In Parashat BeShalach, Hashem leads Bnei Yisrael to the Yam Suf, skirting the Pelishtim’s land. The reason for their indirect route, according to Rashi (Shemot 13:17 s.v. BiR’otam Milchamah), is that they may want to return to Egypt; the more roundabout the route, the less likely Bnei Yisrael will return. We can ask an obvious question: Why would Bnei Yisrael want to return to Egypt? Weren’t they enslaved and horribly tortured down there? Are they exhibiting some sort of loyalty to Par’oh, or is there some other motivation behind this inclination of theirs to return?
Perhaps Bnei Yisrael want to return to Egypt because they desire comfort and security. They like relying on the tangible Nile River more than looking to a supernatural source for water. They also like the very physical meat that they got in Egypt more than the strange and heavenly Man that they are fed in the Midbar. Even though they had to work hard in Mitzrayim, they feel that life in Egypt is more convenient than life in the desert.
We can learn an important lesson from what Bnei Yisrael value when they leave Mitzrayim and then decide that they want to revert to their old lives. They value the materialism that Egypt offers over the spiritualism that Hashem offers. Instead, they should be glad to be rid of Mitzrayim and should realize that in their lives, as in ours, they must integrate the physical (Gashmiyut) with the spiritual (Ruchniyut). For example, many Jews purchase a very beautiful Etrog for Sukkot. It is a Hidur Mitzvah and the money they invest into the Mitzvah merges the physical with the spiritual. Unfortunately, Bnei Yisrael are often affected by the outside world and forget that there is more to life than just the temporary, physical, under-the-sun universe. They don’t understand that the two should come together as one. Let us learn from the poor judgment of our ancestors and make sure that no matter how exciting and enticing the physical world may be, we appreciate that none of it is possible or meaningful without spiritual backing.