Parashat Beshlach / פרשת בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח
Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י ׀ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
Now when Pharaoh let the people go, 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.”
In my commentary on parashat Vayera I pointed out that the verb aleph/א mem/מ reish/ר means “speak”. I also mentioned that many classic commentaries understand it to mean speaking to specific individuals. If this is so then who is God speaking to in the verse above?
It is possible God is talking to other gods or accompanying angels. This wouldn’t be the first time God consulted with other unnamed or unspecified entities. In chapter one of Genesis God frequently “speaks” to unnamed others, for example 1: 26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..”.
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ
In Hebrew the name for God in this verse (and in this week’s portion) is Elohim/אלֹהים, which is the plural form of God. So it is possible God is talking to other divine entities.
Alternatively, perhaps God is speaking to himself. I get the sense that God is a bit confused as to how best to lead/instruct the Israelites as they are fleeing Egypt. The hint of this for me is in the root letters נ.ח.ם. /nun chet/mem which carries three different potential meanings: change one’s mind, guide and comfort. It is as if God wants to offer comfort to the Israelites by leading away from war lest they change their mind. Thus, this verse reflects an internal dialogue God is having with himself.
Other Gods? God talking to himself? This is not quite the Torah I was taught as a child. How about you?