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Parashat Bo 5779 — 01/12/2019

Parashat Bo 5779 — 01/12/2019

Shemot 10:1-13:16
Speak, please, in the ears of the people and let each man request from his [Egyptian] friend and each woman from her [Egyptian] friend vessels of silver and vessels of gold. (11:1-2)
… and they despoiled Egypt. (12:36)
Follow the money. (“Deep Throat”)

R. Goldin brings out some interesting questions in the text that have been grist for the commentators’ mill over the centuries. The Israelites are about to embark on a journey of spiritual growth that will culminate in the direct cognition of the ultimate spiritual reality at Mt. Sinai. Why is it so important to Gd that they deal with accumulating material wealth? And why does Gd want that wealth to come from the Egyptians? Surely He could have made them wealthy in many ways? And if it’s so important to Gd for the Israelites to get this wealth from the Egyptians, why doesn’t he just command the Israelites explicitly to request it – why does Gd have to say “Please”? The “request” too is a bit ambiguous. It can either mean request as a gift or request as a loan. Did Gd ask the Israelites to mislead the Egyptians as to their intentions to return the “vessels of silver and vessels of gold”? Did the Egyptians think, after 10 plagues had destroyed their country, that the Israelites were still just going on a 3-day holiday?

R. Goldin brings two Talmudic passages that shed light on these issues. In one (Berachot 9a-b), Gd wants to avoid having Avraham accuse Him of giving his offspring the centuries of slavery promised at the “Covenant between the pieces” (Gen 15:14) but not the “after that they will leave with great wealth.” Of course, this does not answer the question why that great wealth had to come from the Egyptians and perhaps through deception. In the second (Sanhedrin 91a), the Egyptians sue the Jews in the court of Alexander the Great for all the wealth that the Jews took. Gaviha ben Pesisa replies that they should first calculate the back wages owed 600,000 slaves for 210 years of work. Touché.

Some later commentators pick up on the second theme, adding that the wealth could not have come miraculously from Gd – it had to come from the Egyptians to impress upon the Israelites that this was money that the Egyptians owed them – it was not a gift. Their labor, albeit forced, had value because they had intrinsic value as human beings.

R. Goldin himself gives another angle, on which I would like to expand. He writes:
The gold and silver of Egypt is ultimately applied by the Israelites to two projects that could not be more vastly different: the construction of the golden calf and the creation of the Mishkan (the portable sanctuary that traveled with the Israelites through the desert). The acquired riches thus become the medium through which the Israelites actualize their choices for good and for bad.
Freedom is only meaningful if you have something to lose. [RAR: For another take on this idea, click here.] If the Israelites had left Egypt with nothing precious, nothing that they truly saw as their own, their liberation would have been incomplete. They would have had no way to actualize their responsibilities, to concretize their independent decisions.

Let’s go back one step. First, where did all this wealth that Egypt had amassed come from? Torah tells us (Gen 47:14) Yosef gathered all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan through the provisions that they were purchasing, and Yosef brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. Subsequent verses also note that Yosef also took possession of the land on behalf of Pharaoh. So the first phase of the operation was the gathering of all the money into Egypt. The second phase of the operation, which took place centuries later, was the transfer of all this wealth to the departing Israelite ex-slaves.

As R. Goldin points out, this wealth was used to create the golden calf, but a much greater percentage was used to create the Mishkan. And all of that wealth, in the hands of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, went for idolatry, bloodshed and immorality. One might argue here that Gd’s plan was not only to rescue the Israelites from Egyptian physical bondage, but more importantly, to raise them spiritually from Egyptian spiritual bondage to the point where they could have a direct cognition of the ultimate reality of life. And along with rescuing the Israelites, Gd “rescued” all the wealth of Egypt and Canaan from the service of idols to the service of Gd in the Mishkan. If I may be permitted a folk etymology here, the word for “despoiled” is vay’natzlu. The root of the verb is apparently natzal, which means “to be exploited or to be made good use of.” The verb nitzal on the other hand means, “to escape, to be saved, rescued, delivered.” So when the Israelites “despoiled” the Egyptians it isn’t much of a stretch to read that verse in terms of “rescuing” the wealth they had accumulated.

What is money after all? We learn in school that money is a “medium of exchange.” Rather than a complex system of bartering goods we have for other goods we need, we abstract away the specifics of goods and we’re left with an abstract entity that can stand in for any object. So money is abstract “stuff.” It isn’t actualized until it is exchanged for some real “stuff.” You can’t eat money, but you can take it to the grocery store and exchange it for something you can eat. All the material stuff is simply congealed energy – it is the vibrations of the unified field that underlies all of creation, as we have discussed at various points over the past years. When one has a lot of money, he can control more energy; in most cases, unfortunately, that energy winds up controlling the person.

When Israel wrested the wealth of Egypt away from the Egyptians, they got a chance to direct a tremendous amount of energy, and, while there were slip-ups, in general that energy was directed towards more positive purposes than before. Our Sages tell us that the purpose of creation is to make Gd manifest. Taking energy from those who deny Gd to those who walk in His ways brings creation that much closer to its fulfillment.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Bo
With the plague of the death of the first born and the death of his first-born son Pharaoh finally drives the Children of Israel out of Egypt to worship the Lrd, along with their children, flocks and wealth they have borrowed from their Egyptian friends — wealth borrowed from Mitzrayim/Restrictions, which will never be returned to the restricted value and will remain with the Children of Israel, dedicated to Wholeness. Unlimited.

Literally, “first born” refers to the first-born child; symbolically, it is whatever is our most precious desire, our link between our present status and the future status we hope to achieve.

Our religion guides us to cherish most a first-born that can never die, making our most precious desire the desire to be restored to full awareness of Oneness, One with the One, One with Gd Who Is All There Is, the Unborn and Undying.

And our religion guides us to “worship Gd with all our heart and all our soul” and “love our neighbor as our Self,” and thus to free ourselves from enslavement to limited values of life, which were the values of Pharaoh’s Egypt/Mitzraim/Restrictions, and to gently become fully aware of the Wholeness within which all limits are no longer experienced as limits but are experienced as expressions of the Wholeness within which they exist, flow, flourish.

This parshah reminds us to keep our priorities in order and to free ourselves from restrictions so we have time to worship the Lrd, and thus to transform restrictions into Expressions of the Lrd, of Wholeness.

Baruch HaShem