This Shabbos we read Parshas Beshalach. The Parsha talks about the splitting of the sea for the Jews, the drowning of the Egyptian army, and the manna that the Jews ate for 40 years in the desert. In the second verse of the Parsha, as the Torah describes the Jews leaving Egypt, it says “And chamushim the Jews went out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:18). What is the meaning of the word chamushim? Our Sages point to the Hebrew word Chamisha – which means five, and teach us that only one of every five Jews made it out of Egypt. The other 4/5 were so wicked that they did not want to leave Egypt, and they died during the plague of darkness.
The classic commentator Yonasan ben Euziel explains the word chamushim in a seemingly different way. He says that each of the Jewish people left Egypt with five children. What does this mean? How can we understand this statement that every single Jew had exactly five children? Is it possible that no one had six or four children?
In a brilliant and most beautiful explanation, the Beer Yosef tells us that the two ideas relating to the number 5 are really one. In fact, 4/5 of the Jewish people had sunk to such a low level that they did not deserve to leave Egypt. They died during the plague of darkness, shortly before the Jewish people left Egypt. However, their children were young and innocent. They had not sinned, did not deserve to die, and in fact lived on. This left 4 of every 5 Jewish families without parents. How would these children survive? Who would lead them when they left Egypt?
Often when a family goes on a trip, they may decide to take a neighbor’s child who can’t afford such a trip for a day or two with them. However, to adopt an entire family of children is a very major and life changing move. When the Jews left Egypt, they decided as a people that the remaining 1/5 of people who had survived and still had their families intact, would each adopt four families of children whose parents had died. The amazing kindness of every single Jewish family, to adopt four other families of children to ensure that they would have a normal upbringing, was truly amazing. Indeed, according to this explanation, this is what the prophet refers to when he say “I remember the kindness of your youth (when you just became a people)” (Jeremiah 2). It refers to this amazing kindness done by all Jewish people in helping the Jewish children all be brought up in a proper family setting. This merit of being chamushim and of caring for each other, stands for us eternally. The power of looking beyond our personal needs and caring for those of others was thus made part of us from the very day that we became a people.