Parsing a difficult word in the Parasha.
In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s first essay for Parashat BeShalach, “Majority Rules?” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 93-4), she discusses the second part of a well-known comment by RaShI on a particularly ambiguous word in a verse in the Parasha:
But God Led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up “Chamushim” out of the land of Egypt.
RaShI s.v. VeChamushim
1) The meaning of “Chamushim is nothing other than “armed.” Because He Made them travel via the wilderness, He Caused them to go up (from Egypt) “Chamushim.” For if He Made them travel through inhabited areas, they would not have had to be so heavily armed, but rather like someone who goes from place to place with the intention to purchase there whatever he might need. But when he sets out to traverse the wilderness, he has to already prepare anything that he may need..
2) Another interpretation: “Chamushim” = one in five left (Egypt,) and four-fifths died during the three days of darkness.
(RaShI on Ibid. 10:22 s.v. VaYehi Choshech Afeila Shloshet Yamim VeGomer.
…And why did He Bring upon them [the Egyptians] darkness [as the eleventh plague]? Because there were among the Jewish people, in that generation, evildoers, who did not wish to leave, and they died during the three days of thick darkness, in order that the Egyptians not witness their fall and conclude that even they were punished like us…
Shemot Rabba 14:3
“Darkness.” Why did He, Whose Name is Blessed, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Who does not Show Favoritism and Who Plumbs the heart and Tests the Innards, Bring this upon them? Because there were sinners among the Jews, who had Egyptian patrons, and they had achieved in Egypt wealth and honor, and therefore did not wish to leave. Said the Holy One, Blessed Be He: If I openly Bring upon them a plague and they die, the Egyptians will say: Just as He has Passed over us, He has Passed over them [i.e., no distinction was made between the victims of the plagues.] Therefore, He Brought upon the Egyptians three days of darkness so that the Jews could bury their dead, in order that their enemies not be witness to this, and they [the Jews] would praise the Holy One, Blessed Be He, for this…)
The global implications of RaShI’s second interpretation of the word.
Rahav-Meir begins her analysis of RaShI’s second interpretation by quoting Winston Churchill, who said in the House of Commons on November 11, 1947:
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…