God has pummeled the Egyptian Empire with the Ten Plagues. The nascent Jewish nation has now been freed by its oppressors. It has one stop to make, at Mount Sinai, to receive God’s law, before journeying to the Promised Land of Canaan.
It seems there is a short, direct route to get to their destination, through the land of the Philistines. However, God doesn’t take the Jews through the land of the Philistines. The verse tells us:
“God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
The Bat Ayin on Exodus 13:17 wonders why, after the Jews witness such momentous miracles, would they have any concerns about war and having to return to Egypt. He answers that in fact, there wasn’t a serious threat. God would not have let them come to harm nor would have allowed them to return to Egypt. Nonetheless, in God’s outpouring of love for the Jewish people, He wanted to keep them far from not only any potential harm, but even from thoughts and fear of harm.
He compares the love of God for the Jewish people to that of a parent for their child. God would go to great extremes to protect the Jewish people at this juncture. God wanted the Jewish people’s complete faith in Him and the security He would provide. For them to have any doubts or lack of faith would be a deficiency. Not only would it be a deficiency, but it would also be sinful. In order to prevent this sin of the mind, the sin of doubt in God, God took the Jewish people the long way out of Egypt. He didn’t take them through the land of the Philistines so they would not even contemplate the possibility of war and so not even a sliver of doubt in God would enter their minds in this formative stage of the nation.
May we strengthen our faith in God and remove doubts of His love for us, even when it’s not always so clear.
Dedication: To the memory of the terror victims murdered last Shabbat in Jerusalem.