Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bo
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson

This week's Torah portion (Bo; Sh'mot 10,1-13,16) features the historic Exodus from Egypt, in which the People of Israel not only escape their enslavement, but also become G-d's Nation. Amid these two historically spectacular events, the Torah also recounts another event which seems to be slightly less impressive: G-d tells Moshe, "Please speak to the people and have them borrow from their [Egyptian] neighbors utensils of silver and gold" (11,2). Issues of money and property seem to be somewhat out of place here.

Explaining this verse, the Talmud quotes the Sage R. Yannai: "G-d said 'please,' meaning that this was a request. G-d said to Moshe: Please ask Israel to please borrow the silver and gold utensils – so that the righteous Avraham Avinu [to whom G-d promised that his descendants would be enslaved and would later leave Egypt with great wealth] would not say that G-d fulfilled the enslavement part of the prophecy, but not the part about the great wealth.

The Talmud thus explains why G-d wanted Israel to borrow the silver and gold, but the answer still requires explanation.

The background to this story includes some additional important details. For one thing, Avraham had originally been told to journey to the Holy Land, which He would ultimately give to his descendants. Avraham thereupon asked: "How can I know that I will inherit it?" (B'reshit 15,8) The commentators offer different explanations as to what Avraham meant; we will explain his intention as follows: "How will the Divine lordship, which will be revealed via the Nation and community, be revealed in such a miraculous, unnatural manner?" G-d then answers with the Covenant Between the Pieces, in which He promises, "Your descendants will be foreigners in land not theirs for 400 years, where they will be enslaved and oppressed, but I will ultimately bring judgment upon the oppressors, and your descendants will leave with great wealth." In other words, it will truly be a miraculous process, fraught with hardship, but from it the Jewish Nation will sprout forth.

The questions are now even clearer. Why must they leave with great wealth, and why by Divine promise? And why must this be fulfilled by Divine request of Moshe and Israel? And what is this extra consideration of Avraham that G-d feels he must show him?

Interestingly, the above-quoted R. Yannai has another teaching in the Talmud that is related to this topic. The Torah, in D'varim 1,1, lists the places that Bnei Yisrael passed through on their way to the Promised Land – and Rashi (citing the Sifri) says that each place-name alludes to a sin that the Israelites committed in the desert. R. Yannai explains that the place Di Zahav, which can literally mean "enough gold," is Moshe Rabbeinu's way of telling G-d that He gave them so much gold to the point that they had to say "Enough!" – and that this wealth was precisely what they used to fashion the Golden Calf.

R. Yannai – who said above that G-d asked Israel to borrow silver and gold on their way out of Egypt – teaches here that the sin of the Golden Calf was not exclusively Israel's fault; rather, their abundance of gold and silver, and the subjugation to it, led them to sin. And so the questions become even stronger: Why did G-d keep on giving them more and more? And why did He actually "request" of them to ask for the riches?

Rav Kook, in his commentary on the Aggadah (homilies) in the Gemara, clarifies that the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was not simply to end Israel's subjugation and enslavement – but mainly to create genuine freedom in the world, to create a nation of truly free people.

The issue of money and gold is not at all the main topic in this story, certainly not in comparison with the other sublime events of the Exodus. But it does emphasize for us that God wants to give us tools by which to truly sense the feeling of freedom. It is important to Him that we leave Egypt not as impoverished wretches; we must rather fulfill that which the Torah said, "And the Israelites went out [from Egypt] in triumph" (Sh'mot 14,8) - and great wealth is certainly an important aspect thereof. 

And this is why Moshe and Israel were asked to "please" collect the wealth. Our state of mind at the moment of the Exodus was one of free choice. G-d was saying to Israel: "If you want to leave in a poor state, you may certainly do so; you are not obligated to borrow silver and gold vessels from Egypt. But if you want to go out in a true state of freedom, and to empower the feeling of being free, and to intensify your inner work and feel your power - then ask your Egyptian neighbors for silver and gold." It was up to Israel, but G-d recommended the latter, so as to raise up their status as a free people.

Translated by Hillel Fendel

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