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וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
And the Children of Israel were armed when they went up from the land of Egypt (13:18)

There are two very puzzling commentaries on this verse that require explanation. The Targum Yonasan translates this verse to say that every family came out from Egypt with five children[1]. Is it really plausible that every family had exactly five children at the time they left Egypt?

Another interesting comment on this verse is found in the Targum Yerushalmi which explains “the Jews left Egypt armed - with many good deeds”. This too is difficult to understand since we find that the verse in Yechezkiel says “you were naked and bear[2] and is referring to the Jewish People, who were naked and bear of all mitzvos as they left Egypt, and therefore did not merit to be taken out at all. It is for this reason, explains the Mechilta, that the night before they left Egypt, Hashem gave them the two mitzvos of thePesach Offering and Bris Milah to provide them with a merit to be redeemed[3]. Since they had no mitzvos the day before they left, and were given only two mitzvos, how is it appropriate to say that they left armed with many mitzvos?

A possible answer to the second question is found in Pirkei Avos which states that “A Mitzva leads to more Mitzvos[4] therefore, even though they only received two mitzvos, this alone gave them the inner strength to do more mitzvos, and this is the commitment that each of them made. This argument is strengthened when we look at the two mitzvos that Hashem gave to them; by slaughtering the Pesach lamb which was an Egyptian god, the Jewish People were declaring their distance from that idolatrous society. Secondly, by performing Bris Milahthey were making a commitment to dedicating themselves to Hashem through His covenant. Therefore it makes sense to say that from that moment on they performed many mitzvos – meaning that they were committing to a lifestyle of many mitzvos.

However, this does not answer the first question; how could every family could leave with exactly five children?

The Be’er Yosef answers both of these questions by reminding us of Rashi’s comment that Hashem brought the plague of darkness, in part, so that the Jews could bury those wicked individuals that did not wish to leave Egypt[5]. In addition, the Mechilta explains that four-fifths of the Jewish People were buried during those three days of darkness, meaning that only one-fifth of the Jewish People left Egypt[6]. However, this can only be said of the adults that chose to stay in Egypt. Whereas their children were not at an age to be deemed responsible for their actions were not killed in the plague of darkness. Therefore, the Be’er Yosef concludes that the Targum Yonasan which claims that the Jews left Egypt with five children each, does not mean literally five children, rather, five sets of children – for each family adopted and raised the children of the four-fifths of adults that did not leave Egypt, together with their own. This also explains the Targum Yerushalmi that all of the Jewish People left with many good deeds – to adopt four families of children before journeying into the wilderness and an unknown land surely merited their title of being armed with good deeds.

[1] The word וַחֲמֻשִׁים coming from the word “five”, and not “armed
[3]Parshas Bo: 5
[4]Pirkei Avos 4:2
[6] Parshas Bo: 12

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