמְדוּ הַכְּנַעֲנִים וִיתַקְּנוּ מַה שֶּׁקִּלְקְלוּ. Furthermore, when the Canaanites heard that the Israelites were soon to enter the land, they arose, burnt the seeds, uprooted the trees, cut down the shoots, destroyed the buildings, and stopped up the wells. Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Since I assured Abraham, their father, that they would enter into a land filled with everything that was desirable, I will keep them in the wilderness for forty years while the Canaanites restore what they have destroyed.
וַחֲמֻשִּׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶחָד מֵחֲמִשָּׁה. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים: אֶחָד מֵחֲמִישִׁים. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים: אֶחָד מֵחֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת. רַבִּי נְהוֹרַאי אוֹמֵר: הָעֲבוֹדָה, וְלֹא אֶחָד מֵחֲמֵשֶׁת אֲלָפִים. וְאֵימָתַי מֵתוּ? בִּימֵי הָאֲפֵלָה, שֶׁהָיוּ קוֹבְרִין יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵתֵיהֶן, וּמִצְרִים יוֹשְׁבִין בַּחֹשֶׁךְ, וְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוֹדוּ וְשִׁבְּחוּ עַל שֶׁלֹּא רָאוּ שׂוֹנְאֵיהֶם וְשָׂמְחוּ בְּפֻרְעָנוּתָן. And the children of Israel went up armed (Exod. 13:18). This suggests that only one out of five (hamishah) went up armed (hamushim). However, others say: Only one out of fifty (hamishim) went up, while still others insist that only one out of every five hundred (mihamesh) went up. R. Nehorai declared: By the Temple service!2An idiomatic exclamation with the sense of “By God!” Not even one out of five thousand went up. When had the others died? During the days of darkness, they would bring their dead for burial while the Egyptians sat in darkness. The Israelites praised Him and thanked Him (for the fact) that their enemies were unable to see their misfortune and take satisfaction in it.