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Why the Exodus?

The Exodus from Egypt was foretold hundreds of years in advance. But what precipitated G-d’s decision to allow His people to be enslaved?

Kings are warring, and Lot, Avram’s nephew, was taken hostage.

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them… And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich. (Gen. 14)

Avram goes to war, and G-d delivers a miraculous victory. But what is most remarkable about this section is what does not happen.

For starters, the beneficiary of the victory, the King of Sodom, is entirely unmoved. He does not see that the victory was miraculous, and indeed, he wants to show his appreciation to Avram instead of to G-d.

The high priest, Malchitzedek, acknowledges that the victory was indeed miraculous – but he does not demonstrably change as a result of the events, either. He does not, for example, seek to establish a long-term relationship with Avram, or with G-d.

And lastly, there is Lot. Avram’s nephew, Lot was potentially Avram’s successor. And how does Lot change as a result of this intervention? Not at all! Lot is not inspired to become a better person, or to grow in any way.

The king of Sodom, Malchitzedek and Lot all just carry on with their lives, oblivious to the fact that the creator of the world miraculously intervened to deliver a victory.

And posterity? Well, of course, we have an annual commemoration of this great victory, complete with a festive meal, at which we retell and relive events, just like a Pesach Seder.

Or not. In actuality, we do not do any of these things. Even for observant Jews, Avram’s victory over the kings is a side-story. And the reason should be self-evident: an event that does not make a lasting impression even on its participants is not likely to change the course of human history for all time – and so it proves.

As a result of these events, G-d and Avram seal a new covenant, we call “the covenant between the parts.” And in this covenant,

[G-d] said unto Avram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Gen. 15:13-14)

The descent in Egypt and the Exodus are the remedy for the miracles that go unnoticed. Consider that in the Exodus, there are clearly multiple audiences: The Egyptians (for whom the Exodus is G-d’s Coming Out party); the Children of Israel (for whom the Exodus is the birthing of the nation through the split waters of the sea); and the G-d-aware priest (Yisro, who comes and plays an active role). In the case of the Exodus from Egypt, the events even spill over so that other nations who were not involved at all, both heard about the Exodus and reacted to it.

In table form, we could see it as follows:

 

Avram’s Victory

Exodus

Jewish Audience

Lot

Children of Israel

Non-Jewish Audience

King of Sodom

Egyptians

Affected External Audience

None

Other nations

External High Priest

Malchitzedek

Yisro (Jethro)

In every respect, the Exodus was a success where the Victory was a failure.

This then helps explain why the Exodus was necessary. If we posit that the purpose of the Jewish people are to grow relationships (of all kinds and related to all peoples) with G-d, then the miraculous victory in the war of the kings was a complete failure – and the Exodus was a success. Had the Jews simply stayed in Canaan, then, despite miracles performed on its behalf, Judaism could not have become universally relevant.

And look at the contrasts! Avram was a prince, and a powerful man. So when he won, people gave him the credit. But the Jewish people in Egypt were slaves, and clearly powerless, and so the credit accrued entirely to G-d for delivering them.

Avram won the battle, and was owed the spoils of war. The King of Sodom offers him the material goods, which clearly frustrates Avram: after all, not only did Avram want G-d to be credited with the victory, but if Avram was to get the credit anyway, he should have been offered all the spoils. So Avram refuses to take even a shoelace!

But the promise in the covenant about Egypt was that Avram’s descendants “will come out with great possessions.” The Jews did not leave Egypt having earned great possessions – the silver and gold was borrowed from the Egyptians. The contrast could not be stronger: Avram was owed all of the spoils, and the Jewish people in Egypt were owed none of them. So the glory to G-d that was so lacking in the victory over the kings is complete in Egypt.

In the eyes of the world, credit is always given to the most plausible candidate. Avram was a powerful man, so even an unlikely victory was not, to onlookers, miraculous. But in the Exodus, the Children of Israel were slaves and so entirely devoid of initiative that the Egyptians never feared them. Any deliverance could only be explained by reference to divine intervention. And since G-d seeks the world to be aware of His presence, and to seek and grow relationships, the Exodus was a necessary result of the failed result of the war of Avram and the Kings.

 

 

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