5.7. “I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt” (3:19-21)

(19) Yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of a greater might.

(20) So I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt with various wonders which I will work upon them; after that he shall let you go.

(21) And I will dispose the Egyptians favorably toward this people, so that when you go, you will not go away empty-handed.

(22) Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor and the lodger in her house objects of silver and gold, and clothing, and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, thus stripping the Egyptians.”

(19) Yet I know: God continues to persuade Moses of the need to create a chosen people from those Jews who are now in Egypt, explaining to him that the process of the Exodus will elevate the Jews and allow them to advance spiritually. God does this as a means of countering Moses’ doubts that the Jewish people in Egypt are at all capable of becoming the “chosen people.”

(19-20) Yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of a greater might. So I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt: The Egyptian plagues were an integral part of the Exodus. They were necessary in order to destroy the foundations of Egyptian idolatry and determinism, so that the world would be able to accept the Jewish light in the future. But the plagues also served the purpose of demolishing the idolatrous notions residing in the minds of the Jews themselves (to “take Egypt out of the Jews”), thus enabling them to receive the Torah. And the justice of this path lies in the fact that the Egyptians were punished for oppressing the Jews.

(21) And I will dispose the Egyptians favorably toward this people: They will give you their gold and silver not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because the Almighty will force them to do so.

(22) So that when you go, you will not go away empty-handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbor … objects of silver and gold … thus stripping the Egyptians: God promised Abraham that the Jews would leave Egypt “with great wealth” (Gen. 15:14), and this means “stripping” Egypt, both spiritually and materially.

On the spiritual side: Egypt was the most highly developed civilization of that era, with an abundance of cultural and other achievements that needed to be preserved. Those achievements – as assimilated by the Jews according to their characteristically Jewish understanding and appreciation of them – became the spiritual assets that the Jews took with them upon leaving Egypt.

And on the material side: The gold and silver that the Jews received from the Egyptians were fair compensation for two hundred years of slave labor, and for the immovable property that the Jews left behind in Egypt[1].

The Jews were to leave Egypt not as indigent, downtrodden slaves, but as a wealthy, self-sufficient people. Because this transition demanded a completely revised worldview, it was very important for the psychological re-education of the Jews to acquire these material possessions.

(Note that a sense of material independence is important not only for a nation collectively, but also for its members individually. Torah law therefore requires that a Hebrew slave who goes free must be given a generous endowment upon his [or her] departure – Deut. 15:13-14.)

[1] The Midrash relates the following dialogue on this subject. The Egyptians once decided to bring suit against the Jews in Alexander the Great’s judicial court (that is, in the supreme court of international arbitration at that time), demanding: “Let the Jewish people return to us all the gold and silver that they “borrowed” (12:35) – ostensibly for only a certain period of time – from the Egyptian people.” To this the Jews replied: “We have no problem with that, but only on the condition that the Egyptians will likewise pay the Jewish people for two centuries of slave labor (and for the real property they left behind in Egypt). When the Egyptians do so, we will immediately return to them all the gold and silver we took from them.”

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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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