"They Shall Know that I Am the Lord" ֠
Yeshivat Har Etzion
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
Shall Know that I Am the Lord"
Bnei Yisrael Enter the Desert
Shall Know that I Am the Lord"
Parashat Beshalach opens a new chapter in the history of Am Yisrael: the nation, freed from Egyptian slavery, proceeds into the wilderness. How does the Torah choose to describe this historical moment of the actual Exodus, the doorway into a new era?
"And it was, when Pharaoh had let the people go "
This is most surprising. Is this an accurate way to present the Exodus from Egypt? Was it Pharaoh who "let the people go"? Surely a more appropriate description would be, "And it was, when God brought Israel out of Egypt "! By what merit is Pharaoh considered the one to have brought Israel into freedom? It is clear that the Exodus was brought about by God, with a strong arm and with signs and wonders. Pharaoh would hear nothing of letting the people go; he opposed their leaving with all his might, and eventually sent them out against his will and with no choice. Why, then, does the Torah present the Jewish people as being "let go" by Pharaoh?
"God took us out of Egypt"
If we look at the verses preceding this, at the end of Parashat Bo, we see that the Torah also presents the Exodus in another way. At the end of chapter 12, the following verse summarizes the events:
"And it was in the midst of that day that God took Bnei Yisrael out of the land of Egypt by their hosts." (12:51)
Immediately thereafter, at the beginning of chapter 13, we find two commandments, both related to the commemoration of these events: the Festival of Matzot, and the redemption of the firstborn sons. These commandments are meant to remind Israel that it was God Who brought them out of Egypt:
"Moshe said to the nation: Remember this day that you came out of Egypt, from the house of slavery, for with strength of hand God brought you out of there; and you shall not eat leavened foods
And it shall be, when your son asks you in the future, saying: What is this? Then you shall say to him: With strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.
And it was, when Pharaoh nearly did not let us go, that the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of men to the firstborn of beasts; therefore I offer to the Lord every male that opens the womb, but every firstborn of my children I redeem.
And it shall be as a sign upon your hand and for frontlets between your eyes, for with strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt." (13:3, 14-16)
Three times the Torah emphasizes that the Exodus was brought about by God, with "strength of hand."
In addition, the Torah makes Pharaoh's role in the story perfectly clear: Pharaoh "nearly did not" let the nation go which would seem to contradict the idea expressed in the first verse of Parashat Beshalach. Did Pharaoh let Bnei Yisrael go, as described in verse 17, or did he oppose letting them go, with God taking them out with a strong arm as described in verses 14-16?
A review of parashot Shemot-Vaera-Bo makes it clear that Pharaoh opposed letting Bnei Yisrael go; it was only God's strong arm that eventually led to the Exodus. Hence, the description at the end of Parashat Bo fits the process most accurately.
"And it was when Pharaoh let the people go"
Let us take another look at the preceding parashot, and try to understand Pharaoh's role in letting Bnei Yisrael go.
In God's first revelation to Moshe, at the Burning Bush, Moshe is told:
" I have surely seen the suffering of My people who are in Egypt
I shall go down to save them from the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land
Now go and I shall send you to Pharaoh, and bring My people, Bnei Yisrael, out of Egypt." (3:7-10)
Clearly, it is God Who seeks to bring Israel out of Egypt (it is certainly not Pharaoh's initiative). It is equally clear that the Exodus from Egypt is going to happen by means of God's active intervention; this is the meaning of God "coming down."
When God comes down to save Israel, He could command them to flee, and help them in their escape. He could also perform a miracle such that they would leave Egypt with no connection to Pharaoh or his will.
But God tells Moshe, "Go and I shall send you to Pharaoh, and bring out My people Israel from Egypt." From the outset, God lets Moshe know that the way to bring Israel out of Egypt is by "I shall send you to Pharaoh." Only through communicating with Pharaoh, only by means of Pharaoh, will the initiative of bringing Israel out of Egypt be accomplished.
Accordingly, while still at the Burning Bush, Moshe is commanded to ask Pharaoh for permission to leave Egypt:
" and you shall come you and the elders of Israel to the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him: The Lord God of the Hebrews appeared to us, and now please let us go a journey of three days in the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.
