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G-d said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt… after that he will drive you out… Please tell the people to request of his (Egyptian) neighbor silver and gold vessels…” G-d granted the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians… (11:1-3).
This request seems rather unusual, given the suffering Israelites’ former status of slaves, only then about to be freed. Why did should the Israelites be commanded to take their valuables, rather than things which would be more useful for a journey through the desert – such as food, clothing, tents and so on? Obvious answers would suggest that gold and silver were essential for purchasing food en-route (Deut. 2:6), and as materials for building the Tabernacle (25:8) – indeed it seems that the first step in making the Tabernacle was relieving the Egyptians of their valuables.
However the Talmud gives a different reason for G-d ordering this ‘request’. It brings the tradition that G-d asked Moses to make a special effort to prevail upon the Israelites to request valuables from their Egyptians neighbors so that the soul of Abraham would not have a grievance against G-d. If they did not, Abraham’s soul would complain that G-d did carry out the prophecy of ‘they will enslave them’ (Gen. 15:14) in full measure, but He did not keep the second part of His promise - ‘and afterwards they shall go out with great wealth’. So they had to leave as rich people…
Why does the Talmud refer to the soul of Abraham as a reason? Surely the main use of the gold and silver was for the Tabernacle: ‘This is the contribution that you shall take from them: gold, silver… You shall make a sanctuary for me so that I shall dwell among them’ (25:3,8). The whole emphasis was of the Exodus was, ‘Let my people go so that they shall serve me’ (10:3 et al.) – the Tabernacle being the center of Divine worship.
The commentary Oznayim LaTorah gives a parallel with a situation still with us today – the aftermath of the Holocaust. Many survivors of the Hitler era were deeply sickened in accepting financial reparations for the foul murders of their parents and children. They did not want to do anything to cleanse or soothe the consciences of the German people through such reparations. Moreover, any mention of Nazi Germany revolted them to such a degree that even half a century later they could no longer bring themselves to talk about it. They just wanted to be rid of the past and somehow rebuild their lives again, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora.
The same point may be applied to the Israelites. They were not interested in making elaborate preparations in leaving Egypt, by loading themselves with gold and silver. They just wanted to get out as soon as possible, grateful to be alive, never to have anything to do with the Egyptians again. They certainly did not want to ingratiate themselves with them, giving them the feeling that they had repaid their debts to generations of long-suffering Israelite slaves. Indeed, any silver and gold taken from them would nauseate them… They certainly would not have wanted to serve G-d in the desert by building a structure out of such materials – which would bring up memories of the Egyptian ‘Holocaust’ every time they saw it.
That is the reason that G-d ordered Moses to tell the Israelites to help themselves to Egypt’s wealth. It was a Divine Command that had to be carried out even though it was against the nature of many of the suffering Israelites to possess anything that would recall the memory of the former suffering. G-d was telling them in effect, ‘It is my command that you take this money as that is what I have created it for’. As the Midrash Hagadol (as quoted in the Torah Temima) writes:
Moses said to G-d, “Master of the World! The Egyptians gave them no straw (to make bricks). Will they give them silver and gold?” G-d answered, “It belongs to Me! Because the Egyptians submitted the Israelites to forced labor, their lives are forfeit and their property belongs to them as uncollected wages…”
The following anecdote illustrates this principle:
Years ago in Europe, an observant soldier in the Austrian army was granted a one-day leave to visit his parents. His orders required him to return to the base before evening. However, that evening would be Purim, and the soldier’s mother insisted vehemently that he should remain at home for the Reading of the Megillah. Knowing that his failing to report on time to his base would be taken as a serious breach of discipline, the soldier argued that he could not stay. A heated controversy ensued in the house, until the family decided to bring the problem to the Kopochinitzer Rebbe. On hearing the question, the Rebbe did not hesitate for a moment. His reply was, “Obey your mother.”
This principle shows that G-d provides the means to obey his commandments, even though they cause ‘trepidation’ and feelings of unpleasantness at the beginning… as in this case – of raiding the property of their former masters. As the text states: “G-d gave the favor of the Israelites in the eyes of the Egyptians…”
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BO
Who said to whom, and in what circumstances:
(a) Do you not know that Egypt is lost? (b) May He remove from me only this death.
(c) I shall never see your face again.
(d) No dog shall sharpen his tongue against any Israelite.
(e) You shall eat it very quickly.
(f) That soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel.
(g) What is this service to you?
(h) And bless me as well.
(i) So that G-d's Torah may be in your mouth.
ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BO
(a) Pharaoh's servants to Pharaoh, (10:7) in urging him to release the Israelites to serve G-d so that Egypt might be saved from further plagues and damage.
(b) Pharaoh to Moses and Aaron (10:17), begging them to pray to G-d to remove the plague of locusts.
(c) Moses to Pharaoh (10:29), after Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites following the Plague of Darkness. In addition, with a hardened heart, he told Moses that he was never to come into the royal presence again. To that, Moses agreed - he would indeed never come into Pharaoh's presence again. (See, however, #(d) below)
(d) Moses to Pharaoh (11:7,8), in contrasting the Egyptian panic and agony with the Israelite calm and tranquility that was to be during the final plague of the Killing of the Firstborn. (Commentators suggest that #(c) above took place after this final warning to Pharaoh, and that section of the narrative is not in strict chronological order.)
(e) G-d to Moses and Aaron (12:11), as instructions to the Israelites in their preparations for the Pesach Offering in Egypt, and their imminent departure.
