‘Transmission Phase’ Parashat Bo 5783

Egypt is reeling. Nine plagues after G-d took it upon Himself to show Pharaoh Who was the boss, the country is no longer functioning. But there is still one more plague, the knockout punch, the killing of the first-born. G-d reveals His plans to Moshe [Shemot 11:1]: “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go from here”. In preparation for their freedom, G-d tasks Moshe to ask the Jewish People to borrow articles of gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbours, articles that they will never return. And then something odd happens. In the next verse, the Torah brings what seems to be a non-sequitur [Shemot 11:3]: “G-d disposed the Egyptians favourably toward the people. Moreover, the man, Moshe, was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s servants and among the people.” What does this verse add? Why is it important that the Egyptian looked favourably upon the Jews at this point? The Jews borrow from the Egyptians only after the tenth plague. Why not wait until then to describe the Egyptian philo-semitism? And who were those “people” that held Moshe in such high esteem?

Zooming out, things become even more murky. When the tenth plague hits and Pharaoh throws the Jewish People out of Egypt, Scripture states [Shemot 12:35] “The Israelites did Moshe’s bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing.” They did precisely as commanded. The only problem is that nowhere does the Torah tell us that Moshe ever told them that they were supposed to borrow anything. Compare this with G-d’s commandment to offer the Paschal Lamb (Korban Pesach). First [Shemot 12:3-20] G-d gives Moshe instructions to relay to the Jewish People. Next [Shemot 12:21-27] Moshe relays the instructions. Finally [Shemot 12:28], the Torah summarizes “The Israelites went and did so; just as G-d had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.” Why is the transmission phase missing from the order to borrow gold and silver?

Our solution begins with a comment made by Rashi[1]. Rashi, quoting from the Talmud in Tractate Berachot [9a-b], notes that G-d tells Moshe to “please ask (da’ber na)” the Jewish People to borrow gold and silver from their erstwhile masters. Rashi explains, “The [Hebrew] word ‘na’ is always an expression of entreaty. Here it means: I entreat you, admonish [the Jewish People] about this so that righteous man, Abraham, may not say: the prophecy [Bereishit 15:13] ‘they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them’ He permitted to be fulfilled in them, but the promise [Bereishit 15:14] ‘and afterwards they shall go forth with great wealth’ He did not bring to fulfilment for them”. In other words, Abraham was promised that his descendants would be enriched by their bondage and G-d wanted to make sure that this happened. Hence, Moshe had to add the words “pretty please” to his request that they borrow gold and silver. The Talmud in Tractate Berachot makes it clear that had Moshe not asked them to borrow gold and silver from the Egyptians, they would have just as soon left Egypt without it. All they cared about was their freedom. Everything else was gravy.

The Malbim[2] offers an insight to Rashi’s explanation that is nothing less than revolutionary. When G-d tells Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved and afflicted, He informs him that the episode will last [Bereishit 15:13] “four hundred years”. Now, even though the Torah attests [Shemot 12:40] that the Jewish People spent four hundred and thirty years in Egypt, nearly all of the commentators agree that they spent much less time there[3], with the most accepted number being two hundred and ten years. It is safe to say that most of the Jewish slaves – the man on the street – identified their own slavery with that predicted to Abraham, and, as such, believed that it would last for four hundred years. G-d’s concern was not that the Jewish People would want to leave Egypt without being paid. His concern was that they assumed that they would be paid only if they stayed in Egypt for the full four hundred and thirty year term and were they to leave early, they would do so empty-handed. As, by their calculations, their slavery was ending almost two hundred years early, they felt that they were not entitled to the “great wealth”. Moshe needed to tell them that they were most definitely entitled to great wealth, even though they were leaving with time remaining on the clock.

The explanation of the Malbim is so revolutionary because it makes us appreciate that the Jewish slaves in Egypt had absolutely no idea what was going on around them. They did not know the substance of the discussions between Moshe and Pharaoh. They did not know ten plagues would be required to break Pharaoh’s will. They did not even know that Pharaoh would ever give in. For all they knew, Moshe and Aaron were doing their own personal bidding and were leading the entire nation to their demise. After all, they were leaving Egypt way too early. Worse, if they didn’t stay enslaved for the full term predicted to Abraham, perhaps they would have to suffer an additional four hundred years of slavery in order to fulfil Abraham’s prophecy. We have the luxury of reading from our bibles (chumashim) and knowing precisely what is happening. We know how and when the story is going to end. We know that G-d revealed Himself to Moshe and ordered him to take the Jewish People out of Egypt. We know that after the tenth plague, Pharaoh will run to Moshe and throw him and his people out of Egypt. We know that the Egyptian exile was the realization of the exile predicted to Abraham, even if it did not run the full course[4]. We know but they did not.

Now we can return to our so-called non-sequitur [Shemot 11:3]. When the Torah states that Moshe was much esteemed among “the people”, the Ramban[5] explains that this is referring to the Jewish People. When Moshe first returns to Egypt from his own exile in Midian with the news that he has come to save the Jews, he quickly gets into trouble with Pharaoh, who increases their workload, forcing them to gather straw to make their bricks. They take their frustration out on Moshe, telling him [Shemot 5:21] “May G-d look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers, putting a sword in their hands to slay us”. For all they knew, Moshe is a fraud. So when the Torah attests that they hold Moshe in great esteem, it means that they have changed their world-view. He has gained their trust. They have accepted him as an emissary of G-d, sent to redeem them from the exile predicted to their forefather. The missing “transmission phase” is hidden in the verse. As soon as G-d asks Moshe to tell the Jews to borrow gold and silver, he runs and tell them. Their exodus hinges upon their reaction. If they believe in him, they will be redeemed. If they do not, well, there are still another two hundred years left on the clock. The Jewish People rise above themselves. They choose to follow Moshe. The instant they make this decision, the redemption can come to fruition: G-d immediately [Shemot 12:3] commands Moshe to take the final step in preparation for redemption, the offering of the Paschal Lamb.

We in the 21st century are inundated by information and yet, more often than not, we really have no idea what is going on. After nearly two thousand years, the Jewish People have regained autonomy in the Land of Israel. Is this the final redemption predicted by the prophets or is this just a lull in a long and painful exile? Hand on your heart: If Moshe Rabbeinu were to knock on your door, would you choose to follow him?

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Geisha bat Sara, Hila bat Miriam, Avraham Menashe ben Chana Bracha, Batya Sarah bat Hinda Leah and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, known by his acronym, “Rashi”, was the most eminent of the medieval commentators. He lived in France in the eleventh century.

[2] Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, known by his acronym, the “Malbim”, lived in the Ukraine in the nineteenth century.

[3] The reason that the simple meaning is not accepted is because the arithmetic does not fit. See Shemot [6:16] and Rashi ad loc. See also the commentary of Shadal ad loc and our essay from Vaera 5783.

[4] According to Rashi, the 400 years predicted to Abraham begin from the birth of Isaac. According to Shadal, the Jews spent 430 years in Egypt, as attested to by the Torah [Shemot 12:40].

[5] Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known by his acronym “Ramban”, lived in Spain and in Israel in the twelfth century.

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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