But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, unless by a mighty hand.
So I shall stretch out My hand and smite Egypt with all of My wonders which I shall perform in its midst, and thereafter he shall let you go." (18-20)
God informs Moshe in advance that Pharaoh will not accede to the request, and therefore there will be a need for a strong arm. Ultimately, "Thereafter he shall let you go" Pharaoh himself will agree.
Indeed, Moshe presents himself before Pharaoh and asks that he let Israel go:
"After that Moshe and Aharon came and they said to Pharaoh: So says the Lord God of Israel: Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.
And Pharaoh said: Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor shall I let Israel go." (5:1-2)
The expression "letting go" appears three times in this exchange, and it is clear that this is the crux of the dialogue. Moshe asks that Pharaoh let the nation go, while Pharaoh insists that he will not let them go.
The idea of Pharaoh "letting Israel go" is repeated over and over throughout the events leading up to the Exodus. In all of Moshe's appearances before Pharaoh, this request/demand is presented. In God's words, too, there is repeated emphasis on Pharaoh being asked to let them go but not agreeing to, and that ultimately he is destined to let them go.
The signs and the plagues are meant to lead Pharaoh to let Bnei Yisrael go. So long as Pharaoh himself does not let them go, Bnei Yisrael do not leave Egypt.
The root of the expression "let go" sh-l-ch appears a total of 60 (!) times in these parashot. On most of these occasions it appears in the sense of Bnei Yisrael being let out of Egypt by Pharaoh: "I say to you, Let my son go, that he may serve Me. And if you refuse to let him go " (4:34). The expression "Let My people go" itself appears seven times. There are also promises on Pharaoh's part to let Israel go, which are not fulfilled.
But the root sh-l-ch also appears in the story in other senses, not necessarily connected to the verb "to let go." Through such intensive use of the verb sh-l-ch, the Torah emphasizes that the "letting go" is a central issue in the story of the Exodus. Therefore, it is no surprise that when Bnei Yisrael finally leave Egypt, our parasha describes it with the words, "And it was, when Pharaoh let the people go ." The Torah has emphasized, throughout its narrative, that the process of Exodus is inseparably, integrally bound up with Pharaoh's agreement to let them go.
On the other hand, as we have seen in the verses quoted above, from the outset already at the time of the Burning Bush it is clear that Pharaoh will not agree, and that only by virtue of God's strong hand that will strike him is he forced to let Israel go: "I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, unless by a strong arm. So I shall stretch out My arm and strike and thereafter he shall let you go." It is no coincidence that the Torah chooses the specific words, "I shall stretch out My arm" (in the Hebrew "ve-shalachti et yadi") in this verse. It is the "shelichat ha-yad" that will bring about the "shiluach" of Israel.
This being the case, it seems that the Exodus involves two essential elements:
a. Pharaoh lets Israel go
b. The Exodus will come about through the application of God's strong arm in Egypt.
On one hand, it is clear that there will be no Exodus of Israel through escape or a miracle, without Pharaoh's agreement. He must agree. On the other hand, there will be no quick and easy agreement on Pharaoh's part to let Israel go; a strong arm will be needed.
Why are both of these elements necessary?
"They shall know that I am the Lord"
It is clear that the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt involves more than just the physical deliverance of Israel from their oppression. The purpose is knowledge of God, faith in God. Therefore, the extraction of Israel from Egypt must be performed with a strong arm, so that it will be clear that it is God Who took them out, that they did not just happen to go free by some coincidence. The process of Israel's Exodus from Egypt leads to faith in God, as emphasized over and over:
"I shall take you unto Me for a people, and I shall be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God Who takes you out from under the suffering of Egypt" (6:7).
God declares in advance that the Exodus will lead Israel to believe in Him and to become His servants. And indeed, the first of the Ten Commandments, which is a declaration of faith in God, binds up this faith with the Exodus: "I am the Lord your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt."
In addition to Israel's belief in God, there is another purpose to taking Israel out of Egypt with a strong arm: "That Egypt will know that I am God, when I stretch My hand over Egypt " (7:5). God's strong arm that acted in Egypt also brought the Egyptians to believe in Him.
