Harnessing His Chariot
Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )
After Pharaoh's ignominious capitulation to God's demand to free Israel, God again hardened his heart. Pharaoh reversed his decision to allow his slaves their freedom and he gathered his army in hot pursuit of the escaping Israel. We then find the following verse:
"And he (Pharaoh) harnessed his chariot and his people he took with him."
And he (Pharaoh) harnessed his chariot - RASHI: He himself.
An obvious question: What has Rashi told us? Isn't it obvious that if the Torah says Pharaoh harnessed his chariot, this means that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot?
Why do think he made this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
Rashi's approach, in general, to understanding the Torah's words, is that when the Torah tells us something seemingly obvious and trivial, we must understand why it does so. This fact that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot is so trivial a piece of information that is would be unnecessary to record. He couldn't go to war without a chariot and a chariot cannot run without being harnessed up to its horses. He also probably put on his shoes (or sandals) in the morning, but that is not important to tell us, so why is the trite bit of information (that he harnessed his chariot) mentioned? This is what spurred Rashi (and the Midrash, his source) to comment here.
We can better appreciate Rashi's comment when we compare it with Ibn Ezra's comment on these words.
And he harnessed - With his command (instruction). Just as it says "And Solomon built the house ( i.e. the Temple)." (I Kings 6)
The Ibn Ezra is saying that just as Solomon didn't actually build the Temple with his own hands, he rather gave the command to do so, nevertheless the verse credits him with building it. So too here, Pharaoh didn't actually harness his own chariot ( a king wouldn't do such manual labor), rather he instructed his servants to do this. The verse credits him with doing so because it was done at his command.
Rashi clearly disagrees with Ibn Ezra (or more correctly, Ibn Ezra disagrees with Rashi. He lived after Rashi and saw Rashi's commentary.)
Why does Rashi take our verse literally?
And why does God deem it necessary to point out that Pharaoh himself was the harnesser?
An Answer: Because Rashi's view, as we said, is that relating such trivial narrative information is not the way of the Torah. By telling us that Pharaoh harnessed his own chariot, we learn of his burning, obsessive, hatred for the Jews and of his unquenchable desire to bring them back to slavery as soon as possible. He couldn't leave even this mundane and trivial task to his trusty servants. Rashi makes a similar comment regarding Bilaam (Numbers 22:21) when he rushed to curse the people of Israel. There Rashi adds the words "hatred causes one to disregard normal behavior."
Here too, Pharaoh's deep hatred caused him to act impulsively and improperly for a king. We find poetic justice in verse 15:19.
"When Pharaoh's horse and his chariot .came into the sea then Hashem turned the waters on them..."
That chariot and those horses that he so diligently prepared for the pursuit, got their just desserts. Indeed, hatred disrupts normal procedure and normal thinking.
May God deal with all mad haters in a similar way.
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