S.A.L.T. - Tuesday
In loving memory of
Yitzchak ben Chaim Zvi Schwartz,
who passed away on 13 Shvat 5771
and Sheva Shayndel bat David Schwartz,
who passed away 13 Shvat 5778
by Avraham and Sarah Schwartz
We read in Parashat Bo that at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Benei Yisrael asked the Egyptians for their utensils, which they would bring with them into the wilderness (12:35). This was in fulfillment of God’s instruction to Moshe before the Exodus that he should command Benei Yisrael to make this request (11:2). The Torah relates that the Egyptians responded generously to the people’s requests, “va-yash’ilum” – and gladly granted them their possessions (12:36).
The plain meaning of this verse, as the Rashbam explains, is that the Egyptians complied with the former slaves’ requests, and gave them their belongings. Rashi, however, based on the Mekhilta, explains the term “va-yash’ilum” as suggesting a degree of initiative on the Egyptians’ part. According to Rashi, the Egyptians not only gave Benei Yisrael the articles they requested, but even offered to grant them additional goods.
Rav Yosef Konvitz, in Divrei Yosef, advances a different insight into this verse. He explains that although many among Benei Yisrael abided by Moshe’s command to request the Egyptians’ belongings, others were unable to do so. The conditioning of generations of slavery and humiliation made it impossible for them to muster the courage and self-confidence to approach their former masters to brazenly ask for their possessions. This verse tells that the Egyptians happily gave their belongings to these former slaves, even without their asking.
Rav Konvitz suggests explaining on this basis the Gemara’s famous comment in Masekhet Berakhot (9a-b) concerning God’s command that Benei Yisrael ask for the Egyptians’ possessions. God instructed Moshe, “Daber na be-oznei ha’am” – “Speak, please, in the people’s ears” (11:2) that they should ask the Egyptians for their possessions. The word “na” (“please”) indicates that God was imploring Moshe, as it were, to ensure that Benei Yisrael would leave would the Egyptians’ riches. The Gemara explains that God was begging Moshe to make this happen because otherwise, Avraham would object. God had informed Avraham that his offspring would be enslaved and then leave with a large fortune (Bereishit 15:13). If Benei Yisrael would leave Egypt without the Egyptians’ wealth, then Avraham would object, charging that God only fulfilled the prophecy about his descendants’ subjugation, but not the prophecy about their emergence with wealth. Therefore, the Gemara says, God “implored” Moshe to have Benei Yisrael ask the Egyptians for their belongings at the time of the Exodus.
A number of commentators raised the question of why God was concerned only about Avraham’s reaction to his descendants leaving Egypt without wealth, and not about fulfilling the promise that He had made. Rav Konvitz answers this question by explaining that God’s promise would be fulfilled once Benei Yisrael were in a position to bring the Egyptians’ belongings with them. The miraculous plagues which God brought upon Egypt resulted in the Egyptians’ desperate interest in pleasing Benei Yisrael, such that they were prepared to give Benei Yisrael anything they asked for so that they would leave Egypt. This marked God’s fulfillment of His promise to Avraham that his descendants would emerge from their condition of enslavement with a large fortune, as they were given the opportunity to attain this fortune. If they did not seize this opportunity, then God would still have fulfilled His promise – but Avraham would object. He would protest that his descendants were subjected to slavery and persecution against their will, but were not given wealth against their will. Benei Yisrael’s enslavement occurred without their consent – and thus Avraham would have insisted that their fortune, too, be forced upon them if they would not take the initiative needed to obtain it. Therefore, in the end, when many in the nation could not bring themselves to approach the Egyptians and ask for their belongings, God arranged that the Egyptians would voluntarily give them their wealth, so that Benei Yisrael would have no choice but acquire the wealth of their former masters.
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