Thus, it is clear that the Exodus from Egypt had to be performed by God, with a strong arm, contrary to the will of Pharaoh. If this is the case, why is it so important to God that it should be Pharaoh who lets the nation go? Does this not diminish the faith in God? A conflict with Pharaoh could create the sense that the real power lies with Pharaoh, and that God is forced to wait for his agreement before taking Israel out of Egypt!
However, if we look closely, we see that the conflict with Pharaoh does not demonstrate that Pharaoh holds the power, that it is he who decides whether Israel will go free or not. Rather, the opposite is the case: the conflict shows that God controls Pharaoh the person who considers himself an all-powerful leader.
Pharaoh believes that he can oppose God and not let Israel go. God proves to him that he cannot want and pursue an end that goes against God's will; eventually he will be forced to bend his will to God's will. Not only will Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt; they will do so with his permission. He himself will let them go. He will be forced to let them go, even though he had decided not to let them go. It is specifically the fact that Pharaoh eventually lets Israel go, following his lengthy stubbornness, that shows that neither Pharaoh nor any other person can go against God's will.
Not only will God do as He wishes, in opposition to Pharaoh's will, but He will cause Pharaoh himself to do it. Pharaoh himself will let Israel go. God proves that He can control even a person's will. He can cause Pharaoh to be stubborn ("I shall harden Pharaoh's heart") even though this stubbornness is quite illogical, and He can cause Pharaoh to send Israel out even though he had decided not to do so.
As the Midrash expresses it (Shemot Rabba parasha 20, 3):
"'And it was, when [Pharaoh] sent out' this is as we read (Tehillim 147), 'Who sends His utterance over the land.' Woe to the wicked, who are maggots and worms and who die off, but who seek to nullify the word of the Holy One, blessed be He. He said to them: You say, 'Neither shall I let Israel go,' but say, 'Let My people go.' Let us see whose words will endure, and whose will be nullified. Ultimately Pharaoh stood up of his own initiative and went and fell at Moshe's feet and said to Israel, 'Arise, go out.' The Holy One, blessed be He, said: So Pharaoh was it your words that endured, or mine?"
It was important, then, that Pharaoh would personally be the one to let Israel go. The fact that it is he who lets them go does not show that power lies with Pharaoh, but rather the opposite that God prevailed over Pharaoh absolutely.
Hence, the beginning of our parasha "And it was when Pharaoh let the people go" describes quite accurately the process that brought about the Exodus: God dictated Pharaoh's will, causing Pharaoh to let Israel go of his own accord.
The "letting go" by Pharaoh in no way diminishes from God's active role in the process of the Exodus. On the contrary it amplifies His Divine Kingship. Even when events appear to be unfolding in a natural way, even when Pharaoh lets Israel go, in truth it is God Who is causing things to happen. Outwardly, Pharaoh appears to be letting them go; it is a human letting that takes place naturally: "And it was when Pharaoh let (be-shalach) Israel go," but in truth the nation knows that it is God Who has let them go: "I shall stretch out (shalachti) My hand and strike Egypt and thereafter they shall let (yeshalach) you go" (3:20).
God's highest Kingship finds expression not in the plagues that are brought down from on high, but through free-willed mortals who can choose to behave contrary to His will, but who act in accordance with it. In Pharaoh's case, this effect did not come about through his own inner will, but at least outwardly, the same Pharaoh who had declared, "I do not know God, nor shall I let Israel go,," was eventually forced to personally let them go: "And it was, when Pharaoh let Israel go ."
"Lest the people regret and return to Egypt"
The period of slavery in Egypt is over, and the Exodus is also completed. The nation now embarks on a new era the journey through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.
The first matter that the Torah chooses to address is the choice of the route:
"And it was when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them via the land of the Pelishtim, for it was close by; for God said: Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt." (13:17)
The simplest and most natural route for a journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan is "via the land of the Pelishtim." Why? "For it is close by." Ramban explains:
"The proper understanding is: 'God did not lead them via the land of the Pelishtim, which is close by" and it is proper to lead them by that route ."
