Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Parshat Bo

They will Go Forth with Great Possessions

There’s one thing that has always bothered me about the Exodus. God had promised Avraham at the covenant between the pieces (berit ben habetarim) that his descendants would leave the people that persecuted them with enormous wealth.

Well the redemption was imminent, but the Israelites were penniless slaves. So God tells Moshe to ensure that they ask the Egyptian neighbors: “silver vessels and golden vessels” (Shemot 11:2)

Surprisingly, the Egyptians agree. Later we are told with this action: “they despoiled the Egyptians” (ibid 12:36).

Was that really necessary? Couldn’t God have come up with a more earnest way of bringing wealth to Israel?

This issue deeply troubled Joseph Hertz, late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire. He went so far as to say that the translation of "נצל" as “despoil” is “misleading and mischievous” (Hertz on ibid 3:22).

He goes on to say the verb: "נצל" appears 210 times in the Tenach and this is the only instance in which it is translated as: “despoil”. On every other occasion it is translated as: “save”. Hertz argues that this is the correct translation: “they saved the Egyptians” (ibid 12:36).

That is, by Israel asking and receiving from the Egyptians their wealth, “they saved the Egyptians”.

What does this mean?

The Egyptian slavery was a cruel slavery. Not only did Israel suffer from “backbreaking labor” (ibid 1:14), but their newly born male children were cast into the river. How would Israel be able to keep laws such as “You shall not scorn the Egyptian, for you were strangers in his land” (Devarim 23:8)? Egypt would forever remain a blot in Israel’s history and its people would be eternally scorned.

God needed to save Egypt so that Israel would not forever scorn them. A friendly parting gift would solve that problem. As Hertz explains, Israel would realize that their oppressor was not the Egyptians but Pharaoh and his courtiers. Indeed we had been previously told that not only did Israelites and Egyptians live side by side as neighbors, but that some Egyptians and Israelites even lived in the same houses (Shemot 3:22).

This gesture literally saved Egypt in Israel’s eyes, and allowed Israel to learn the importance of showing compassion and understanding to strangers.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Bo, entitled: "The Humiliation of Ra" appears at


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