Ari Sacher

“On the Calendar” Parashat Bo 5778

The situation in Egypt is reaching a crescendo. Nine plagues have hit and a tenth – and final – plague is imminent. Hashem tells Moshe that after the upcoming tenth plague the Egyptians will literally throw Am Yisrael out of their country. Moshe is given marching orders in preparation for the exodus [Shemot 11:2]: “Please speak into the ears of the people and let them borrow, each man from his friend and each woman from her friend, silver vessels and golden vessels”. The Torah then tells us [Shemot 11:3] “Hashem gave the people favour in the Egyptians’ eyes; also the man Moshe was highly esteemed in the land of Egypt in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants and in the eyes of the people.”

This is not the first time Hashem has given these orders. When He first speaks to Moshe at the burning bush He tells him [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 go, you will not go empty handed. Each woman shall borrow from her neighbour and from the dweller in her house silver and gold objects and garment… you shall empty out Egypt.” Hashem’s promise to Moshe that Am Yisrael would eventually be paid in some way for their forced labour was now finally coming to fruition.

Let’s see what actually happens after the tenth plague [Shemot 12:35-36]: “The children of Israel did according to Moshe’s order and they borrowed from the Egyptians silver objects, golden objects, and garments. Hashem gave the people favour in the eyes of the Egyptians and they lent them and they emptied out Egypt.” Everything goes exactly as planned – and this creates a problem: Why does the Torah tell us immediately before the tenth plague that “Hashem gave the people favour in the Egyptians’ eyes” only to repeat itself nearly verbatim immediately after the plague? Perhaps it was feared that the Egyptian good will might have evaporated as a result of all the first-born being killed. Perhaps the Torah is assuring us that their good will remained intact and that they were just as willing to “lend” the Jews their valuables after the plague as they were before the plague. Indeed, the Abarbanel suggests that the Egyptians were even more eager to lend their valuables after the plague in an attempt to appease the Jews, as they hoped that they could save their souls by buying Jewish favour. The problem with this reasoning is that if the Egyptians were still willing to part with their possessions after the plague, when it really mattered, why do we need to know that they were willing to part with their valuables before the plague, when it was not yet relevant?

Something else seems strange. If Egyptian good-will was already in the air before the tenth plague, why do Am Yisrael wait until after the plague before they ask the Egyptians for their valuables? Instead, the first thing that they do after Pharaoh tells them [Shemot 12:31] “Get up and get out from among my people!” is to start knocking on doors and asking their neighbours for their vintage Mickey Mantle baseball cards. Now they decide to go shopping? Why do they wait for the last possible minute?

I suggest that Am Yisrael borrowed from their Egyptian neighbours before, and not after, the tenth plague. According to this hypothesis, the verse that appears after the tenth plague should be read as follows: “The children of Israel had [already] done according to Moshe’s order and they had already borrowed from the Egyptians”. This translation is more than just “convenient” – it actually makes a lot of sense: Immediately after the Egyptian first-born are struck dead, immediately after Pharaoh summarily throws Am Yisrael out of Egypt, and immediately before we are told that they went out to “borrow”, we are told [Shemot 12:34] “The people picked up their dough when it was not yet leavened, their leftovers bound in their garments on their shoulders”. They made matzo. While both this verse and the next (borrowing) verse are in the past tense, there is a difference in the conjugation. Regarding matzo, the Torah uses the standard “vav ha’me’hapechet[1] and so we read “va’yo’fu” (they baked). Regarding borrowing, however, the Torah uses the plain simple past tense and so we read “asu” (they did) – and not “va’ya’asu”. Two different conjugations are used to show that the baking of the matzo and the borrowing of the baseball cards did not occur at the same time. The matzo was baked right there and then, after the tenth plague, while the borrowing had already taken place exactly where Moshe is first commanded, right before the tenth plague.

Wait a minute. If we reverse the logic we used above, that is to say, if Am Yisrael had already “done as Hashem had commanded” before the tenth plague by borrowing from the Egyptians, why does the Torah repeat itself after the plague? Because the Torah wanted to contrast their making of matzo with their borrowing the Egyptian valuables. Why do we eat matzo on Pesach? The most straightforward answer is that we eat matzo because Hashem commanded us to eat matzo. Two weeks before the exodus Hashem told Moshe [Shemot 12:1] “For seven days you shall eat matzo”. According to the Pesach Haggadah, we eat matzo to commemorate how “the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before [Hashem] revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” Why didn’t the dough have time to rise? Because the Egyptians threw Am Yisrael out of Egypt. But weren’t Am Yisrael explicitly told that the Egyptians were going to throw them out? Why didn’t they make their bread earlier? Could it be that they didn’t believe that they were actually going to be redeemed? If so, how did they still find the time to ask the Egyptians for their valuables? Because where money is involved, you can’t be too sure? Perish the thought! The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh vehemently asserts that Am Yisrael only took the Egyptian valuables because Hashem forced them to.

The answer has to do with the way we plan our time. When a (tech-savvy) person is given a task to perform, he can put the task in one of two places: He can put it on his “To Do” list or he can put it on his calendar. The key difference between the two is that the calendar pairs one task with one time slot, encouraging him to devote his full attention to the task at hand. Usually the more important tasks are found on the calendar. Say a person is going on vacation. He has two tasks: he has to pack and he has to catch his flight. Chances are that if you look at this person’s smartphone, his flight will be on his calendar while packing will be on his To Do list. If he’s not at the airport an hour before his plane leaves, then he will miss his flight. On the other hand, when he packs his suitcase is inconsequential, as long as he remembers to pack some time before he leaves for the airport.

Borrowing the Egyptian valuables was a critical task. It required a change in the slave-master mentality and it would provide the seed-money that would form the basis of the nascent Israeli economy. This task went on the calendar. As soon as the time was right, as soon as “Hashem gave the people favour in the Egyptians’ eyes”, Am Yisrael performed their task. Making bread, on the other hand, was something they did every day. It wasn’t important enough to deserve its own time slot and so it went on their To Do list. But because after the tenth plague things happened so fast, Am Yisrael found themselves on the road without time to make bread and they had to make due with matzo. Each year as we eat matzo at the Pesach seder, we remind ourselves that even though Hashem gave us sufficient warning, we were still not ready for our redemption. Well, our final redemption is just around the corner. The prophet Isaiah has warned us [60:22][2] that when this redemption comes things are going to happen very quickly. In preparation, we must begin to take tasks off our To Do list and to put them on our calendar, to make sure they get done in time. While we do not all share the same tasks, I think we all know what they are. Well, what are we waiting for?


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and Tzvi ben Freida.

[1] The vav ha’me’hapechet uses the letter vav to invert a verb from the imperative into the past tense.

[2] According to the explanation of the Vilna Gaon.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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