Why does God not lead the nation by the shortest route to Canaan? Why does He direct them to a longer route? What is the purpose of having them wander about in the wilderness?
To Ramban's view, God wanted to avoid having Bnei Yisrael engage in war while they were still close to Egypt, since in their fear they may turn back to Egypt:
"'For God said, lest they change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt' the reason for the war would be that they would have to transverse the land of the Pelishtim, and the Pelishtim would not permit them to go through in peace, and they would return to Egypt. On the route through the wilderness, [on the other hand,] they would not encounter war until they were in their land, against the kingdoms of Sichon and Og, kings of the Emori for these [territories] were given to them [Bnei Yisrael] and were far from Egypt at that time."
Thus, the reason for the detour in the desert was in order to distance the people from Egypt, so that it would not be easy and enticing to return there were they fearful of fighting.
The verse sums up the concern with the words, "And return to Egypt." The greatest threat was the possibility of Israel returning to Egypt, and God wanted to avoid this.
Why would Bnei Yisrael want to return to Egypt? They had such a miserable life there; they cried out from their suffering!
Apparently, Bnei Yisrael were still psychologically a nation of slaves. They were not yet capable of fighting for their independence; when war approached they would prefer to revert to their former, familiar situation of slavery, rather than having to deal with war, which could result in many casualties, or a new form of slavery with which they were not familiar and which could be even worse.
Thus, the detour through the wilderness was meant to build up Bnei Yisrael's mettle, to strengthen them so that they could become an independent nation capable of fighting for its existence.
To Rav Yoel Bin-Nun's view, there was a different reason for the detour:
" The Exodus from Egypt was carried out with Pharaoh's agreement and approval The route through the land of the Pelishtim was an imperial, military road under Egyptian control If Bnei Yisrael were to journey on the road of the land of the Pelishtim it would have demonstrated obedient, friendly behavior towards Pharaoh, and recognition of his continued patronage. At the border they would present Pharaoh's stamp of approval, and likewise at every fortress along the way. They commanders of the Egyptian army would salute and open the barrier, and then report to Pharaoh that his subjects, Bnei Yisrael, had passed through by his license. Bnei Yisrael would likewise dispatch appropriate letters of thanks Were they to have left Egypt in this manner, Pharaoh would never have pursued them. He could give them the mountain regions of Canaan and make them his agents, representatives of his sovereignty there. At the approach of war the nation would forfeit its independence and 'return to Egypt' to behave like subjects of Pharaoh's patronage."
God does not want Bnei Yisrael to enter Canaan right away, while they are still enslaved (at least mentally) to Pharaoh, and still sense that it is he who "let them go." Therefore, God leads them through the wilderness.
What happens in the wilderness? What will change their sense of dependence on Pharaoh?
Splitting of the sea
Right after leaving Egypt, Bnei Yisrael reach the Reed Sea, where a huge battle takes place between Bnei Yisrael (with God clearly leading them) and the Egyptians. The detour through the wilderness, then, has not prevented them from engaging in war. They are simply fighting against the Egyptians rather than with the inhabitants of Canaan. So what is the point?
When Bnei Yisrael see the Egyptians pursuing them, they respond with great fear:
"They said to Moshe: Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you have brought us to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us, by taking us out of Egypt?
Is this not the thing that we spoke of to you in Egypt, saying: Leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians for it would be better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." (14:11-12)
Here it becomes apparent that the concern "lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt" is quite justified. The moment that Bnei Yisrael are faced with war, they panic and are ready to return to Egyptian slavery.
What is God's answer to them?
"Moshe said to the nation: Do not fear; stand still and see God's salvation which He shall perform for you this day, for as you have seen Egypt this day you shall not see them again forever.
The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." (13-14)
The war at the Reed Sea is no regular battle. This is Am Yisrael's battle against their oppressors, the Egyptians. Indeed, Am Yisrael is still incapable of fighting against their oppressors. At the Reed Sea it is God Who fights for them; they stand on the sidelines, holding their peace. How do they feel in the wake of this battle?
a. That the Egyptians can be beaten. This liberates them from their mental enslavement to the Egyptians.
b. That God is their leader, that He holds the power, that He helps them in their time of distress, and that it is He Who fights for them.
