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    Jumping the gun – Bo

    The Israelites leaving Egypt, from the Golden Haggadah,Catalonia, c.1300

    The Israelites leaving Egypt, from the Golden Haggadah, Catalonia, c.1300

    There is a rabbinic tradition that the tribe of Ephraim were in such a hurry to be free from slavery that they left Egypt thirty years before the appointed time (they had misunderstood a passage in Gen. 15:13 and miscalculated the date of the deliverance).

    They did not get very far. A troop of Philistines attacked them near Gath and left 180,000 (other views say 200,000 or 300,000) Ephraimites dead. The bodies of the slain remained by the wayside.

    At the time of the Exodus their bones were still strewn there, but so they would not discourage the rest of the Israelites, God led the people through the wilderness by a circuitous route.

    Ten Ephraimites had survived and they found their way back to Egypt and told the story of what had happened. Ephraim himself, the son of Jacob, was devastated, and mourned for his tribe many days (I Chron. 17:22). Those who died were, however, revived by the prophet Ezekiel (Sanh. 92a).

    The Ephraimites are an example of undue impatience. The Talmud says, kol hadochek et hasha’ah, hasha’ah dochakto – “if someone forces the hour, the hour forces him” (Ber. 64a).

    During the Egyptian bondage, who wasn’t impatient for the suffering to be over? But the set time had not yet arrived.

    When one is sick, who isn’t impatient to be fit and well? When one is a child, who isn’t impatient to be grown up? If one is a scientist, who isn’t impatient to get the experiment over? Isn’t an activist impatient to achieve victory, to win the election, to put their ideas into action?

    Jews are the world’s experts at impatience. They were constantly in a hurry for the long-awaited Messiah to come, for the prophecies of redemption to come true.

    They were often tempted to follow false messiahs in the hope that utopia was just round the corner. But they learned the lesson that there is a Divine time-table, and the redemption will come in God’s good time. The Almighty says, b’itto achishennah – “I am the Lord; in its time will I hasten it” (Isa. 60:22).

    All the same, the years of patient waiting must not be passive. The Jewish role is not only to maintain faith in God and His will, but to deserve the redemption when it comes and in the meantime to be witnesses in the world to the Divine teachings of truth, justice and peace.

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