What does “let go” mean in Biblical Hebrew?

Today’s “parasha” {פרשה}(weekly Torah portion) is “Beshalach”{בשלח} -Hebrew for “when he let go.” It is the fourth “parasha” from the Book of Exodus and is found in Exodus 13:17 – 17:16.

The opening matter of this “parasha” is the story of the Children of Israel on their way out of Egypt just before the crossing of the Red Sea and their violent encounter with the Egyptian army that was sent to chase them.


In Biblical Hebrew the verb “Shalach”{שלח} (*the name of the weekly Torah portion is “Beshalach” but the “Be”{ב} at the beginning is a preposition hence not a part of the original root of the word) has three possible meanings. Three biblical examples for the word “Shalach” appear in the original Hebrew:

  1. To let go out of anger – like in this verse from Psalms:

“Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils He sent from on high…”(Psalms 18:15-16)

  1. To let go as expelled or divorce like in this verse from Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD: “here is your mother’s certificate of divorce, with which I sent her away?”
(Isaiah 50:1)

  1. To let go as in the meaning of accompanying someone – like in the story of Abraham:

” … and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way.”(Genesis 18:16)

In our “parasha” we have a very unique and rare case where “Beshalach” contains three out of three of these possible meanings!

“Then Pharaoh let the people go…” (Exodus 13:17). He let them go out of anger over the ten Plagues of Egypt. He let them go in a manner of expulsion from Egypt, and he let them go accompanied by his army until his army was drowning in the waters of the Red Sea.