Indeed, in the wake of the defeat of the Egyptians at the sea, Bnei Yisrael attain faith in God:
"And on that day God saved Israel from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.
And Israel saw the great work that God had done to the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in Moshe, His servant." (14:30-31)
Following the splitting of the sea, have Bnei Yisrael achieved full liberation from their dependence on Egypt?
Wandering in the wilderness
A review of the continuation of the parasha shows that Bnei Yisrael are still afraid of challenges, and that when things are difficult they not only shout out to God but also declare that they would prefer slavery in Egypt to the problems facing them:
" And all the congregation of Bnei Yisrael murmured against Moshe and against Aharon in the wilderness.
And Bnei Yisrael said to them: If only we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by the flesh pots, eating our fill of bread. For you have brought us out to this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (16:2-3)
Apparently, the possibility of "lest the people change their minds and return to Egypt" applies not only "when they see war," but also when they encounter any difficulty at all. Israel are dependent upon Egypt with all of their being, and they need to be weaned from this dependence. How will this be achieved? Simply through more and more difficulties and challenges, by means of which it will be proved to them that they are able to cope without help from Egypt, but rather with help from God.
Bnei Yisrael need a lengthy period to liberate themselves from the sense of slavery to Pharaoh and to bring them to complete faith in God. The wilderness is the place where they undergo this process of liberation from Egyptian bondage and building their faith in God as their Leader (and, at the same time, building faith in their own ability to cope).
Why is it specifically in the wilderness that they undergo this process?
Firstly, because the entry into Canaan can take place only when the nation is spiritually ready for it.
Secondly, the wilderness is a place that presents special challenges that do not exist in inhabited places. The detour in the wilderness is not meant to avoid difficulties; on the contrary it presents one challenge after the next, requiring the nation to cope with them and clarifying to them Who it is that assists them in their efforts.
God's leadership through the wilderness
The journey through the wilderness involves God's direct, manifest leadership at every moment:
"The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to show them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to illuminate their way by day and by night.
And the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire did not move from before the people." (13:21-22)
Following the spilling of the sea, the Torah describes four more stops in the wilderness: Mara, Eilim, the wilderness of Sin, and Refidim. In these places Am Yisrael gradually learn, by experience, that it is God Who provides for their needs in the wilderness.
At Mara the water is bitter, and God miraculously sweetens it for them. Survival in the wilderness is impossible because of the lack of water. Only through a miracle is it possible to exist there. The complaints about the shortage of water are repeated several times during the course of the desert wanderings, and in the wake of each such complaint God miraculously provides water proving most powerfully to the nation that they are dependent on God.
At Eilim God brings the nation to a huge desert oasis.
In the wilderness of Sin, Bnei Yisrael complain about the food; once again the sense of dependence on Egypt comes to the fore: "If only we could die by God's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and ate our fill of bread ." Following this complaint, God starts supplying the nation with "bread from the heavens" manna. This miraculous food, which provides for all of their nutritional needs throughout the years of wandering in the desert, is one of the strongest proofs of Israel's dependence on God.
At Refidim, once again there is no water to drink, and once again there is a complaint that recalls the dependence on Egypt: "Why then have you brought us up out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our flocks with thirst?"
On several occasions during the course of the journey through the wilderness the profound sense of enslavement to Egypt makes itself felt. Every time there is some difficulty, Bnei Yisrael want to return to Egypt. So long as they feel this way, they will not be able to enter the land.
Bnei Yisrael will be ready to enter the land only when, upon seeing "war," they no longer desire to return to Egypt. Only when they feel that they are able to deal with their challenges, with God's help, and that they have no need to "return to Egypt," to depend on the Egyptians.
The final complaint of Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness, prior to entering the land, is recorded in Bamidbar 21:
"They journeyed from Hor Ha-har via the Reed Sea, to compass the land of Edom, and the soul of the people was discouraged by the way.
And the people spoke against God and against Moshe: Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread, nor any water, and our soul loathes this miserable bread.
