Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Midrashic Riddle Solved

Torah uses an adjective that peculiarly describes the famous Jewish Exodus from Egypt. "The Israelites," it says, "left Egypt - 'penta-armed'". (Ex. 13:18)

The Midrash addresses this Hebrew word with a cryptic explanation. Says the Mechilta, "It means 'well-provisioned'. Some say 1 out of 500 left, some say 1 of 50, and some say 1 of 5".

This Midrash makes no sense. The meaning "well-provisioned" suggests 100% of the Jews were emancipated. Then there's the opinion only 0.2% made it out; Another says 2%; and finally one says 20% pulled out.

Not only are we left puzzled how many participated in the exodus, but how can four opinions differ regarding a physical fact to such a great extent? How could the disparity be so ridiculously vast, where the range shows a 500-fold difference?!

This is no small difference of head count. This could mean a difference of nearly 300 million men who remained in Egypt.

Rashi too offers two opinions, by explaining the term "penta-armed" to mean either "well-prepared" [thereby also suggesting that all Jews participated] or it may mean only one in five (20%) made it out.

Rashi could be understood to mean only 20% of Jews made the exodus, and that these Jews (600,000 men) were well-prepared.

But a similar approach cannot resolve the multiple opinions of the Midrash.

The Rebbe comes to the rescue. This midrash, he says, really refers to the future redemption, the one unfolding in our generation. He says the estimates do not represent conflicting opinions. Instead, each estimate, he says, reflects a separate stage in the drawn-out redemption process.

At first, says the Rebbe, only 1 in 500 Jews will actually want this exile to come to a close. 499 out of 500 will, at that stage, prefer that business go on as usual, rather than wish for the redemption. But the tiny few who actually desire the redemption will persist in their outreach efforts.

Their tenacity, says the Rebbe, will pay off because thereafter 1 in 50 will push for the redemption. A third stage of this process will find that about 20% now thirst for redemption. Thanks to the perseverance of the former minority, 1 in 5 will now want out.

Ultimately - the redemption will be sought by each and every Jew.

1 comment:

  1. ‎1/500, 1/50, 1/5, 1/1. 1.222 ארכב

    I will ride.