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Why did G-d command the Jews to “borrow” from their Egyptian neighbors gold, silver and clothing?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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First of all, the verse says that by asking their neighbors for all these costly items the Jewish people did “as Moses commanded them to borrow...” (Exodus 12:35). So, in fact, the Jews were fulfilling a prophet’s holy command, and not asking out of greed.

The Jews’ becoming wealthy was a promise that G-d made Abraham. G-d told Abraham that his descendents would be exiled and enslaved, but that eventually they would be freed amidst great riches. Receiving the Egyptians’ treasures was the fulfillment of G-d’s promise. The Midrash says that G-d told Moses, “I know the Jews just want to leave already, with or without riches, but tell them to please humor me by emptying Egypt of all its wealth. I don’t want Abraham to say, ‘the four hundred years of slavery were realized, but the promised riches...that they never received!’”1

Jewish mysticism teaches that the wealth that the Jewish people acquired was spiritually important, too. Egypt of that era was a veritable pit of spiritual anarchy where idolatry, immorality, sorcery, and injustice were all condoned. And yet, buried in this evil societal framework were numerous lofty holy ‘sparks’ of G-dliness. The mystical reasons why the Jewish people languished in slavery was in order to “dig up” these buried sparks and elevate them back to their G-dly source. Taking the Egyptian “wealth” hints to the Jewish people’s successful recovery of these holy sparks. The Jewish people left no spark unturned, completely depleting Egypt’s supply.

Footnotes

  • 1. Rashi on Exodus 11:2 states: "Please, speak-Heb. דַב֌ֶך-נ֞א is only an expression of request. [The verse is saying] I ask you to warn them about this, [i.e., to ask their neighbors for vessels] so that the righteous man, Abraham, will not say He fulfilled with them [His promise] “and they will enslave them and oppress them” (Gen. 15:13), but He did not fulfill with them “afterwards they will go forth with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14). — [from Berachos. 9a]. Also see Shmot Raba on Parshat Bo

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Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.