2003Parshat Bo contains the final three plagues that God brings against the Egyptians. In introducing the final plague, the slaying of the first born the Torah contains a seemingly odd detail - the Israelites are to ask for objects of silver and gold before leaving Egypt.
And the Lord said to Moses, "I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you out of here one and all. Please tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold."
And God said to Abram, "Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth..."
1. Why does God tell Abraham about the future slavery and eventual redemption of his descendants now - as Abraham is about to enter into a covenant with God?
2. How is it a comfort to Abraham to know that his descendants will leave with great wealth?
Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 9a-b
Please tell the people - the house of Rabbi Yannai says. The word "please" denotes a request. God said to Moses: "I ask of you. Go and tell the Israelites to please ask for objects of silver and gold, so that that righteous one (i.e., Abraham) will not say: 'they shall be enslaved' and 'they shall be oppressed' God fulfilled. But He did not fulfill 'and in the end they shall go free with great wealth.'"
The Israelites said to Moses, "Would that we can leave by ourselves." A parable is told of a man who was held captive in a jail house. People told him, "we are releasing you tomorrow from this jail house and we will give you a lot of money." The man said to them, "I beg of you. Release me today and I will not ask for anything else."
1. Why does the Talmud not identify Abraham by name, but only as "that righteous one"?
2. Why is God concerned that the Jews should stay in Egypt longer in order to get money from the Egyptians? The argument made by the prisoner in the parable seems to make good sense?
3. Are the Israelites in Egypt bound by the promise God made to Abraham?
As the Jews prepare to leave Egypt they are doing more than simply leaving the servitude and oppression. They are beginning the process of becoming a people, a nation. The fundamental characteristic of the people is that it has a covenant with God. This covenant means that we have responsibilities toward God and at the same time God has responsibilities toward us. This covenantal relationship began with Abraham.
Perhaps this talmudic passage is emphasizing the point of covenantal relationship. The Israelites should not view themselves as any other people leaving slavery. Rather they are entering into the covenant and as such are becoming part of a living history. They are intimately connected to Abraham and the covenant that he struck with God. Thus in their leaving Egypt the Jews have to be made aware of the covenant and the promise that God made to Abraham. Their leaving is the fulfillment of that promise and must therefore fulfill every detail of that promise - including the fact that they are to leave with great riches.
Prepared by Elliot Kaplowitz, Iyyun Fellow, Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Bo at MyJewishLearning.com.