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Appreciating Borrowed Values

Harav Yehuda Amital

Summarized by Dov Karoll


In this week's parasha, God commands Moshe that Bnei Yisrael should "borrow" gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors (Shemot 11:2). Rashi (ibid.) comments that God wanted Moshe to make sure that the Jews leave Egypt with wealth so that Avraham will not have any claims against God. Otherwise, Avraham could complain that while God fulfilled the promise of slavery in berit bein ha-betarim (Bereishit 15:13-14), He did not fulfill the promise of remuneration ("ve-acharei chen yetz'u bi-rekhush gadol").

Why would Avraham care so much that his descendants leave Egypt with wealth? Furthermore, why would God command Moshe to have the people borrow these utensils, when they had no intention of returning them? The Ar"i says that Bnei Yisrael were supposed to take out the nitzotzot, the sparks of holiness, from Egypt. In other words, they were supposed to take those positive elements of their experience in Egypt - both what they learned from their experience as slaves, and what they gained from the society around them. Egypt was the most developed culture at the time, and they were supposed to draw out those positive values which they learned there. For this reason, God wanted to make sure that while the people should take these values, they should realize that they are borrowed values, and not elements original to Judaism.

Similarly, there are many things in general society through which Torah study can be improved. When the Mishna was compiled, it was intentionally written unclearly so people would need to learn from a Rebbe, and not be able to understand it on their own. It was meant to be learned by heart in a Beit Midrash. In a similar manner, nowadays one can learn from a computer which has stored in its memory all of Tanakh, Gemara, etc., without ever opening a book. However, one should realize that this is not the way one is meant to learn, and that learning should be done primarily from books and teachers.

Another example is the photocopy machine, through which people can read texts without having the book in their library, and without even borrowing it. However, there is a danger in these advancements. While it is very helpful to people who cannot otherwise learn from the original, it is still not ideal to go through life learning only from computers and xerox copies. There is some advantage to learning in a Beit Midrash, from a Rebbe, with a book - the way it was learned for hundreds of years. While it is proper to use these technological advancements for the advancement of Torah, it still must be recognized that they are borrowed techniques, and not the primary, original mode of Torah study. Nothing can compare with the experience of becoming familiar with a book, of interacting with a teacher, and of debating with a chavruta. And only by putting in the effort and mastering large amounts of material will we truly become talmidei chakhamim.


(Originally delivered Shabbat Parashat Bo 5757.)




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