Parashat BeShalach begins with the story of Bnei Yisrael’s long and indirect journey to Israel. The Pasuk explains the reason Hashem sent them on a circuitous route, “VaYehi BeShalach Par’oh Et HaAm VeLo NaCham Elokim Derech Eretz Pelishtim Ki Karov Hu Ki Amar Elokim ‘Pen Yinacheim HaAm Bi’Rotam Milchamah VeShavu Mitzraymah,” “And it was when Par’oh sent away the nation, and Hashem didn’t direct them to the way of the Land of the Pelishtim because it was close, for Hashem said, ‘perhaps the people will reconsider when they see war and go back to Egypt’” (Shemot 13:17). Why does the Pasuk say, “Because it was close” when it should say something along the lines of “even though it was close?”
Rav Shmuel Goldin highlights two approaches in his book, Unlocking the Torah Text. Rashi and the Ibn Ezra (13:17 s.v. Ki Karov Hu) both say that “Ki” means “because.” Therefore, they would interpret this Pasuk as teaching us that the nation would be scared and would retreat because the Pelishtim were so close to Egypt. Instead of fighting, Bnei Yisrael would rather hide back in their “safe haven” of Egypt. This would be backpedalling from the goal of entering Eretz Yisrael.
Rashbam (13:17 s.v. Derech Eretz Pelishtim Ki Karov Hu) expands on this view in a slightly different way. He agrees that the proper translation is “because,” but he explains the Pasuk differently. He explains that they went the long way because the Pelishtim were so close to the other nations of Cana’an. Bnei Yisrael were not ready to fight them all; however, if they fought the Pelishtim, the rest of the Cana’ani nations would attack as well. If all the nations rose against our new nation, we would have run back to Mitzrayim in fear.
The Midrashic approach, presented by the Da’at Zekeinim MiBa’alei HaTosafot (Shemot 13:17), focuses on the word “Hu.” He does not interpret it to mean “it was close,” but rather “He was close.” The Pasuk is trying to show that Hashem loves His children so much that He wouldn’t want to even put them close to harm’s way. The other part of this approach is focused on the word “Karov.” The Da’at Zekeinim understands it to mean close ancestrally, not just geologically close, because the Pelishtim would fight to avenge their Egyptian relatives.
This shows us how strong human interaction is—it is even comparable to the level of interaction between us and Hashem! We should always try to strengthen our connection with Hashem. We Daven each day, we say Berachot, and we try to serve Hashem to the best of our abilities, but we can increase our connection with Hashem by doing Mitzvot that are Bein Adam LeChaveiro as well. We should strive to help others in need whenever we can, because just as Hashem values our connection with Him, he equally wants us to build and strengthen our relationships with our fellow human beings.