This week's parsha opens with this verse:
שמות פרק יג
(יז) וַיְהִי בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת הָעָם וְלֹא נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים פֶּן יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה:
17) And it was that when Pharaoh sent the nation that the Lord did not conduct them by way of the land of the Philistines, for it was close, for the Lord said, "Lest the nation regret when they see war and they return to Egypt."
For the moment, I want to focus on the word בשלח b'shalach, which is conveniently also the name of our parsha. The root word shalach means 'sent.' This word has played prominently in this story with Moshe and Pharaoh all the way back to when God first appeals to Moshe to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
Before we go all the way back, though, let's ask a question: Why did God need/want Pharaoh to send the Children of Israel out of Egypt anyway? I think it is safe to say that God could have brought them out Himself in any number of ways.
Even if we set that question aside, it is still worth noting that the verse frames the exodus from Egypt as being effected if not initiated by Pharaoh. The verse could have said "And came about when Moshe led the Children of Israel out of Egypt" or "When God took the C of I out of Egypt" or any number of other variations.
Apparently the fact that Pharaoh sent the C of I out of Egypt is particularly significant.
The Sages, in fact, tell us that because Pharaoh sent the C of I out of Egypt, the Egyptians were rewarded! The M'chilta states:
מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בשלח - מסכתא דויהי פתיחתא
הפה שאמר גם את ישראל לא אשלח (שמות ה ב) הוא הפה שאמר אנכי אשלח אתכם (שם /שמות/ ח כד) מה שכר נטלו על כך לא תתעב מצרי (דברים כג ח)
The mouth which stated "I will also not send out Israel"(Ex. 5:2) is the same mouth which said "I will send you."(Ex. 8:24). What reward did he take for this? "You shall not despise the Egyptian." (Deut. 23:8).
The M'chilta goes on to bring two more examples of Pharaoh's intransigence, his subsequent bending to God's will and ultimately the reward he earned for the Egyptian people because of his capitulation.
So not only does God somehow need Pharaoh to send the C of I out of Egypt, but he ultimately rewards him for doing so, even though it is clear that Pharaoh carries out God's wishes only after the most extreme duress.
Tomorrow we'll look at possible reasons for why God has to have Pharaoh do this sending, why the reward and what 'sending' means anyway.