A Future of Freedom
The first verse in the Torah portion of Beshalach seems to contradict the previous verse, which concluded the Torah portion of Bo. Here, in Beshalach, the Torah states, “And it was when Pharaoh sent out the Jewish People.” Pharaoh sent them out. But the previous verse, in Bo, states regarding tefillin, “And it should be a sign upon your hand and totafot between your eyes that Hashem took us out of Egypt with a strong hand.” It says that Hashem took us out and not that Pharaoh sent us out.
So, which was it? Did Pharaoh send us out or did Hashem take us out? Or are we able to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory statements? (It should be noted that the event of Hashem taking us out of Egypt is stated numerous times in the Torah, including in the verses of the Shema Yisrael prayer, and is central to the history and essence of the Jewish People.)
The first verse of Megillat Esther begins, “Vayehi b’yemi Achashverosh — And it was in the days of Achashverosh” Rabbi Levi, or some say Rabbi Yonason, said, “We have a tradition from the men of the Great Assembly that anywhere it says vayehi is an expression of tzar — pain. I have heard in the name of the Vilna Gaon that taking the future tense of yehi — “it will be” — and turning it into the past tense with a prefixed vav signals that the past is being projected into the future. That is sad and painful. The future is being limited and confined by the past. Good does not come from that.
Applying this to the beginning of Beshalach, one could say that the Jewish People were looking at their future freedom with the perspective of their past, from their previous point of view as slaves. Just as they were slaves to Pharaoh, they were freed from bondage by Pharaoh. And if he could free them, he could enslave them again. So, their freedom was freedom with trepidation. Only when they lost all hope of escape on the Egyptian banks of the Reed Sea, with the sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them, and chose to follow Nachshon into the Sea with their total faith in Hashem — only then did they become truly free from the mentality of slavery and ready to accept a new Master at Mount Sinai — the One Who truly took them out of from Egypt.