Egyptians Were Preoccupied
This week's parsha, Masay, is the last parsha in the book of Bamidbar. The parsha begins by listing the various journey stops that the Israelites made during their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years.
Rashi helps us focus on the essential point.
"And Egypt was burying those whom Hashem had smitten, every firstborn, and Hashem inflicted punishments on their gods."
Egypt was burying - RASHI: They were preoccupied with their grief.
What would you ask here?
A Question: Rashi tells us that the Egyptians were preoccupied with their grief. What is Rashi's point? What does it matter what they were doing?
What's bothering Rashi here?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: The Torah is telling us of the journeys of Israel. What has the fact that the Egyptians were burying their dead have to do with that theme? We know that the firstborn Egyptians were killed, and we can assume that the Egyptians buried them. After all, Egyptians were famous for their burial ceremonies. Take the pyramids, for example. These were mammoth tombs, which testifies to the importance of burials for the ancient Egyptian society. But what is the relevance of this to the main theme of the Exodus? Why the need for the Torah to tell us that the Egyptians were burying their dead? This is what Rashi sees as problematic.
How does Rashi's brief commentary deal with this?
An Answer: The previous verse said: "The Children of Israel went out triumphantly, before the eyes of the Egyptians." Rashi tells us that Israel was able to escape triumphantly "before the eyes of the Egyptians" because the Egyptians were preoccupied with other, more pressing matters – burying their many dead. Rashi's words explain the significance of the Torah's words "Egyptians were burying their dead," i.e. they were too busy with their mourning rites to be concerned with the loss of their slave force. This shows us the clever interweaving of themes in God's plan. Not only did He punish the Egyptians for the enslavement, He also used this as a cover for the Great Escape of His People.