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I just heard from my uncle a novel idea about the Exodus. Apparently, the original intention was for the Jews to go out of Egypt to receive the Torah, and then come back to convert the Egyptians.

I've never heard anything like this before, although of course initial negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh talk about leaving for a limited time. Can anyone provide sources or elaboration on this idea?

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    Aside from the coming back to convert the Egyptians, there's a famous analysis by R' Menachem Leibtag addressing what, exactly the original goal was. I suggest you try to find that (a quick search online isn't yielding results for me, but if you've got more time, or if someone else here knows what I'm talking about, you might be able to find it). – Seth J Oct 22 '12 at 15:21
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That is an interesting idea for a novel, for sure.....

However, the intention for leaving Egypt is spelled out, as we just heard, in Parshah Lech L'Cha Bereishit 15:13-20, G-d telling Abraham what was going to happen to his descendents...serving another nation, leaving, and settling the wide Promised Land. Nothing about returning to Egypt to convert the inhabitants. The only return to Egypt was threatened as part of the Curse in Devarim 28:68.

I venture to guess that your uncle got the idea as a result of the "Telephone Game" corruption of the idea that the Jews influenced Pharoah Akhenaten's sun-god monotheism. The opposite idea that the Jews learned monotheism from Akhenaten has also been theorized. The first idea seems more likely, since the Exodus was (approximately) a couple of generations before his reign. There had to be records extant then of the signs of the One G-d victorious during the Exodus and in the conquest of Canaan during his reign...possible reasons for that Pharoah to devote himself to one (sun) god, instead of many.

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This theory is proposed by Rabbi Dovid Fohrman in his book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over.

Rabbi Fohrman spends fully the first third of the book developing just questions on the story. In addressing these questions, he proposes that ultimately, Hashem's goal was not just to free the Jews, but to convince not just any nation, but the one most stooped in paganism, that He is the one true G-d, Who wants a connection with His creations. Egypt was the perfect candidate, as not only did they worship a pantheon, they were a powerful and stable society, one which viewed their king as their creator. What greater testimony to Hashem than to convince such a king that he, in fact, is not the true G-d?

Paroh enslaves the Jews because he can. He has the power to do so, and might makes right. Ultimately, this is the general philosophy behind paganism. By tearing down this philosophy, the Jews will go free automatically; these goals are two sides of the same coin.

Plan A

Plan A was to give Paroh a nonviolent demonstration of Hashem's authority. Moshe provides some signs, with the hope that Paroh would recognize Hashem. The idea was that they would go for a three day journey, receive the Torah, go back, and teach the Egyptians about their newfound religion, all in incremental steps. Moshe first says that Hashem wants His people to celebrate with him, but Paroh isn't ready to accept this: "Who is Hashem that I should listen to Him?!"

Moshe then backtracks: Okay, you don't get a Hashem Who wants a connection. Certainly you understand serving a higher power in general, right? Paroh doesn't reject this out of hand; he simply says that the slaves are lazy, that they don't fear him as much as they do Hashem. So he ups their workload. But had he been willing to accept that at face value, they would have gone out for their three day celebration, received the Torah, returned, and continued teaching the Egyptians, in incremental steps, what it is that Hashem wants of them.

Take a closer look at the story surrounding Yaakov's burial. There's a lot of details which parallel Yetzias Mitzraim: the archers, the route taken, the deliberations about the kids and cattle, etc. Perhaps this was supposed to portend what should have happened later on: The Jews would go out for their three-day celebration, receive the Torah, come back, teach the Egyptians, and they'd all go up to Eretz Yisrael together as Hashem's people – and other nations would join in, too, as they did in Yaakov's burial.

Plan B

Instead, Paroh declares war, and so Hashem declares war in return. A polytheistic god will display power, but not precision; a monotheistic G-d is capable of both. Throughout the plagues, a careful reading will indicate that Paroh is testing Hashem's precision: he wants the frogs gone tomorrow, rather than immediately; he notes by the Arov and Dever that they didn't affect the Jews, only the Egyptians; and so on.

Plan C

But Paroh can be stubborn, and so a Plan C must be devised. Barad is the deciding factor whether Plan B or C will be the successful one: Barad is somehow tantamount to all the plagues combined; that it's only for this that Hashem has kept Paroh alive; that Hashem warns Paroh of how to avoid its destruction, as a monotheistic G-d Who cares about His creations rather than a polytheistic one who just displays power; that fire and ice are combined into one, something absolutely impossible in a polytheistic worldview. Paroh finally admits that Hashem is in control, but simply doesn't care; that's why only at this point does the passuk describe his stubbornness as a sin. He's too proud and arrogant to let the Jews go at this point.

Plan C addresses this possibility: if the Egyptians aren't going to be actors in Hashem's display of authority, then they'll be His pawns. No longer is it that Egypt will know that Hashem is the true G-d, but that you, the Jewish people will know. The Egyptians are no longer actors, but rather pawns, in Hashem's revealing to the world His authority. Paroh's servants get it: "Until when will this be a trap for us? Don't you know that Egypt is lost?" They see that Paroh is being trapped in his arrogance, and that Hashem is the one in charge.

Because Plan C is playing on Paroh's arrogance, while Paroh keeps requesting that Moshe let him save face, Moshe's not having it. They're going to be taking everyone, and all of their animals. No deals are going to be brokered here. And as Paroh gets more desperate, Moshe intentionally provokes him: not only are we not leaving any cattle, why don't we take some of yours, too?

Leading to the climax of Plan C, the firstborn motif which is so prominent through the story – right from the beginning, Hashem says that Bnei Yisrael are His firstborn, and so the Egyptians' firstborn will be killed as a result – comes full circle. Those who are willing to be Hashem's firstborn, to have that connection with him: they can survive. Those who are only firstborn of a human will perish.

