In the Torah section of B’Shalach, we read (Sh’mot 13:18), “And the children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt.” On this verse, the great exegete R. Shlomo Yitchaki (1040 – 1105), known as Rashi, cites a comment found in the Mekhilta and Tanchuma on this verse: The word for “armed” in Hebrew, chamushim, is related to the Hebrew word for the number five, chamisha. This alludes to the fact that no more than one out of every five, one-fifth, of the Israelites actually left Egypt. The remainder perished during the plague of darkness. In fact, on the first verse describing the plague of darkness (Sh’mot 10:22), Rashi notes: “There were among Israel of that generation wicked individuals who did not wish to depart [from Egypt] and they died during the three days of darkness.”
Why, one may ask, would anyone not wish to escape the servitude and slavery of Egypt? What could they have been thinking? An answer to this question may be found in the analysis of another question related to the matza that the Israelites ate upon leaving Egypt and which we continue to eat in commemoration thereof every year when we celebrate our Exodus on the holiday of Pesach (Passover): In his Outlooks and Insights (p.96), R. Zev Leff notes, “It could be asked why a richer, more tasty cake was not chosen as a symbol of our redemption from the bitter slavery of Egypt. The answer is that we did not cease to be slaves with our redemption.” R. Leff goes on to point out our Sages’ comment (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 14a) on the verse in Tehillim 113:1, “Praise G-d, give praise, you servants of G-d.” Our Sages say that we were, at first, servants of Pharaoh and now we are servants of G-d. Consequently, the nation of Israel did not leave from servitude to freedom, but, rather, remained servants under a new master, The Master of the universe. Therefore, the symbol of our redemption is matza, bread of slavery, which emphasizes that we never really left servitude.
In fact, G-d states the aforementioned thought quite openly later on in the Torah (Vayikra 25:55): “For the children of Israel are servants to Me, they are My servants, whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt.” As R. Leff puts it, “Our freedom is the freedom to be G-d’s slaves.”
It is this idea that those of the Israelites who wished to remain in Egypt could not come to terms with. They wanted total freedom – “no strings attached” – with no one to answer to, and anything short of that was unacceptable to them. They could not see the true freedom that they were being offered, the freedom to do that which is necessary to provide everlasting bliss – clinging to the Divine Presence. They spurned G-d’s gift of true redemption and true life. These individuals were too blind at this crucial juncture in time, which spelled for them no hope. They refused true life and could, therefore, not mix with those who desired it. Like those who refused to submit to G-d’s supremacy, the cruel Egyptians, who refused to see the truth that was apparent before them, they were eliminated.
Those Israelites, however, who did leave, were armed with the truth – the truth of true redemption. They were given true redemption, redemption from false gods and false masters. They were given redemption from the gods of lust and greed, the masters of materialism and hedonism. Armed with the truth, they willingly and gratefully embarked on a journey to serve the true Master whom it is incumbent upon us to serve for our own good, the Master of the universe. May we all learn a lesson from our redemption from Egypt. May we all see the truth, accept the truth and come armed with the truth before our final redemption, when the Master of the universe sends His messiah to establish, for once and for all, His kingdom on Earth and may none of us, unlike those Israelites who died in Egypt, forfeit the opportunity.