(f) G-d to Moses and Aaron (12:19), as instructions to the Israelites not to eat leaven on Passover for all time.
(g) Moses to the Israelites (12:26), in instructing them to pass on the Passover experience to the young of future generations.
(h) Pharaoh to Moses and Aaron (12:23) in striving to get the Israelites out of Egypt as fast as possible. (The phrase 'and bless me as well' is understood by Rashi to mean 'pray for me that I should not die, even though I (Pharaoh) am a firstborn'.
(i) G-d to Moses - to pass on to the Israelites the duty of wearing 'tephillen', which would be a constant reminder to the Israelites of G-d's Laws. (13:1,9)
QUESTIONS ON COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BO
What are the reasons for the following?
(a) Pharaoh's refusing the Israelites to leave his country - with the words "'ra-ah' (evil) is opposite your faces?" (9:10) - according to Rashi.
(b) The plague of darkness occuring just before the actual Exodus from Egypt? - according to Rashi.
(c) The Israelites being told that the 'this month' should be 'for you' (12:2), according to the Sforno.
(d) Sheep and goats being the only animals being eligible for the Passover offering - according to the Ramban.
(e) The requirement of selecting the animal for the Passover offering four days in advance applied to the first Passover in Egypt only - explained according to Rashi.
(f) The Passover offering must be eaten within the same house, without breaking any bones (12:46) - according to the Chinuch.
(g) The inclusion of the Parashiot of 'kadesh li' and 'vehaya ki yevicah' in the text contained within the Tephillen - according to the Ramban.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BO
(a) Rashi gives two explanations. Firstly, he quotes Onkelos, who understands 'ra'ah' as having 'evil' deceitful intent. Pharaoh argued that Moses' insistence on including the children in a religious ceremony with offerings outside Egypt showed that he intended to trick him by enabling the Israelites to leave Egypt for good. Secondly, Rashi quotes the Midrash (Yalkut Ki Tisa 392) which says that 'ra'ah' is the name of a star. For Pharaoh's astrologers had assured him that that very star, which signified an 'evil' bloody end, would govern the Israelites' destiny in their future travels in the desert. However the 'blood' that was seen in conjunction with that star was not, as the astrologers supposed, death, but the blood of the mass circumcision conducted by Joshua on the Israelite entry to the Promised Land. (Josh. 5:9)
(b) Rashi brings the tradition that the many Israelites totally unworthy of being redeemed died during that plague. It had to be during the period of darkness for the Egyptians so that they would not see what happened and claim that their own idols fought their cause against the Israelites.
(c) The S'forno suggests that this month being 'for you' (12:2) - stated twice - is to stress the new relationship between the Israelites and time itself. As slaves in Egypt, their time was the property of their masters. But from then onwards, the use of their time would be 'for them' - to be used as they wished, and accountable to G-d only.
(d) The Ramban suggests that G-d specified the sheep and the lamb for the Passover offerings because these animals served as Egyptian deities. (c.f. Gen. 46:34) The use of such animals as offerings would demonstrate the total subjugation of Egypt to the will of G-d only.
(e) Rashi quotes R. Matya ben Charash who explains why this requirement applied only to the first Passover in Egypt. He brings the tradition that after all the years of the Egyptian servitude, the Israelites had fallen to too low a spiritual level to be worthy of redemption. G-d then gave them two commandments both involving blood - the Passover offering, and circumcision - which had been neglected in Egypt, and without which males were forbidden to partake of the Passover (12:48). He quotes Ezekiel 16:6, 'by your bloods you shall live' - the word blood being in the plural meaning 'by the merits of the correct application of the blood of the Passover offering, and the blood of the circumcision, you shall live'.
(f) The Chinuch explains that these laws were to emphasize the aristocratic nature of the Passover feast. Kings and nobles do not rush from feast to feast, nor do they break bones to get at a hidden piece of meat or marrow.
(g) These Parashiot are included in the Tephillen as a reflection of the Exodus' utterly fundamental position in the Israelite faith. For the experience of the Exodus demonstrated that G-d has full control of nature and no one may thwart His will. It showed how He communicated with Mankind through His Prophets, and that He carries out His word and His will. These messages are fundamental to every moment of Man's existence, and must be reiterated constantly.
Favorite comment on the Parasha from the Maharal: the Exodus made the Israelites eternally free. From then on, any servitude and oppression would be a temporary phenomenon that could not change the pure essence of the nation…
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION
The Passover Hagada teaches us that “the Torah speaks of four sons: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one unable to ask questions”. The Hagada, following the Mechilta, says that the above question is that of the wicked son.
This interpretation of the verse poses the following problems:
1. A simple reading of the above dialogue does not imply anyone actually wicked.
2. The Hagada does not give the answer to the question that the Torah gives. The Torah answers as above - by telling the son about the Passover sacrifice and its meaning. The Mechilta, which the Hagada follows, answers the question of the wicked son differently. It takes the answer the Torah gives to the simple son Because of this, G-d did for me when I came out of Egypt (13:8), and uses it as a reply to the wicked son. It then adds a severe interpretation: ‘for me and not for him; if he had been there, he would have not been redeemed’. Why did the Mechilta need to bring that new answer? And why did it add that harsh final comment?
In the context of the verse, the question ‘What is this service to you?’ does not seem unreasonable. After all, the father was delivered from Egypt, not the son. There is a generation gap.
My attempts to tackle these issues may be found in the archives on the Shema Yisrael website for 5763.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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