TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi
Rabbi Yaakov Beasley
parasha discusses Bnei Yisrael's final preparations for leaving
Egypt and their slavery behind.
Among the various particulars, we note that one detail repeats itself
three times in Sefer Shemot.
In Hashem's original communication to Moshe (chapter 3), He
And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall
come to pass that when you go, you shall not go empty;
But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and of her that sojourns in her house
jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; and you shall put them upon
your sons, and upon your daughters, and you shall despoil the
repeats the command that the Jewish people ask their Egyptian neighbors for
their jewelry and clothing at the beginning of Chapter 11 when informing Moshe
of the impending plague of the firstborn and the eventual release of Bnei
And Hashem said unto Moshe: "Yet one plague more will I bring upon
Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence; when he shall let
you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.
Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask every man of his neighbor,
and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold."
And Hashem gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover,
the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's
servants, and in the sight of the people.
Torah impresses upon the reader the importance of the fact that the Jewish
People left Egypt with great riches by repeating the implementation of the
command immediately after the devastation of the final plague in Chapter
And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of
the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment.
And Hashem gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that
they let them have what they asked. And they despoiled the
thrice-fold repetition of the act of taking wealth from the Egyptians should
cause the reader to wonder – why was this necessary? Clearly, if even the Torah wanted to
mention that the Jews were showered with gifts from their neighbors, it could
have done so in passing, without placing it in the textual spotlight. In addition, the ethical question of
borrowing items from others without any intention of returning them bothered
many commentators. What does this
story add to our understanding of the Exodus from Egypt?
PURPOSE – A GIFT, AN EXCHANGE, OR COMPENSATION
first question that commentators dealt with in this episode is whether the
Jewish people were asking for the goods as borrowed items or as absolute
gifts. Most early commentators cite
sources that demonstrate that the root word SH.A.L. may refer to a request for
an outright gift, and does not only mean borrowing (as it is usually
translated). Rabbeinu Sa'adia Ga'on mentions that Hannah gave her son the name
Shemuel because "He shall be handed over to Hashem" (1 Shemuel 1:28), and
in this case the child was dedicated permanently to Hashem. The Rabbeinu Bachye quotes a similar
idea from Rabbeinu Channanel, but he adds the moral rationale for the
forbid that Hashem should have permitted them to deceive their fellow man
by borrowing silver and gold articles with no intention of returning them. Rather, "let them ask"
(ve-SHA'ALA) refers to their requesting these items as gifts. Gideon says, "I would make a request –
SH'EILA – of you, that you would give every man the earning of his spoils," and
Batsheva addresses Shlomo Ha-Melekh with "I have one small request
- SH'EILA – to ask you… let Adoniyahu your brother have Avishug
Ha-Shunamite as a wife." Therefore,
we see that gifts can be referred to by the word
commentators do not view the transaction as a simple request for gifts, but as
one of mutual exchange. In leaving
Egypt, the Jewish people were forced to abandon properties, fields, vineyards,
and many items too heavy to carry.
This approach, first mentioned by the Chizkuni, appears in its most
developed form in the commentary of the Malbim, first in chapter 3 when
Hashem first appeared to Moshe, and again during the implementation of
possessed fields and vineyards, homes, and furniture. What would they do when leaving the
country, since the Egyptians would plunder their homes and possessions, leaving
them empty handed? Therefore,
Hashem informed them that they would not leave Egypt destitute.
(Commentary to 3:21)
they were leaving, they asked their neighbors and boarders to take their homes
and property in exchange for silver and gold articles of equal value, which
would be more portable. In doing
so, they fulfilled the verse, "And you will save (your property from) the
Egyptians." The word "save" means
that the Jewish People leaving Egypt would be able to save their property in
this way, and in the verse, "And G-d saved the flock of your father"
(Commentary to 12:35)
acquisition of Egyptian gold and silver was therefore simply a mutual exchange
of possessions, and no ethical questions arise.
the Talmud suggests a third approach to the request to take gold and silver from
the Egyptians. According to the
midrash, the Egyptians took the Jewish People to court in the time of
Alexander the Great and sued them for the gold and silver that they "borrowed"
from them during the Exodus and never returned. An outsider named Gaviah ben Pasisa
volunteered to serve as the defense attorney for the Jewish People. He responded in front of the Greek
monarch, "From where do you bring proof that we took the money?" They responded, "From the Torah." He countered, "Then I will bring proof
from the Torah, where it states that the Jewish people dwelled in Egypt for 430
years. Please give us the wages of
600,000 workers for that time period, and we shall return the gold which we
took." The account (in the Talmud,
Sanhedrin 91b) concludes with the Egyptians requesting a three-day
recess, and not returning to the court thereafter.
the Talmud suggests is a third justification for the taking of the Egyptian
wealth – that it represents unpaid wages.
