Dvar Torah - The Jewish People Ask for Gold and Silver Vessels – by Rabbi Hassan Based on the teachings of Rav Hirsch
Our Parasha has all the highlights of Pesach. The last three plagues, the laws of the Korban Pesach, Yetziyat Mitzrayim and … the Jews asking for gold and silver from the Egyptians. Why is this detail mentioned in the climax of the redemption of our nation?
When Hashem foretold to Avraham the exile of his descendants, He said “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years. And, the nation that they will serve I will judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions.” (Bereshit 15:13-14) Hashem promised to Avraham that we would leave with great wealth but as slaves we didn’t have any possessions. Everything belonged to Pharaoh.
Hashem commands Moshe to tell the people “Please speak in the ears of the people. Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels. Hashem granted the people favor in the eyes of Egypt. Moreover, the man Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Paroh, and in the eyes of the people.” (Shemot 11:2-3) How did former slaves become so great in the eyes of their former masters?
Hashem provided the Egyptians with a powerful demonstration of the character of the Jewish people. For three days, the Egyptians were immobilized by the plague of darkness. Everything they possessed was available to the Jews for the taking. Moreover, they themselves were fair game to anyone seeking vengeance and reprisal for all the horrors inflicted upon the slave-nation by their Egyptian masters.
When the Egyptians began to see again, it was not only with a sense of relief at having survived their ordeal, but of disbelief that they and their possessions had emerged unscathed and unmolested. Their dwellings were fully in order; nothing at all was missing. The Jews, free to help themselves of whatever they pleased – and with good reason to do so – had taken nothing at all. In an instant, they comprehended the moral nobility of the people with whom they had dealt so unjustly. Moshe, the leader of that people, achieved stature in their eyes for guiding them to moral greatness. This – not all the plagues he had visited upon them – made him great in their eyes.
Why does the Torah say “please speak” surely the Jewish People would have been happy to carry out this command? The Jews must have sensed their triumph, and understood that they had laid firm and unambiguous claim to the moral high road. Once in possession of it, they would not part with it easily. This is why they had to be urged and cajoled “please speak” to ask their newly-found admirers for gifts. Having tasted the sweet taste of moral significance, they were unwilling to trade away any part of it for money. Accepting money – blood money – from their erstwhile oppressors would buy some atonement for the Egyptians, and narrow the moral gap between the two peoples.
Why, then, did Hashem want them to accept the reparations? The Jews stood on the threshold of genuine peoplehood. They would cross the border of Egypt as a nation, not a huge collection of individuals. Hashem was already looking towards the future, shaping their future well-being at the very moment that he was sculpting them into a complete nation. He was concerned about their future. Their material prosperity was no small part of it. The foundation of that prosperity should be strong, and He wanted the first deposit into their account to be made by outsiders who had recognized the moral greatness of Hashem’s chosen people. The first installment in their savings plan should be elevated above the ordinary by linking it to a Jewish success in spreading awareness of Hashem and His teaching.