12.2. “The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave” (12:33-36)

(33) The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, “We shall all be dead.”

(34) So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders.

(35) The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing.

(36) And the Lord had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians.

(33-34) The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country … So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks: As noted earlier, this episode in the story of the Exodus has two possible interpretations.

According to the first interpretation, “the people” who took their unleavened dough are Jews, and the seven-day ban on leaven applies only to the future, to subsequent Passover celebrations (that is, to “Passover for the generations”), and has nothing to do with the Egyptian Passover. By this reading, the Jews left Egypt “with their kneading bowls,” not yet knowing that they would bake matzah from this dough. Later that matzah became a symbol of the hurried Exodus.

In this case, the words “The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country” emphasize that, notwithstanding all the Divine directives, the Jews were not yet completely ready to leave Egypt, and the Egyptians had to force them out (recall by analogy how the angels had to lead Lot out of Sodom by force – Gen. 19:16).

The alternate reading, on the other hand, distinguishes between “the people” and “the Children of Israel,” and suggests that “the people” who brought their unleavened dough with them are not Jews, but pro-Jewish Egyptians, the eirev rav (“mixed multitude”), who joined the Jews and left Egypt with them.

If so, the words “urged the people on” refer to these “pro-Jewish Egyptians” who, although they had already joined the Jews in the religious sense, were nonetheless not planning to leave Egypt, but the Egyptian masses forced them out after the death of the firstborns. It is clear, then, that these Egyptians did not have pre-prepared matzah; they only had the dough that they carried with them.

(35) The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing: Moses has thus fulfilled God’s special request (11:2), in accordance with God’s promise to Abraham: “But I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Gen. 15:14).

The Jews took with them the wealth of Egypt, both materially and spiritually. From a material point of view, it was a fair payment for centuries of slave labor and for their abandoned houses and property. Moreover, for their proper self-respect moving forward it was important for the Jews to feel that they are no longer poor slaves, but a free and affluent people.

(Judaism also applied this principle to Jewish life in the future: “If a fellow Hebrew, man or woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall set him free. When you set him free, do not let him go empty-handed: Furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat, with which the Lord your God has blessed you. Bear in mind that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I enjoin this commandment upon you today.” – Deut. 15:13).

In the spiritual sense, the Jews had to take with them “the gold and silver” (that is, the very best) of Egyptian culture and civilization, in order to integrate it later into Jewish tradition, and into their daily life in the land of Israel.

(36) And the Lord had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians: If we distinguish between “the Children of Israel” and “the people,” such that the former are Jews, and the latter are pro-Jewish Egyptians – the “mixed multitude” – then it was these Egyptians who stripped Egypt. They performed that “stripping” not only in the literal sense (since the Egyptians would obviously be more inclined to give gold and silver to other Egyptians than they would to share it with the Jews), but also in the spiritual sense, since they were the country’s true spiritual elite, the “gold of Egypt,” and their departure itself “stripped” (devastated) Egypt.

The Egyptian heritage of this “mixed multitude” subsequently became a positive influence within Judaism, thus creating a connection between the Jews and the peoples of the world.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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