Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

Yosef, Moshe, and the real ‘wealth of Egypt’

G-d said to Abram, “You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and [their Egyptian captors] will enslave them and oppress them… And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great wealth.” [1]
Similarly, at their first encounter at the burning bush, G-d tells Moshe: “I will stretch forth My hand and smite the Egyptians with all My miracles that I will wreak in their midst, and afterwards he will send you out. And I will put this people’s favor 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 neighbor and from the dweller in her house silver and gold objects and garments, and you shall put [them] on your sons and on your daughters, and you shall empty out Egypt.[2]
To what is this comparable? To a man who is locked up in prison, and is told: Tomorrow you shall be freed from prison and be given a lot of money. Says he: I beg of you, free me today, and I ask for nothing more . . . [So, G‑d had to beseech them:] Please! Ask the Egyptians for gold and silver vessels, so that the righteous one (Abraham) should not say: He fulfilled “They will be enslaved and tortured,” but He did not fulfill “and afterwards they will go out with great wealth.”[3]
None of this makes sense. The gold and silver we carried out of Egypt were indispensable components of our redemption, but WHY? There aren’t enough “gold and silver vessels” in the world to compensate or reward me for enduring two hundred and ten years of slavery and oppression. And I’m confident the children of Israel felt exactly the same way. We must therefore conclude that going out of Egypt “with great wealth” was for some reason so important that even Avrahom Avinu would have agreed to it.
Q: So, if the “great wealth” which the children of Israel “borrowed” from their captors isn’t compensation for their labor, and it isn’t a reward for enduring two hundred and ten years of oppression and torture, what is it?
A: The ARIZAL tells us that draining Egypt of its wealth is the very purpose for which the Israelites were sent to Egypt to begin with.
How so?
When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers in parashas Vayigash, he said to them, “G‑d sent me ahead of you to ensure that you survive in the land, and sustain you in a great deliverance. So now, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d, He made me … ruler over all Egypt.” Yosef then says to tell his father, Jacob, “This is what your son Joseph said: ‘G‑d has made me master of all Egypt, come down to me; do not tarry.'”[4]
One might imagine Yosef meant by this to inform Jacob that he bore no ill will towards the brothers who kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. While this is true, it’s not what Yosef meant. He meant that it was time for the Egyptian exile – which G-d prophesied to Avram in the Covenant Between The Parts – to begin. He therefore told his father, “come down to me; do not tarry.” What is the sign that it was time? The sign was that Joseph was made the “ruler of all Egypt.”
Why was Yosef so confident that his being made “ruler of all Egypt” was the sign? And why would the favorite child of Israel be so eager for the Egyptian exile to begin?
Because he originated in the refined aspect of the Sefirah of yesod (foundation), Yosef saw prophetically that many of the Egyptian oppressors were actually souls from Olam HaTohu produced by a blemish in the place of the holy covenant [5]. These souls fell into the kelipot when Adam spilled his seed during the 130 years he was separated from his wife, Chava, after their sin and before the birth of their son, Seth, a gilgul of Moshe Rabbeinu.[6] Since their sin was sexual, Yosef commanded that they be circumcised, beginning the process of their rectification and refinement.[7] During the 130 year period prior to the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, these Tohu-dik souls were reincarnated as Israelites.[8] And this is the reason the Israelites were subjected to hard labor, to purify and rectify them, particularly for the sin of the generation of the Tower of Babel, who built the Tower from mortar and bricks.[9] Jacob had also converted Egyptians, as our Sages state.[10]
“Initially, these souls had been incarnated into the bodies of the people who lived during the time of the Flood. However, they wantonly spilled their seed upon the earth, following their roots and the place from whence they were drawn. They were then reincarnated in the generation of the Tower of Babel. [But again they did not rectify the sin of Adam and the following generations]. Now, once again, they had been reincarnated as Egyptians.”[11]
All of these souls – whom the Torah calls “the people of the Children of Israel” – observed Israelite customs and lived in Israelite cities.[12] And they were very, very numerous. These are the Mixed Multitude [the “Erev Rav”] of whom the Egyptians said, “the people of the Children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than us”[13] None of this went unnoticed by P’aroah, who said to his people:”‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more numerous and stronger than we are. Get ready, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they increase, and a war befall us, and they join our enemies and wage war against us and depart from the land.” So they appointed over them tax collectors to afflict them with their burdens, and they built store cities for Pharaoh, namely Pithom and Raamses. But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength, and they were disgusted because of the children of Israel. So the Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel with backbreaking labor…” [14]
