Valuing Valuables

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We are approaching the climax of the redemption process. Before Moshe delivers the final message of devastation to Pharaoh, before the plague of the firstborn, Hashem tells Moshe to speak to Bnei Yisroel and, “Please… let each man yishalu/request/borrow from rey’ayhu/his fellow (peer, friend) and each woman from reutah/her fellow (peer, friend) silver vessels and gold vessels…” Interestingly, Hashem is asking Bnei Yisroel, “Please,” not commanding them to request these vessels. The most obvious question is why did Hashem approach this subject so gently, asking Bnei Yisroel to please approach their Egyptian neighbors with this request rather than just telling Bnei Yisroel to go to their neighbors and ask for the gold and silver vessels.

Rashi provides us with an answer for why Bnei Yisroel needed gold and silver vessels, for Hashem wanted to fulfill His promise to Avraham Avinu at the Covenant Between the Halves. Hashem promised that after their term of slavery, Bnei Yisroel would leave with great wealth. However, we are still left with our first question plus additional questions. If this wealth was to fulfill the promise to Avraham Avinu, why would Bnei Yisroel need to request or borrow them? Why would Bnei Yisroel be loathe to ask for these vessels so that Hashem had to implore Bnei Yisroel to ask for them? And if indeed Bnei Yisroel verbalized this request as a loan for their religious rituals, how could they do so knowing that they would not be returning to Egypt? Finally, asks the Shvilei Pinchas, why does Hashem refer to the Egyptians here as re’eyhu and reutah, terms usually applied only to other members of Bnei Yisroel?

In Ohel Moshe, Rav Scheinerman weaves together ideas from various other commentators to answer our questions. First, citing the Seforno, he explains that Bnei Yisroel were still afraid of the Egyptians. If they were to borrow these expensive items from the Egyptians, surely the Egyptians would chase them to try to retrieve their possessions. In this assumption, Bnei Yisroel were proved right, but this too was part of God’s plan, adds the Ran. Taken from another perspective, having been slaves all their lives, Bnei Yisroel had not developed a desire for wealth. The only reason they asked for this gold and silver was because Hashem asked them to. However, once they tasted wealth, they had no problem taking the spoils of the drowned Egyptians at the Red Sea, says the Chasam Sofer

The difference in these two motivations served as a basis for how these two sources of gold were later used, writes Rav Scheinerman, continuing to quote the Chasam Sofer. The gold and silver borrowed from the Egyptians neighbors eventually created a kiddush Hashem/sanctification of God’s Name. This “loan” motivated the Egyptians to chase Bnei Yisroel and precipitated the miraculous splitting of the Sea, followed by the Egyptians drowning in the Sea that returned to its original condition. Moshe and Bnei Yisroel immediately burst into song of praise to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. In contrast, the wealth Bnei Yisroel gathered at the Sea was already the result of an awakened desire for gold and silver. Therefore, the gold and silver received from the Egyptian neighbors was used in the construction of the holy Mishkan/Tabernacle, while the gold gathered at the sea shore was used to form the golden calf. Once the yetzer horo implants a desire for wealth, that desire grows and is difficult to rein in, writes Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, so much so that Moshe had to prod Bnei Yisroel to move away from the Red Sea and continue their journey.

Rav Schwadron further develops this idea of the lure of riches. He explains that the Egyptians pursued Bnei Yisroel not to return them to slavery – Bnei Yisroel had already ceased to be slaves the entire year of the plagues – but to kill Bnei Yisroel and retrieve their gold and silver.

How were Bnei Yisroel able to ingratiate themselves so with the Egyptians that the Egyptians were willing to lend them these valuables. Ner Uziel and Rav Hirsch cite two related medrashim that literally throw light on this question. During the plague of darkness, while the Egyptians experienced debilitating darkness, there was light for the Jews, tells us the Torah. This was the supernal light of creations, hidden away and reserved for the righteous. With this light, Bnei Yisroel saw both the treasures previous generations had buried during the age of overflowing prosperity under Yosef Hatzadik and also the valuables in the homes of the Egyptians. Bnei Yisroel took none of this. When light returned and Bnei Yisroel asked to borrow these valuables, the Egyptians had forgotten about the hidden treasures of the previous generations. When Bnei Yisroel revealed the existence and location of these treasures, the Egyptians willingly lent the valuables to them. Further, when the Egyptians realized the honesty of Bnei Yisroel who had not taken anything from the Egyptian homes when they could have stolen everything undetected, adds Rabbi Milesvsky, the Egyptian antipathy toward their Jewish neighbors evaporated and they willingly shared their valuables with their new friends.

