When Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go, G-d does not lead them in a beeline for the Promised Land. He’s afraid they’ll have a change of heart and want to return to the evil they know—or, more properly, assuming His omniscience, He knows they will. Indeed, they spend the next forty years whining about how good they had it in Egypt. So, instead of taking them to Canaan by way of the land of the Philistines, which was nearer, “G-d led the people round about, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds” (13:18).
Had there been a choice, I might have turned back,
to the path where we found buttercups to hold
beneath our chins, and yellow only meant
that you liked butter; to the creek with the crayfish
hunkered under the rocks, the trolls of our childhood,
tamed by a quick grab behind the pincers;
to the spot beside my father’s workbench
where everything was sorted, and I learned to tell
toggle bolts from nails, pitching them into the proper tins;
to the cold porch where the last apples met us
with the tang of ferment, and we knew
crisp would bubble in my mother’s oven,
she would feed us, and there would be enough.
And so G-d made the journey roundabout
and time a scrollwork we can’t unwind.