The second Pasuk of this week’s Parsha states, “Vachamushim Alu Bnei Yisrael Mayeretz Mitzrayim.” Rashi explains this Pasuk in two ways. First, quoting Targum Onkelos, he suggests that Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim equipped with weapons that were later used to fight against Amalek, Midyan, and other various enemies they encountered on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that when Bnei Yisrael would be in the desert there would be no opportunity to obtain military supplies. Thus, it was necessary for them to acquire weapons before they left.
Rav Hirsch asks, in turn, why the preceding Pasuk stated that it was necessary for Bnei Yisrael to avoid war if indeed Bnei Yisrael were armed and seemingly ready to fight. He answers by saying, “It was not the sword at their side that was lacking, but the heart underneath that failed…they lacked [as yet] the spirit of trustfully putting themselves in God’s hands under any and all circumstances.” This explanation makes it somewhat easier to understand Rashi’s second interpretation of the Pasuk. Rashi explains that perhaps “Chamushim” refers to the amount of people who left Mitzrayim. In Parshat Bo, Rashi teaches that one of the reasons for Makat Choshech was to kill all those Jews who were not willing to leave Mitzrayim without allowing the Mitzrim to realize that the Jews were being punished as well. Yet, it is not until this week’s Parsha that we realize the magnitude of the number of Jews who were in fact wiped out. The Mechilta and the Midrash Tanchuma explain “Chamushim” to mean that a staggering four fifths of Bnei Yisrael were killed, and only one fifth had enough faith in Hashem to leave Mitzrayim. It is astonishing that so many people were willing to stay in Mitzrayim, where they were enslaved and killed, rather than to go into Eretz Yisrael as a free nation.
However, it is clear from Rav Hirsch’s answer that the problem was not that they were settled in the land, nor that they did not want to leave their vast riches behind, for they had no worldly possessions and nothing to live for in Mitzrayim as slaves. The problem that Bnei Yisrael faced was their unwillingness to put their complete faith in Hashem. Though they were enslaved in Mitzrayim throughout the ten Makkot, Bnei Yisrael nonetheless received three meals a day and enjoyed a great measure of autonomy in regards to their daily life and decision making. Consequently, they were unwilling to leave this relative state of independence for a complete dependence on Hashem. Bnei Yisrael were not yet willing to leave the land where the Nile was sure to overflow and sustain them for a land where their sustenance was to come only on condition that they were good. This slave mentality led to many of the hardships that they would face while in the desert for so many years.