A large part of redeeming the Jews from Egypt was getting rid of their slave mentality as my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz zt”l explained in a shmuz on the 4 types of redemption used to free the Jewish people: והוצאתי ,והצלחתי ,גאלתי, ולקחתי. “There are four redemptions here: ‘I will bring you out,’ ‘I will save you,’ ‘I will redeem you,’ ‘and I will take you’”…'” (Shemos Rabba 6:4.) The Sforno explains that at first the slavery will end, then they will leave the borders of Egypt. Then comes the drowning of the Egyptians, because after the death of their masters they will not simply be runaway slaves, and, lastly, they will be anointed as Hashem’s nation at Mount Sinai. The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l asked: why did they have to see the Egyptian’s demise to feel absolutely free? Weren’t they in fact princes from a chashuv [prestigious] lineage of illustrious forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who were unjustly enslaved and incarcerated? Hashem, out of His love and care for His children, seemingly made it abundantly clear that they were not slaves anymore, by stifling and demoralizing the Egyptians masters with the ten plagues. They even officially stopped working for the Egyptians starting from the first plague; so when the Jewish people actually left Egypt, they should certainly have felt free. Why then was the drowning of the Egyptians a necessary part of their freedom? The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l answered that we see from here how hard it is to change our feelings and impressions of ourselves. The Jews felt like freed slaves but not free men upon leaving Egypt. Only after seeing their Egyptian taskmasters washed up on the shore Red Sea after all the miracles did they truly change their self-image.
In a similar vein, but one step before that, the Ralbag relates in this week’s Torah portion of Beshalach that “if one is trying to get something done then he should do whatever is needed to guard from anything that might get in the way of what he is seeking and to do all within his power to reach his ultimate goal. Therefore, we see that when Hashem wanted to take the Jews as His nation, and keep His oath that He made with the Forefathers, He put a lot of thought and wisdom into ensuring that it happens.
This is why Hashem created incredible wonders; to show them that He is master over everything. And when Hashem took them out of Egypt, He didn’t want to take them to Eretz Canaan in the most direct way, even though it is pretty close to Egypt, because the Jews were not learned in war, and perhaps they would have become scared of war and return to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem took them in such a roundabout way in order to extend their journey. This is also why Hashem loaded them with provisions when they left Egypt, leaving with all their flock, and with many treasures they took with them out of Egypt. This was in order for them not to be too embarrassed to make them want to return to Egypt. For if some of their flock would have been left in Egypt, maybe it would have been a reason for them to be worried about the flock that was left and return to Egypt. The reason why they took all the silver and gold and clothing with them from Egypt was also in order to distance them from the possibility of returning to Egypt, in order so that they won’t need [to feel indebted to] return what they borrowed, with the fact that they were absolutely embarrassed about running away with what they borrowed, since they are only giving back bad for the good the Egyptians did for them by lending them their best clothing and utensils.
The reason why Hashem took them on such a long and winding route up the Red Sea was in order that they could see the miracles and wonders of the splitting of the sea, and perfect for them the belief in Hashem and His servant Moshe. Granted, the redemption from Egyptians was complete and there was no reason to fear that the Egyptians would run after them. (In fact, later on the Ralbag says the only reason why the Egyptians pursued the Jews at all was because Hashem orchestrated by putting into Pharaoh’s head that Pharaoh should run after them in order to show the wonder that would take place at the splitting of the sea, in order to perfect their belief in Hashem). For this reason, too, Hashem set up constant great wonders in the desert, such as the Clouds of Glory in the day and the Pillar of Fire by night, in order for them to actualize the power of Hashem and His Supremacy; to do whatever He wishes to do. In this way, the Jews would feel subjugated to walk in the way of His Torah in a fashion that they will be for Him a nation and Him their G-D.” (Click here fr Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag emphasized numerous times that Hashem did what He could to be sure the Jews would not want to return to Egypt. But why would they want to go back to Egypt? They were treated so nastily, persecuted, subjugated to inhumane torturous labor, and even if the Egyptians wouldn’t enslave them again, still just being haunted by the memories in the land should keep them away from going back there. In any event, Egypt was left a wasteland, desolate and charred by the plagues that wreaked havoc on the land. So why would they want to go back? Even if they went back to Goshen, where most of them lived, it was a ghetto. They have an opportunity to find a bigger and better place as the Holy One, Master of the Universe, Father in Heaven had promised them; so why should there be any doubt in anyone’s mind that they would want to go back to Egypt once they left?
We see from here how hard it is to just pick up and leave after being settled in a place for so long. Even if that place was abusive and a horror, it was home, and it’s hard to just leave and stay away. People might think to themselves, ‘Maybe it would be different if we went back, it will be better, like it used to be originally.’ Any excuse to be back to where they grew up and were settled. That is the normal psychology of a human being, to appreciate where they once lived and were settled.
This is why Hashem couldn’t just take them out of Egypt but had to ensure they would not want to go back, just as He had to dispel their slave mentality even after they were free from slavery of Egyptian bondage.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder