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Shemos"So they said, 'The G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us now go for a three-day journey in the wilderness and we shall bring offerings to Hashem, our G-d, lest he strike us dead with the plague or the sword'" (Shemos 5:3).
I was very happy to get a phone call from my daughter Esti, who told me that her 6 year old daughter Adina asked her a very good question.
"Mommy," she asked, "are we allowed to lie to a Goy (a non-Jew)?"
"No," her mother answered her. "Because even if he does things that are not proper, we have to do only what is right."
"Then I have a question," Adina continued. "The teacher in Kindergarten told us that Moshe Rabbeinu told Par'o that he wants to take the Jews out of Egypt and go to the Desert to serve Hashem for three days. But really, he intended to go away for good and take the Jews to the Land of Israel. So how did Moshe lie to Par'o?"
I was very happy to hear that my little grandchild was sensitive to the importance of always telling the truth.
My mentor, HaGaon Harav Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l, who was known as the "Pillar of Truth," was also bothered by this question: How could Moshe lie to Par'o? There are those who explain that in this situation of life and death it was permissible to lie, but these answers would not satisfy Reb Ya'akov. He needed an interpretation which would conclude that Moshe did not lie at all. And, indeed, Reb Ya'akov worked one out.
Actually, Reb Ya'akov prepared the ground to explain several other difficult passages in Tanach, but I will only briefly repeat the part that pertains to our parashah.
At the "Covenant of the Parts," Hashem indicated to our Patriarch Avraham that his descendents would struggle in exile for four hundred years. In actuality, though, we left Egypt after only 210 years. Why and how was this so? Commentators explain the "why" as follows. After Ya'akov and his sons died, the Jews in Egypt were very much influenced by Egyptian culture. They served idolatry and imitated almost all of the despicable ways of their hosts. This continued until they fell to the 49th level of decadence. Had they remained there any longer, they would not have been eligible to deserve the Redemption.
Therefore, there was no choice but to take them out before the designated time.
The "how" is explained in various ways. One way is that Hashem considered the beginning of the Exile from the time that Avraham had descendents; in other words from the time that Yitzchak was born. Another explanation is that Hashem reckoned the intensity of the bondage so that each year counted as more than one.
The Kabbalists teach that because we left Egypt before the time was ripe, we had to make it up in future exiles. Therefore, it was not really so good for us to leave early. However, as we just learned, there was no other choice for had we remained any longer we would never have been redeemed.
Reb Ya'akov came up with an ingeniously novel idea. Reb Ya'akov taught that Moshe did not lie at all. The original plan, which would have solved all of the problems, was to take the Jews out to the desert for three days. There, he would conduct a super "seminar" to "reJewvenate" the people. He would strengthen their faith in Hashem, abolish idolatry, and cleanse them from all of the impurities of Egypt. They would rise in levels of holiness and then return to Egypt and complete the entire 400 years and then be redeemed forever!
Had Par'o not been stubborn, and had he agreed to the plan, they would have sojourned in the desert and returned to bondage. But, because he refused to comply, Hashem brought upon him plague after plague until, in desperation, his people forced him to free the slaves and rid Egypt of the troublesome Jews. Then, they were able to leave for good and go to the Land of Israel.
According to this explanation, Moshe never lied to Par'o at all.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network