A huge multitude was came out of Egypt by the hand of G”d and led by Moses. Fearful, still unable to cast of the mindset of slaves, they look upon the peoples of the land G”d says they are to occupy and see them as giants. For this lack of faith, they are denied the chance to go into the good land. At least their children were to inherit, and we inherit as well, lo these many generations past.
Yet I cannot remained unmoved when I read in this week’s parasha, Pinkhas, that, after a census was taken of all present:
63 These are the persons enrolled by Moses and Eleazar the priest who registered the Israelites on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho. 64 Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had said of them, "They shall die in the wilderness." Not one of them survived, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. (JPS)
None of them, save Caleb and Joshua (and of course, Moses, who would not, however, get to enter the promised land for his own shortcomings.) Such a casual mention, these many thousands of people, who gave their lives in the wilderness so that we might live. Perhaps not the sort of heroic sacrifice or even a martyr’s death we might find worthy of remembrance, so it’s easy to overlook. Some died in minor conflicts and skirmishes, to be sure, but most probably died a natural death.
Why should we think of them, remember them, even revere them? After all, it’s not like they had to fight their way out of Egypt. G”d did the work, and even disposed the Egyptians to allow the Israelites to loot and plunder and their way out. When threatened with certain death at the Yam Suf, G”d provided yet another miracle.
Yet something calls out to me to reflect on these countless thousands of Israelites who made it out of Egypt but never made it to Canaan. In a strange sort of way, we wouldn’t be here without them.
I hope you will join me in reflecting on these thousands, a few named, most nameless, and thank them for simply living on, even when the promise of entering the good land was taken from them. They did not turn back, they did not give up. Oh sure, they argued and bickered a bit, but then again, that is our nature.
So, whatever their number, be it 600,000, or more, or even substantially less – to all those who came out of Egypt to the promise of freedom, and tasted only the freedom of the wilderness and years of nomadic wandering, I say thanks.
©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester