It always happens. You’re going away with the family on a holiday or just for Shabbat. You give everybody one hour’s notice. Should be sufficient, no? You pack up the car. You get the kids buckled in. You sit down and plug in your smart-phone into the radio. You start the car and you begin to back out of the driveway. And right before the car starts moving, one of your children tells you “I have to go to the bathroom!” Really? Why did you suddenly remember now? Where have you been for the last hour?

Our kids come upon this trait honestly. It’s burnt into our national DNA. Thirty five hundred years ago the two-hundred-and-ten-year Egyptian exile was coming to an end. Battered by nine plagues, Pharaoh was teetering. One more push and he would set his slaves free. Before the tenth plague, more than two weeks before the exodus, Hashem gives Moshe a to-do list in preparation for the exodus [Shemot 11:2]: “Please speak to the people and let them take[1], each man from his friend and each woman from her friend, silver vessels and golden vessels.” And then Hashem gives Moshe a lengthy list of things that must be done immediately prior to the exodus, which will occur on the fifteenth of Nissan: Am Yisrael are to take a sheep from the flock, guard it for four days, sacrifice it, and then they must smear its blood on the doorpost. They must eat the sacrifice hastily, together with Matzo. While this is happening, Hashem will kill the Egyptian first-born and then Pharaoh will open the gates. The Torah concludes Moshe’s instructions with the words [Shemot 12:28] “The children of Israel went and did; as Hashem commanded Moshe and Aharon, so they did”. Rashi notes that they couldn’t have done everything that Hashem commanded because some of the things on the list, such as taking a sheep from the flock, were to be done only a week or so later. “But since they accepted upon themselves [to do it], Scripture credits them for it as if they had [already] performed [it].” Actually, there was something they forgot to do. Immediately after Hashem kills the first-born, the Egyptians go berserk. They want the Jews to leave immediately. Jews are literally thrown from their houses. They don’t even have time to wait for their bread to rise. Each extra minute they stay in Egypt is a threat to the well-being of the remaining Egyptians. But right before Am Yisrael board the flight home, they suddenly remember the gold and the silver [Shemot 12:35-36]: “The children of Israel did according to Moshe’s command, and they took from the Egyptians silver, golden, and garments. Hashem gave the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, and [the Egyptians] gave them, and they emptied out Egypt.” Really? Why did you suddenly remember now? Where have you been for the last two weeks?

To be fair, I admit that we are withholding critical information. Moshe was told about the gold and the silver long before he told Am Yisrael about it. When Hashem first reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush, He tells Moshe [Shemot 3:21-22] “I will put this people’s favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, and it will come to pass that when you leave, you will not leave empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbour and from he who lives in her home silver and gold and garments, and you shall put [them] on your sons and on your daughters, and you shall empty out Egypt.” Moshe’s response is forceful and terse: He refuses to serve as Hashem’s emissary, telling Hashem [Shemot 3:23] “They will not believe me”. Why does Moshe choose this particular moment to back out?

Rav J.B. Soloveichik, writing in “Redemption, Prayer and Talmud Torah”, can help us answer this question: “Bondage is identified with the absence of both word and meaningful sound, with total silence. Before Moshe came there was not even a single sound. No complaint was lodged, no cry uttered. The men kept quiet when they were mercilessly tortured by the slave drivers. Torture was taken for granted. They thought this was the way it had to be. The pain did not precipitate suffering; they were unaware of any need.” The Jewish people who were slaves in Egypt were for all intents and purposes no longer human beings. They were subhuman. Am Yisrael and the Egyptians belonged to two different species. When Hashem promises Moshe that Am Yisrael would one day ask their neighbours for their gold and silver, Moshe knew that the redemption was impossible. It was a pipe-dream. These people were going to ask the Egyptians for something? For anything? They can’t even cry out in pain, let alone talk.

Two weeks before the redemption, when Hashem tells Moshe to “go for the gold”, it is no longer a promise – it is a command. Am Yisrael’s exodus is contingent on their asking the Egyptians for their gold and silver. The reason is that Am Yisrael can only leave Egypt as free men, in mind as well as in body. If they leave Egypt still convinced of the superiority of the Egyptians, then they will return to Egypt if and when the Egyptians chase after them. And if they leave Egypt unconvinced of their own self-worth, then they will turn and run the moment the going gets tough. They will be unable to travel the “great and fearful desert[2]”. They will be unable to stand up to the seven Canaanite nations who have no desire whatsoever to cede their homeland. And so the final requirement before Am Yisrael leave Egypt is to stand up to people who have mercilessly beaten them for as long as they can remember and to ask – nay, to demand – that they be paid for the service that they have performed. The only reason Am Yisrael wait so long to go for the gold is until Hashem killed the Egyptian first-born, Am Yisrael were still incapable of asking their erstwhile masters for what is rightfully theirs. Yes, five days earlier they had taunted the Egyptians by taking their deity and slaughtering it in front of their eyes[3]. But they did this as a group, in anonymity. This gave them a national identity, but they still lacked personal identities. Individual Jews had to approach individual Egyptians. This would be infinitely more difficult, but it was critical that they do so. Their entire future, as individuals and as a nation, depended on it[4].

Thirty-five hundred years later, going for the gold is acutely relevant. Am Yisrael is under attack, at home in Israel and abroad. We are slaughtered in Parisian Kosher Markets.  Our right to defend ourselves from indiscriminate rocket fire is challenged by the International Criminal Court. Their goal is to forcefully erase our identities, as individuals and as a nation. Our response must be just as forceful, as individuals and as a nation: We must defiantly continue living our lives as Jews and as Israelis. We must do all that is necessary to stand up for what is rightfully ours. We must unabashedly look in the eyes of those who will us evil and cry out at the top of our lungs “Am Yisrael Chai!”

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Nechemiah Uriel ben Tzipora Hadara and Moshe Dov ben Malka

[1] We have translated the Hebrew word “sha’al” as “to take” and not “to borrow”. Translating the word as “to borrow” means that Am Yisrael eventually planned on returning the gold and silver to the Egyptians. As they had no intention of ever doing so, this raises questions as to why Hashem tricked the Egyptians into giving the Jews their gold. Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch teaches that except for one location in the Torah, the word “sha’al” means “to take [without ever returning]” (In Shemot [22:13] Hashem commands “If a person borrows (yish’al) [an animal] from his neighbor and it breaks a limb or dies, if its owner is not with him, he shall surely pay.”) So according to Rav Hirsch, Am Yisrael had meant from the outset that they were taking money that was rightfully theirs. There was no trickery.

[2] See Devarim [8:15]

[3] The Egyptians worshipped Aries, the sign of the sheep.

[4] Hashem actually makes it easier for Am Yisrael to do as they are commanded. When He first tells Moshe that the Egyptians will one day give Am Yisrael their gold and silver, the Midrash tells of Moshe’s response: “Don’t bother giving them gold. Just letting Your people go free is more than enough!” And yet, when the time comes to ask for the gold, the shoe is on the other foot: The Egyptians tell the Jews “Take all my money, just get out of my land!” It would have been much more difficult had the Egyptians not been in such a rush.