Intro: Could it be that 80% or more of the Israelites didn't leave Egypt? Why not? What does this say about Diaspora Jewish communities more generally?
There is a source in the Midrash that suggests a large percentage of the people did not want to leave Egypt at all, which challenges us to discover just what was going in the minds of the people at the time and what be happening for us today.
God causes the plague of darkness to descend on Egypt. It is the 9th plague.
*The commentaries that follow will explore the meaning of 'chamushim'.
*How many Israelites died during the plague of darkness?
*A midrash on the word 'chamushim', usually translated as 'well armed', instead refers to the root chet-mem-shin, referring to the number 5. If about 600,000 males leave Egypt, then, just focusing on the male population for a moment, some 3 million would have been the 'wicked' who died in the plague of darkness, a startling number.
Rabbenu Bachya quotes the same source and adds:
"And there are those who say [only] 1 in 50 [left Egypt], or 1 in 500 [left Egypt]..."
Toldot Yitzchak (Isaac Karo): 1458-1535, Spain & Jerusalem:
Karo quotes the source that 4 out of 5 died during the plague then adds, "...and regarding this interpretation, [we establish that] 'With a strong hand and an outstretched arm' refers back to the Israelites (rather than the Egyptians), since they did not want to leave Egypt and God had to, against their will, take them out with a strong hand and persuasive power... Those who did leave were not obstinate and, with everything that happened, they left since they needed to leave.
Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim Luntchschitz, Prague 16th-17th c.):
R. Luntschitz builds on the original '4 out of 5' message and adds, "...Even those who wanted to leave Egypt - God had to take them out with a strong hand and against their will, against what was better for them.
Shemot Rabba 14:13 explains that "There were sinners among the Jews who had Egyptian patrons, and they had wealth and honor there, [so] they didn't want to leave."
Questions for reflection:
1) Why do you think the Midrash is inclined to offer the possibility that many of the Hebrews stayed, or were even killed by God, in Egypt?
2) Do you see parallels in more recent history, or even today? Especially given the establishment of the State of Israel?
3) What sympathies might we be able to gain for modeerns who are disinclined to join in the journey of being Jewish? Are there fixes available to overcome such reluctance?