In anticipation of their redemption, Bnei Yisroel began borrowing utensils from each other, each actually from re’eyhu and reutah, writes the Malbim. Seeing how Bnei Yisroel were helping each other fully and joyfully celebrate, and they themselves had no celebrations at this time, their Egyptian neighbors were moved to help join the celebration and willingly lent Bnei Yisroel their clothing and valuables.

On this idea, Rabbi Kofman in Shemen Hatov makes a profound observation. The idea of vitur/choosing to concede to the hopes or desires of another did not yet exist. This would become a foundational concept for Bnei Yisroel to accept the Torah and live within its precepts. Therefore, Bnei Yisroel first needed to ask each other, to borrow from each other, to show concern for each other’s needs before they could approach the Egyptians to ask them to share as well. When the Egyptians saw how Bnei Yisroel were treating each other, their own sensitivity and moral values were changed, and they willingly lent Bnei Yisroel their valuables.

We create realities with everything we do, continues Rabbi Kofman. We never know what subliminal effect our actions may have on others, both positive and negative. The vibes and energies we sometimes feel in different places are the result of previous actions in those places. That’s why we can be rewarded for the mitzvoth others perform and sacredness others create because our earlier actions impacted their surroundings and them.

However, according to Shvilei Pinchas, when Bnei Yisroel asked the Egyptians for these utensils, they asked that the utensils be given as gifts, not borrowed, vayishalu being translated as either borrowed or asked. [When a friend asks us, “Can I have this?” we usually give it as a gift, not expecting it to be returned. The double meaning of the Hebrew word raises both possibilities. CKS] Further, since before Matan Torah, there was no distinction between the nations, all were rei’im/friends/equals. Only after the other nations rejected the Torah being offered them while Bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah did this distinction occur, as Bnei Yisroel remained partners with Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

The Shvilei Pinchas further discusses the dual understanding of the word vayishalu. Going back to creation, Hashem made a condition with the world. At the completion of creation, the Torah says, “There was evening and morning yom hashishi/on the sixth day.” All the other days of creation end with, “One day, a second day, a third day, etc.” Why the difference here, at the completion of creation? By that additional letter Hashem is alluding to a very specific sixth day, the sixth of Sivan when Bnei Yisroel were destined to accept the Torah. Hashem conditioned the continued existence of the world on Bnei Yisroel’s future acceptance of the Torah. If Bnei Yisroel would refuse to accept the Torah, the world would revert to its previous state of chaos and nothingness. When Bnei Yisroel accepted the Torah after the other nations rejected it, Bnei Yisroel ensured the continued existence of the world. Since all the nations and the earth, itself now owed their existence to Bnei Yisroel, Bnei Yisroel were permitted to enjoy all that the earth possessed. Before Matan Torah, writes the Shvilei Pinchas, this was indeed a loan, both Bnei Yisroel and the Egyptians would consider this a loan. The secret here, whispered into Moshe’s ear for Bnei Yisroel, was that after Matan Torah, Bnei Yisroel would indeed be entitled to keep these possessions. In this context, the last plague of the Death of the Firstborn is intimately connected to possessing these gold and silver utensils, for Hashem smote the firstborn of the Egyptians as punishment for the continued suffering of the nation He called, “My son, My firstborn Israel.”

We, as Jews, are certainly entitled to enjoy the gifts the world offers. But we must remember that we are given these gifts as a condition for our acceptance of Torah and our obligation to live according to its precepts. We must remember that Torah is our life, and when unbridled pursuit of the material and physical wealth interfere with our enjoyment of family and a true Torah lifestyle, we are literally and symbolically killing ourselves. The spirit of Torah that has sustained the world has even more sustained us throughout the generations.