(This devar Torah is unchanged from 6 years ago. I am just re-posting it because I am a proud daddy and Opa.)
Someone showed me the following idea in the Be’er Yoseif by Rav Yoseif Zvi Salant.
וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱ-לֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף וַֽחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
– שמות יג:יח
ואסחר ה’ ית עמא אורח מדברא לימא דסוף ומזרזין סליקו בני ישראל מארעא דמצרים:
– תרגום אונקלות, שם
… בעבדא טבא …
– תרגום ירושלמי, שם
… אחד מחמשה:
- – תנחומה (וורשה א׳), מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל
ואחזר ה’ ית עמא אורח מדברא דימא דסוף וכל חד עם חמשא טפלין סליקו בני ישראל מארעא דמצרים:
– תרגום יונתן
Hashem brought the nation around, via the path of the desert, the Red Sea; and the Children of Israel arose chamushim (to be defined) from the Land of Egypt.
– Shemos 13:8
.. and the Jews enthusiastically departed from the Land of Egypt.
– Targum Unqelus (ad loc)
… with good deeds…
– Jerusalem Targum (ad loc)
… one in five.
-Tanchuma (Warsaw ed. #1), Mechilta
… and the Jews departed with five infants from the Land of Egypt.
– Targum Yonasan (ad loc)
Rashi defines “chamushim as “armed”, which underlies the Targumim of Unqelus and Yerushalmi. Armed in a spiritual sense, prepared with good deeds.
Another definition would be from chameish, five, leading to the medrash concluding that only 1/5 of the Jewish were saved from Egypt. Rashi adds that the other 4/5 of the population died in Egypt during the plague of darkness. These were the people who didn’t merit redemption; those who believed in the Egyptian paganism and wanted to stay.
Deriving chamushim from the number five is also the point of departure for the Targum Yonsan’s “departed with five infants.” But the medrash on Shemos, describing the Egypt experience, told us that we had six children at a time. How then can the Targum Yonasan here mean that every Jew left with five children, as though this smaller number is something that should impress us? The Be’er Yoseif therefore believes the naive read of the Targum Yonasan is incorrect.
Instead, the Be’er Yoseif explains all these targumim in light of each other. The word chamushim was chosen not despite the ambiguity, but because of all its connotations.
Four fifths of the Jewish people died rather than being saved. But what about their children? The youth didn’t deserve death, even if they agreed with their parents — as children, they aren’t accountable or punishable for their crimes. The Be’er Yoseif explains that this means that each of the 600,000 men left Egypt had to have left with five families of children — his own, and those of four families left orphaned by this punishment. Far more than the six-at-a-time that were born to them.
This is not only the intent of the Targum Yonasan, but also, raising others’ children the “good deeds” of the Jerusalem Targum, as well as the “zerizus“, the enthusiasm, of the Targum Unqelus. They were prepared and surrounded by the mitzvah of taking in these children in need.
Today we think of adoption as something someone does when they r”l can’t have children of their own. However, in light of this devar Torah, we see that this mitzvah played a central role in defining us as a people. According to the Be’er Yosef, it is the merit of adopting orphans that rendered us ready for the redemption from Egypt!