"[Pharaoh] harnessed his chariot, and took his people with him. He took six hundred select chariots and all the chariots of Egypt, with officers over them all... And the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! the Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, 'Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?'" (Exodus 14:6,7,10,11)

We can only imagine the state of the Egyptian army which pursued the Jews through the desert. Physically, these were soldiers who were recovering from ten catastrophic plagues. They were near starvation because the entire Egyptian food supply had been destroyed by the plagues of pestilence, hail, and locusts. Their numbers were certainly decimated by the death of all the firstborn; and we can assume that the dead included many high ranking army officers, a situation which wreaked havoc on the military chain of command vital to smooth warfare operation. Most importantly, their morale couldn't have been any lower. Virtually all of them were mourning the death of friends and relatives who had expired in the plague of the firstborn less than a week earlier. And they couldn't have been too eager to battle an enemy which obviously had super-natural powers at its disposal.

Incredibly, upon seeing the bedraggled Egyptian army, the Israelies panicked!The Israelites, on the other hand, were fresh – actual slavery having stopped nearly one year earlier, as soon as the first plague struck Egypt – and full of confidence: "and the children of Israel were marching out triumphantly." They were well armed, and their numbers included 600,000 battle-worthy men. Yet incredibly, upon seeing the bedraggled Egyptian army, with their 600 first-rate chariots and an assortment of low-grade chariots, they panicked!

Why the panic? Go crush them!

The Ibn Ezra (12th century Spanish scholar and Biblical commentator) answers this question with remarkable insight: "The Egyptians were masters over the Israelites, and this generation which departed Egypt was trained from its youth to tolerate the yoke of Egypt… Its soul was downtrodden, and how will they be able to wage battle against their masters? And the Israelites were meek, and unlearned in [the art of] battle … And G‑d alone does great [wonders], and He establishes schemes. He orchestrated that all the [Israelite] males who left Egypt should die, for they had no strength to battle the Canaanites, until a new generation arose, a generation which never saw exile, and they had a proud spirit."

To paraphrase the famous aphorism: You can take a slave out of slavery, but you can't take slavery out of the slave.

"As the days of your Exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show [Israel] wonders" (Micah 7:15). The Exodus from Egypt is the prototype which will be copied – on a much grander scale – with the coming of the Messiah. We, too, suffered many centuries of being "slaves," i.e. second-class citizens at the mercy of the rulers of our host lands; persecuted, murdered and expelled at their whim. These generations of Jews, as great Our generation, the generation which will witness the coming of the Messiah, does not possess a slave mentalityand courageous as they were, developed a "second-class citizen mentality," always fearful and always seeking to appease and find grace in the eyes of those in power. Our generation, the generation which will witness the coming of the Messiah, does not possess a slave mentality. We maintain equal rights in practically every country in the world, we have our own sovereign state with a military which is second to none, we occupy powerful and prestigious positions throughout the world, and we have no one to fear. Who would have imagined one century ago that an observant Jew could be a candidate for president of the United States?! This is the generation which is equipped to enter the Messianic Era.

It is our responsibility to take advantage of this situation. In the last moments of exile, we ought to behave like free people. We must not be abashed about our Judaism: "I will speak of Your testimonies before kings, and I will not be ashamed." We must resolve to study Torah and do mitzvot – and not be bothered if our neighbors realize that we are different. Following this path will actually bring us respect from the world community and, most importantly, will lead us to seeing the fulfillment of Zachariah's prophecy: "G‑d will be the king over all the land."