From the team at Halacha Yomit
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Torah states that prior to the Bnei Yisrael’s Exodus they were commanded to borrow from their Gentile neighbours silver and gold items and other valuable things, so that on the Bnei Yisrael’s Exodus from Egypt “they will then leave with great wealth” (Bereishit 15:14), as Hashem had promised. As it says: “Every woman shall borrow articles of silver and gold, as well as clothing” (Shemot 3:22).
We may ask, how did the Bnei Yisrael actually obtain these silver and gold items, with an apparent attempt to just borrow them and return them after use, when in reality they were intending to permanently keep them?
Even in the days of Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon, 356-326 BC), he claimed on behalf of the Egyptians, their wealth from the Bnei Yisrael. They said, “give us the silver and gold that you took”. Geviha ben Pesisa replied to them that, “The silver was only a partial payment for all our work during the 200 year [slavery],” as is explained in Gemara Sanhedrin (90b).
Nevertheless, it is still difficult to understand why they had to be economical with the truth, that they were borrowing the items and not as payment.
Rabbeinu HaGadol Rebbi Ovadia Yosef ztz”l asks further, how could the Bnei Yisrael lie when they said to Paro that they are only going “for three days”, and that afterwards they will return to Egypt. Surely the Bnei Yisrael knew that Hashem Yitbarach’s intention was to permanently bring them out to Eretz Yisrael and that they will never return to see Egypt again? If so, how was it permitted for them to lie to the evil Egyptians?
Maran ztz”l quotes an answer of HaGaon Rebbeinu Yosef Chaim ztz”l (Ben Ish Chayil 1:37b) which begins with a parable. A person broke the law and the king decreed that he be executed. However, their custom was that before he is executed, he has one last wish, that he may ask the king whatever he wants.
When they brought him before the king, the king asked him, “Request what you would like me to grant before your judgment is executed”. The accused took the small glass full of wine which was on the king’s table and said to the king, “My wish is to drink all this wine whilst sitting on the roof of the king’s palace, whilst observing the beautiful scenery which is visible from there. But I’m afraid of all the king’s officers in charge of me, because their swords are drawn, and I won’t be able to drink this wine in peace. Therefore, I request from the king that he will swear an oath that he will not kill me until I have drunk all the wine in this cup in my own time.”
The king swore as he had requested. The king ordered to take him to the palace roof with the cup in his hand, so that he may drink the wine in peace and tranquility. And so the officers carried out the king’s command. They took him to the palace roof and as he was ascending the stairs, he made out as if he had tripped and fell. And so the glass fell to the ground and smashed with all the wine spilling.
They took him back to the king to decide what to do since the wine had spilt. They wanted to bring another bottle of wine. However, the accused said, “Bring me the wine that was in the cup and I will drink it.” And he further said to the king, “My master the king, now I see that you will have to exonerate me from this decree of death, since you swore that you will not execute me until I drink all the wine in the cup, and now the wine is no longer in existence, how may you keep your oath?” The king issued a pardon and he was freed in peace.
The analogy is that Hashem, who sees until the end of time, saw that the Bnei Yisrael will never return to Egypt to been enslaved, because after their exodus from Egypt Paro and all his army will pursue them and will drown in the Reed Sea, as a punishment for what they had done to Bnei Yisrael. They drowned their children in the Nile, as our Chachamim explain, “in the pot that they cooked they too were stewed” (Gemara Sota 11a). Since the Egyptians were destroyed from the face of the earth, the Bnei Yisrael had no one to return their silver and gold items to them. Similarly, they had nowhere to return to after their three days in the wilderness, since all of the Egyptians were to perish in the Reed Sea. And this is akin to the smashed glass and spilt wine.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher Ve’Sameach!