"Plead With the People that They Should Take Property"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion

 


 

PARASHAT BO

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

"Plead with the People that They Should Take Property"

Adapted by Dov Karoll

 

In preparation for the plague of the first born, God asks Moshe to appeal to the people: "Please speak into the ears of the people, and tell them to borrow … objects of silver and gold" (Shemot 11:2). Rashi (s.v. dabeir) points out that the word "na" (translated above as "please") is an expression of a request. Rashi continues to explain that God wants Moshe to make sure that the people take Egyptian property with them. This was important so that Avraham would not be able to complain that God fulfilled His promise "And they shall enslave them and afflict them" (Bereishit 15:13) but not "And afterward they shall go out with great substance" (15:14).

 

Why was this so important? Was this the great reward for the many years of slavery? Did the gold and silver make it all worthwhile? There is a folk question which reflects this sentiment. The question could be put as follows. We commemorate so many other aspects of the exodus from Egypt, such as the matza to commemorate "because their dough did not have time to rise," the maror to commemorate the bitter times, and charoset for the mortar. Why do we have nothing at the seder to commemorate "And afterward they shall go out with great substance"?

 

[Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that the matza commemorates the fact that the dough did not rise even though the commandment to eat matza precedes that event, and was observed at the original Pesach in Egypt (Shemot 12:8). One explanation offered for this relates to the fact that God knew in advance that there would not be time for the dough to rise, and as such could command its commemoration even before it occurred. The Maharal explains that even when the Torah explicitly tells us a reason, that does not mean that it is the only reason.]

 

There is an element of truth underlying this comment. Unlike the other aspects of the exodus from Egypt which we commemorate to this day, the physical reward that the Jewish people received was not lasting; we have nothing left of it today.

 

This only serves to strengthen the question we asked above: Why was this of such great significance? Why did God find it important to plead with Moshe to fulfill this promise?

The Ari z"l explained that when we speak of the possessions that God insisted that the Jewish people take from Egypt, we are not referring (only) to physical items. God wanted the Jewish people to take with them the positive aspects of Egyptian culture and to integrate them, to "raise the sparks."

The Jewish people would not, of their own accord, take anything from Egypt. They would want to be completely free of any remnants of Egypt. Therefore, God pleaded with Moshe to make sure that the people would take the good aspects of Egypt with them.

This idea is also applicable to our contemporary situation. There are many aspects of Western culture that are valuable, while there are many others that are not. It is crucial to discriminate between the positive and the negative values, and to appropriate the former. Sometimes the very same institutions have both positive and negative aspects, and these have to be weighed against each other.

For example, it is debatable whether democracy is an ideal system of government. In a democratic system, every person has an equal say in government, which has both its advantages and its disadvantages. One way to express this is that it means that the most sensible people have just as much of a say as do the biggest fools.

The Supreme Court is another example. The very idea of checks and balances within the government, the notion that not everything decided by the government is automatically right, is a valuable notion. However, the idea of leaving decisions of policy and values to an unelected and unaccountable group is dangerous.

The idea of a free press, which is free of government censorship, can be valuable. It helps uncover corruption and can keep people more honest. The public can make more informed decisions if it has greater knowledge of what is going on. However, this, too, can be abused with inappropriate speech, such as lashon ha-ra and rekhilut.

Thus, the important task of appropriating what is good in Western culture is not a simple one, and requires much consideration and siyata di-Shemaya on our part.

[This sicha was delivered at se'uda shelishit, Parashat Bo 5763 (2003).]


 

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