This is the Keli Yakar's main argument:
the Holy One, Blessed be He, could have simply given them great wealth, He
wished them to receive it as wages for their labor, as Gaviah ben Pasisa stated
in the Talmud. That was the only
way to placate that righteous one (Avraham Avinu),
for the possessions had to be those of the Egyptians in exchange for their
work. That is why it is written,
"Afterwards, they will go out with great wealth" (Bereishit 15:14), that
is, after completing their labor.
commentators attempt to legally justify the "deception" of the Egyptians with
this approach. Since the wealth
taken represented unpaid wages, although Bnei Yisrael could not seize
items by force, they could hold onto them once they received them as a loan, as
the money came into their possession legally.
CREATING EMOTIONAL CLOSURE
Seforno suggests a completely different approach regarding why the act of
requesting wealth was so important.
When the Jewish people were first commanded to request wealth from the
Egyptians, Bnei Yisrael feared that if they took gold and silver from
them, this would cause the Egyptians to pursue them. Hashem commanded them again,
instead of simply asking them, and He promised them that they would have nothing
to fear. Asking their former
taskmasters for wealth would become a dramatic demonstration of their
approach differs from the previous ones in that it interprets the request as
serving a primarily psychological purpose, instead of concentrating on the
technical financial legalities of the transaction (a gift, exchange, or
redemption of unpaid wages).
the transfer of money played an emotional purpose was first suggested by
Josephus, but he views the Egyptians as the beneficiaries of the
Egyptians bestowed gifts upon them so they would hasten to leave, and they
accepted these gifts as a show of neighborliness. As they left, the Egyptians wept,
contrite over their evil treatment. (Antiquities of the Jews II:14)
providing the Jewish people with tremendous wealth upon leaving in a willing and
loving manner, the Egyptians were able to tangibly express their feelings of
guilt and regret for their cruel and vicious behavior over the previous
recent commentator suggests that it was the Jewish people, not the Egyptians,
who were in greater emotional need to receive gifts from the
the heart of a Jew, the name Egypt immediately recalled many bitter and
unpleasant associations. How could
he not, for had not the Egyptian's ancestor enslaved and embittered his
ancestors, and how could he (the Jew) be expected to treat the Egyptian under
the guidelines by which all strangers/converts be treated? "Is it possible that the rule of 'And
you shall love him' apply to him?"
However, the Torah states that in the end, they sent you out with silver
and gold, and treated you with the same respect that you are obligated to treat
one of your own brethren when you free them from their period of servitude: "Do
not let him leave empty-handed" (Devarim 15). Therefore, the Torah states, "Do
not despise the Egyptian for you were a stranger in his land." Since the Egyptians did not fully
appreciate the import of what was occurring and would not have given them gifts
of their own initiative, the Jews were commanded to encourage them to part with
their riches so that they part as friends. (Benno Jacob, from the end of his
article Gott und Pharao Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Wisseschaft des
Benno Jacob suggests is a psychological truth whose import we are only beginning
to appreciate. The victims of
trauma and violence suffer greatly; however, part of the process of healing,
when and if the time is appropriate, includes the act of forgiveness. This does not absolve or release the
perpetrator from responsibility, but allows the victim to proceed without
harboring strong feelings of resentment and anger, which may paralyze them in
the past and leave them unable to move forward. At the moment of parting, Hashem
intentionally arranged for the people's last memories of Egypt to be positive
ones so that they would be able to leave Egypt behind them and go forward to
fulfill their destiny at Mount Sinai and become "a kingdom of priests and a
light unto the nations."
 Based on Berachot 7a, "So that
this righteous man (Avraham
Avinu) should not say, 'Hashem fulfilled His word 'they will
enslave and torture them' (Bereishit 15:13), but He did not fulfill His
promise 'and afterwards, they will go out with great