From August 23 to August 28, 1973 several bank employees of a bank in Stockholm, Sweden were held hostage in a bank vault during a robbery. During this standoff, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, rejected assistance from government officials at one point, and even defended their captors after they were freed from their six-day ordeal. The criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot coined the term “Norrmalmstorgssyndromet” (Swedish) but abroad it became known as “Stockholm Syndrome“.
I was thinking about this when reading BeShalach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, although it was nearer, for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see the war, and return to Egypt.’ (Exodus 13:17)
It was God through the agency of Moshe who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but here the Torah gives credit to Pharaoh. They were enslaved for so long that they actually thought they were let go from Egypt due to the good graces of Pharaoh as opposed to the actions of God. They knew they did not like slavery, but emancipation would have been enough for them. What is the purpose of leaving Egypt? What would be their motivation for the arduous journey ahead?
Maybe this is reason for taking the route they did. Taking the shorter route might encourage them to return to their captor in whom they became emotionally attached. Instead they took a longer route during which they will come to realize, through even more miracles, that they were removed from Egypt solely by God. Its seems expedient to take the easier path, but it often does not lead to liberation. As Rabbi Levi Lauer says, “Comfort in not a Jewish Value”. For certain things it is worth taking the long route. Often these are the most important things. In doing the hard work we can rediscover what motivates us and we liberate ourselves from our captors.