This is what Joseph was saying to his brothers: Go tell our father, G‑d’s purpose in sending us to “a land that is not [our] own” has come to pass. G-d has set the stage for us to “go out with great wealth.”[15] During the worldwide famine presaged in P’aroah’s dreams, “[a]ll of the silver [money] in the world” made its way to Egypt which, thanks to Yosef, had food that could be purchased with it, as we read, “And Joseph collected all of the silver [money].”[16]
The people of the Children Of Israel – the Erev Rav (“rifraff”) – were not the children of Israel themselves; they were the sparks of holiness from the collapsed world of Tohu which had mingled into Egypt, and which Moses wished to elevate.[17] G-d saw that they were not yet fit to be elevated, and wanted them to be reincarnated one more time before they went up from Egypt. G-d didn’t wish to extract them at that point in time[18], but did not prevent Moshe Rabbeinu from doing so.[19]
So when the Children of Israel went up from Egypt, they took 202[20] sparks of Olam HaTohu with them. [21] That’s why we were put there to begin with. These captive, Tohu-dik souls were the “great wealth” which G-d promised Avram, and their redemption is surely a cause worth remaining in bondage for![22] That’s why Avraham agreed to G-d’s plan to enslave and oppress his children-to-be; that’s why Yosef was eager for the exile to begin.[23] But what’s the connection to gold and silver vessels? The physical manifestation of those precious, holy sparks was in the form of the “gold and silver vessels” they took from Egypt. [24] The “great wealth of Egypt” would finance the Jewish mission, to make this world into a home for G‑d, Tohu in Tikkun.[25] This is borne out by the fact that they donated these “gold and silver vessels” for use in the construction of the mishkan, G-d’s dwelling place in the lower world [26], and the divinely-prescribed atonement for the sin of the chet egel, which was precipitated by the erev rav.[27]
But let’s go deeper down redemption’s rabbit-hole: the essence of each of our souls is connected to particular set of sparks, and this spark-connection is the essence of our respective individual neshamot.[27] The reason the soul was created was to extract the particular spark or cluster of sparks that is attached to our souls; as long as the spark(s) remains in exile, the soul remains in exile with it.[28] So in order to liberate our souls, we must free the particular sparks which are “ours.”[29] That’s why It was good that Children of Israel remained longer, even in oppression, since it ensured that not only did their bodies go free, but also their souls.[30]
To this end, G‑d commanded that we should “borrow” vessels of gold and silver, “a woman from her neighbor, and from the one who lives in her home.” [31: exodus 3:22]. “A woman” – this is the soul. “Vessels of gold and silver” – holy sparks. “From her neighbor”- people with whom one has contact from time to time. “And from the one who lives in her home” – people with whom one interacts on a daily basis.[31]
These interactions, prosaic though they may be, are not coincidental. They have been given to you by G-d because it is your responsibility to redeem them, to have a positive impact on your soul, for they are actually connected to your soul. By fulfilling the Torah and mitzvos, you uncover the G‑dly spark hidden within you, a treasure whose price is beyond calculation.[32]
[1] Bereishis 15:13-14.
[2] Shemot 3:20-22.
[3] Talmud, Brachot 9a; brought by Rashi to Exodus 11:2.
[4] Talmud, Brachot 9a. Brought by Rashi to Exodus 11:2. Our Sages write of a world that existed before this one, called Olam HaTohu. The light of that world was so great, so intense, that it shattered the fragile vessels of Olam HaTohu. The pieces of that world – 288 spiritual sparks that are hidden in the physical – were incorporated into our world of Tikkun. Our job is to collect those great sparks and raise them up to G‑d by using the physical for Torah and mitzvahs, to serve G‑d. When we finish raising these sparks, when all the lights of Tohu will be incorporated into the vessels of Tikkun, Moshiach will have arrived.
[5] Shaar HaPesukim. See also Megaleh Amukot (Vayigash).
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Shemot 1:9-13.
[10] Bereishis Rabbah.
[11] Shaar HaMitzvot, parashas Shoftim.
[12] Id.
[13] Shemot 1:9.
[14] Shemot 1:9-13.
[15] Shaar HaMitzvot, parashas Shoftim.
[16] Bereishis 47:14.
[17] Shaar HaMitzvot, parashas Shoftim.
[18] G-d intended for them to remain enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, as He prophesied to Avram in the Covenant Between The Parts. The need for the souls of the Erev Rav to be reincarnated again could account for the difference between the 400 year duration of the Egyptian golus prophesied to Avram in the Covenant Between The Parts, and the 210 years that the Israelites were actually in captivity.
[19] Id.
[19] Torah Ohr 60c brings this down from “And also an erev rav [mixed multitude] went up with them” (Shemot 12:38). Rav has the numerical value of 202, in other words, 202 went up with them.
[21] The remaining 86 sparks are spread over the rest of the world. It is our job to collect them and lift them up.
[22] Shaar Ha Pesukim.
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Id.
[26] See Likkutei Sichos Vol. VI, pp. 153-156.
[27] Id.
[28] Shaar HaPesukim.
[29] Id.
[30] Id.
[31] Shemot 3:22.
[32] Shaar HaPesukim.
About the Author
Jewish Mystic.