Finally, Kri'as Yam Suf. If you read carefully, it's basically a repeat of Creation all over again: there's the wind blowing over the waters, the separation of light and dark in the form of the pillars of cloud and fire, the separation of waters, the drying of the seabed. Chazal are winking at us when they propose that there were fruit trees growing in the Yam Suf, as if to reassure us that this pattern is real: after all, vegetation was the next thing in the Creation story after the drying of the continents. The irony here is perfect: in this momentous display of Hashem's having created the world, the Egyptians, who refused to serve their Creator, drowned in the sea, as these signs of creation were removed and the waters crashed down on their head. You want to deny a world with a Creator? Then live in a world without one.


Summary

Your suggestion that "the original intention was for the Jews to go out of Egypt to receive the Torah, and then come back to convert the Egyptians." was indeed the Plan A. Paroh wasn't up to the task, so Plans B and C had to come into play, to ultimately show them, the Jews, and the world that "there is none like Hashem in all the land."

I've attempted to pose his basic theory, but I can't possibly do it full justice. There's so much more than what I've described here. I highly recommend that you take a look at his book if you're interested in pursuing this further.

  • Does R. Fohrman identify a particular source for the idea that "the original intention was for the Jews to go out of Egypt to receive the Torah, and then come back to convert the Egyptians."? – Alex Apr 2 at 1:04
  • @Alex It seems to be his own idea, developed based on many textual difficulties with the Pesukim and Chazal. – DonielF Apr 2 at 1:06
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We see from the dvar Torah from Rabbi Moshe Kormornick (www.shortvort.com) quoted above that the Jews definitely did not have any intention of returning to Egypt to convert the Egyptians!

We can also add a proof to this based on Hashem's words to Moshe: "You will not see Pharoah every again (alive)" We also have a debate in the Gemora whether Pharaoh was killed or not at the time of the splitting of the sea. (The machlokes is based on the verse which says "ad echad" which is either translated as "no one [survived]" or "one [survived]". This is a running machlokes through Shas.

Therefore, based on the Tanna who says Pharaoh did survive, how could it be that Moshe was going to go back to Egypt; Hashem had already said that he would never see Pharaoh again? Therefore, it must be that the Jews never had any intention of converting the Egytians after they left.

The questions perhaps is referring to the Jewish People's intention of returning to Egypt initially (as Moshe requested to leave for 3 days (to receive the Torah)) and to come back. However, it's not clear that their intention of returning was to convert the Egyptians, rather, to sustain themselves for the remaining time, as mentioned above in the ShortVort.com dvar Torah.

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A similar ideas is found here in this dvar Torah by Rabbi Moshe Kormornick of www.shortvort.com, a great Torah website with thousands of short vorts for every occasion - from Bris and sheva brachos to the Parsha! This is an article that Rabbi Kormornick emailed out in his weekly shortvort email. It's free to sign up at www.shortvort.com and highly recommended! See also - http://www.shortvort.com/parasha/shemos/bo and http://www.shortvort.com/parasha/shemos/beshalach

Hope this is useful... (the footnotes did not copy over but they are at the bottom!)

וַיֻּגַּד לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם כִּי בָרַח הָעָם And it was told to the king of Egypt that the People had fled… (14:5)

Moshe had asked Pharaoh to grant the Jewish People three days leave from Egypt to go into the wilderness to serve Hashem , and before they left, Moshe told everyone to borrow expensive vessels and clothes from the Egyptians . When, after three days the Jewish People were not returning, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he set chase against them. How could Moshe tell the Jewish people to borrow expensive vessels and clothes from the Egyptians before they left Egypt, and how could he ask Pharaoh for permission to take the whole Jewish People into the desert for three days in order to go and serve Hashem, surely they were never planning on returning?

Rav Shmuel Weinbaum presents the following luminous approach to answer these questions, using the words of the Ramban that the Jewish People would never be allowed to reach such a lowly level where they would be destroyed . Bearing this in mind, the Arizal explains that if the Jewish People would have spent one more moment in Egypt, they would never have been redeemed, for they would have entered the 50th Gate of Impurity . The Ohr Hachaim adds that this is true since they had not received the Torah, but if they would have had the Torah, then they could have even been redeemed from the lowest 50th level.
With this, we can understand why Moshe would ask to borrow from the Egyptians and why he asked for permission to leave Egypt for a short time.

It was already told to Avraham that the Jews would be in slavery for four hundred years . Seeing that they could not survive the remaining time in Egypt without the Torah, Moshe wanted to take the entire Jewish People to Sinai to receive the Torah, which was three days journey away, dressed in the world’s finest splendor as an honour to the Torah that they were to receive - and then to return to Egypt to finish their destined time of slavery!
Moshe had every intention of returning to Egypt and returning their precious items, however, after the final plague, Pharaoh told the Jews to leave and never to return there .
But, in order to explain how the Jews were not required to return the Egyptian’s possessions even though they did not have to return to the land, the Sforno explains that the Egyptians who went on to chase the Jews into the sea were those who lent their gold, silver and clothes and now feared that they would not have them returned. When these Egyptians were finally killed in the sea, the Jews were allowed to keep their possessions, as any victor is permitted to keep the spoil of those who wage battle with them .

Footnotes : Shemos 5:3 / Shemos 12:35 / Tsei Adir / This was a promise by Hashem after Avraham took Yitzchak to be sacrificed (Bereishis 22:16) / See the Siddur Arizal and the Haggadah Arizal (פסקא: מצה זו) / Ohr Hachaim (Shemos 3:8) / Bereishis 15:13 / See the Malbim (Shemos 11:1)

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    What does this have to do with converting the Egyptians? −1. – msh210 Nov 18 '12 at 1:02

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