So the Lord sent venomous snakes among the people, and they bit the people, and a great many of the people of Israel died.
Then the people came to Moshe and said: We have sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and against you; Pray to the Lord that He remove the snakes from us and Moshe prayed on behalf of the people." (4-7)
This time, following their punishment, Israel come to Moshe and declare: "We have sinned." Perhaps it was the punishment that God meted out this time that suddenly caused them to understand what was going on:
Throughout the journey, God had walked before them and taken care of all their needs, straightening the route, and ensuring that the snakes and other deadly creatures that live in the desert would not harm them. This time, when they complain, God allows the snakes access to them. This does not require any miraculous import of snakes. The snakes by nature live in the desert. God simply removes His special protection of the nation, such that the snakes are able to harm them. When the people see this, they suddenly understand that their entire existence in the desert is dependent upon God; without God's miraculous intervention they cannot hope to survive. Now they understand that they are dependent upon God alone; the memory of dependence on Egypt has lost all significance for them. Suddenly they understand all that has happened to them in the desert. They understand that it was God Who "leads you in the great and terrible wilderness, with snakes and serpents and scorpions and thirst, where there is no water; Who brings forth water for you from the rock and feeds you manna in the desert " (as Moshe reminds them in Devarim 8:15-16).
Following this episode, Bnei Yisrael make no further mention of Egypt. Only after being liberated from their psychological dependence on Egypt, and attaining acknowledgment and faith in God, are Bnei Yisrael ready to enter the land. And indeed, immediately after the episode of the snakes, they embark on the conquest of the territories on the eastern side of the Jordan.
Our parasha represents the beginning of Bnei Yisrael's journeying through the desert, and presents its major objectives. The nation leaves Egypt when Pharaoh "lets them go." God wants Pharaoh himself to let them go, in order to prove His absolute control even of a person's will.
However, being "let go" by Pharaoh leaves Bnei Yisrael with a sense of dependence on him and of psychological subjugation to Egypt. The journey through the wilderness provides Israel with numerous trials and tribulations, by means of which they undergo a lengthy process of liberating themselves from dependence on Egypt and arriving at faith in God. In the wilderness they will experience God's battle with Egypt at the Reed Sea. In the wilderness they will experience challenges that will cause them to want to return to Egypt, but they will realize that it is God Who sustains them, even in desert conditions, until ultimately they are freed of their psychological subjugation to Egypt and understand that it was God Who took them out of Egypt, that it was He Who has led them and sustained them in the desert, and that He is their true Leader. With this awareness they are ready to enter the land.
Translated by Kaeren Fish
 See also N. Leibowitz, Iyunim be-Sefer Shemot, Parashat Beshalach, "Ki karov hu"
 5:1; 7:16; 7:26; 8:16; 9:1; 10:3
 These appear following the plagues of frogs (8:4), the wild animals (8:24), hail (9:28), and locusts (10:10).
 The first appearances of the word refer to Moshe's mission: "Go and I shall send you (eshlachekha) to Pharaoh (3:10). At the Burning Bush, Moshe's role is described using expressions derived from the root sh-l-ch seven times. Later on, his role is referred to several times as "shelichut" (agency, messenger).
 Similar explanations are offered by most of the commentators, with certain exegetical differences of opinion among them, especially as to whether the phrase "for it was close by" is part of the reason for the detour or whether it has some other significance. See Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra.
 See at length Rav Bin-Nun's article, "Derekh Eretz Pelishtim," Megadim 3
 At Refidim there is another important episode: the war against Amalek. It is interesting to note that specifically when faced with this war, Bnei Yisrael are not so fearful that they want to return to Egypt. Perhaps the war at the Reed Sea relieved their fear of war. The concern "lest the people change their minds when they see war" does not necessarily refer to actual war, but rather any problem or challenge. The most bitter complaints are about thirst and hunger.
 Further complaints where the will to return to Egypt is expressed include Kivrot Ha-ta'ava (Bamidbar 11), the episode of the spies (Bamidbar 14), the declaration by Datan and Aviram in Korach's dispute (Bamidbar 16:13) and Mei Meriva (Bamidbar 20).