Parashat Beshalah 5767 / February 3, 2007
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Wars of the Gods
Prof. (Emeritus) Haim Genizi
Department of General History
The Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea (Exodus 14:2).
Why did the Holy One, blessed be He, specify so many landmarks to indicate the route along which Moses was to take the Israelites back?
1) “before Pi-hahiroth”;
2) “between Migdol and the sea”;
3) “before Baal-zephon”;
4) “you shall encamp facing it, by the sea.”
Why did Moses need such
explicit instructions? Moreover, who
was Baal-zephon, and what was he doing in
Let us begin with the
last question. It was customary in
the world at that time to place idols of deities at crossroads so that they
would bless the wayfarers and protect them.
Even today, touring
In commanding Moses to
turn back and encamp facing Baal-zephon, the Lord sought to mislead
Pharaoh: “Pharaoh will say of the
Israelites, ‘They are astray in the land’” (Ex. 14:3); Pharaoh would think that
although the Lord was stronger than the gods of Egypt and therefore succeeded
in destroying them, He would not be able to overcome Baal-zephon, who was a
Mekhilta, cited by Rashi, s.v.
“before Baal-zephon,” gives an interpretation along these lines:
“It [the idol of Baal-zephon] alone had
been left of all the gods of
Now we can understand
the need for so many landmarks being mentioned in G-d’s instructions to
Moses. Moses was about to take the
Israelites out of
Ba’al of the Ugaritic texts, who dwelt in the heights of the north.
Hakham surmises that perhaps a cultic site had been built to Baal-zephon near
the narrow projection of the Red Sea, since the Sidonians
(Canaanite-Phoenicians) were seafarers who used to sail in the
 Similarly, the servants of the King of Aram thought, “Their G-d is a G-d of mountains; that is why they got the better of us. But if we fight them in the plain, we will surely get the better of them” (I Kings 20:23).
Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus, trans. Walter Jacob (New
Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, 1992), p. 391, translates this way:
“The wilderness has closed in on them
– the subject here was Baal-zephon, the Egyptian idol. He, along with Migdol
and Pi-hahiroth, sealed off