Parshas Beshalach – Fear and fright shall fall upon them

By Shalom Olensky

 

This week in the Torah:

After traveling through the Sea of Reeds, Moses and the Jews sing their praises of G-d. In this song, they also relate the fear placed upon the gentile nations upon hearing what G-d did for the Jews. Including the verse, “Fear and fright shall fall upon them…” (Exodus 15:16).

Rashi comments:

The verse mentions “fear and fright”; “fear” falls upon those that are far, while “fright” falls upon those that are close.

Question:

From a simple perspective it would seem better to interpret the fear of the close nations coming before that of the far nations, because news spreads outwards. Why mention the far ones first?

Four explanations:

  1. Rashi is merely translating the words of the verse in the order they were said. “Fear”, mentioned first by the Jews, is a term that applies to those afar, for fear connotes trepidation for an extended time, while “fright” is a term that applies to those close, for fright connotes a sudden scare.
  2. This verse was a prophecy referring to the Jews forty-years-later, actual approach to the Land of Israel. In this verse they prophesied that the fear upon the nations from hearing of the Splitting of the Sea, will last until their actual entering the Land. Hence in this prophecy they mentioned the nations further from the sea, those occupying Israel and its surroundings, first; because that was more relevant to this prophecy of conquering those nations.
  3. The above question (Why mention the fear falling upon the far nations before the fear falling upon the close nations, out of logical sequence of events?) is only based on taking the words “close” and “far” literally. However, if we were to understand “close” and “far” as mere expressions for those “close” to be harmed by the Jews (because the Jews were indeed planning to conquer them) and those “far” from being harmed by the Jews (because the Jews were not planning to conquer them), then it would not seem abnormal for Rashi to mention the fear of those “afar” occurring before the fear of those “close.”
  4. This comment of Rashi connotes a lesson in man’s Service. The fear upon the nations symbolizes G-d’s assistance to a Jew to conquer his evil tendencies, (for without G-d’s assistance, a Jew could not succeed in this). This Divine assistance first affects the negative impulses that the Jew by nature finds repugnant, and which are hence “far” from him. Then, G-d assists further, in the conquering of one’s inclination to the extent that even those negative character traits that are harder for the Jew to change, those that are “close” to him, are conquered and refined.

(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 36, Beshalach)

 

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