From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
This Shabbat we will read about the last three plagues in the sequence of the Ten Plagues that Hashem inflicted upon Paro and Egypt, for them to succumb to allow the Bnei Yisrael to exodus from Egypt. Likewise, there was an additional objective with these plagues, as the Torah writes, “You will then be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians, and how I performed miraculous signs among them. You will then fully realise that I am Hashem” (Shemot 10:2).
And so the Egyptians suffered the plagues of locusts, darkness and killing of the first-born, which in itself brought Paro to finally concede to release the Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, to the extent that he pleaded, “and bless me too!”
If we reflect on what Hashem said to Moshe ahead of the killing of the first-born, it is evident that further clarification is required. Hashem said to Moshe, “Please speak to the people discreetly, and let each man request from his friend gold and silver articles. Let every woman make [the same] request from her friends” (Shemot 11:2).
The Midrash asks, why did Hashem ask from Moshe in a language of requesting “please speak”? The Midrash answers, so that that tzaddik (namely Avraham Avinu) should not say “they will be enslaved and oppressed” (Bereishit 15:13) He fulfilled with them, yet “and they will then leave with great wealth” (Bereishit 15:14) He didn’t fulfil with them. Therefore Hashem said to Moshe in a language of request “please speak”.
We need to comprehend what is meant by the Midrash, is it purely dependant on what Avraham Avinu will say? Surely this was Hashem’s guarantee for the Bnei Yisrael so what is it to do with what Avraham Avinu will say. If he were to say nothing, would there be no need to keep the promise?
To answer this, we will preface the following and see things more clearly. Two things were said to Avraham Avinu in the Covenant of the Pieces. 1) They will be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years, 2) Afterwards they will then leave with great wealth. The first part was fulfilled with the crushing labour of the Bnei Yisrael in Egypt, and the second part of great wealth Hashem sought to give them from the Egyptian wealth. But Hashem in His great mercy for the Bnei Yisrael and His great love of them, took pity on them that they should not exert themselves and tire in vain, and as such He decided to give to Am Yisrael the great wealth of Egypt only after the splitting of the Reed Sea. This is because the Egyptians took all their wealth with them into battle and when they drowned in the sea, the Bnei Yisrael gathered all their wealth. And so He allowed Bnei Yisrael to leave Egypt without the burden of the wealth. On the contrary, the Egyptians where the ones to carry the wealth themselves and the Bnei Yisrael acquired it directly after the splitting of the Reed Sea. All this was done for Am Yisrael’s benefit so that they should not exert themselves in vain.
However, herein lay a problem. For Hashem had promised Avraham that they will exit with great wealth, and now Avraham will see his offspring leaving Egypt empty handed without the great wealth. He will think that the promise “they will then leave with great wealth”, was not fulfilled, for he won’t know that the wealth awaits them at the Reed Sea. So to prevent this aspersion from Avraham, Hashem requested from Moshe that the Bnei Yisrael should request each man from his fellow and each lady from her neighbour, silver, gold and luxurious textiles, so that they will exodus with at least some wealth from Egypt. And he won’t see them leave empty handed, leading Avraham to think that this one promise was unfulfilled, even temporarily, therefore it states the language, “please speak”, which is a request, whose whole intention that here not be reason for Avraham Avinu to cask any aspersion, but apart from this it wasn’t inherently required.
A beautiful parable is brought in the work “Vayomer Avraham”, (authored by Rav Avraham Petal z”l, the father-in-law of Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef zt”l), about two countries that waged war for many years over a stretch of land. The war continued unabated. One of the heads of a neighbouring country came and said, until when will you fight spilling innocent blood, I suggest that each country provides a warrior and those two shall fight and the country that is victorious shall receive the stretch of land. The two sides listen to this and accepted the solution. The day was fixed when each would choose their warrior.
Heads of state gathered in a large stadium in a neutral venue. The sign was given, and the two warriors entered, one strong, tall and well-built and the other short and thin. They began fighting one another with the view that the victor must cast his opponent into a pit at the end of the arena.
In no time at all, the strong, well-built warrior succeeded in lifting his opponent, the short thin warrior, on his back and began running with him towards the pit to cast him down and to be victorious. But to everyone’s surprise, the short thin warrior jumped off his opponent’s back and hastily grabbed the well-built and mighty warrior and cast him into the pit. With this, the arduous battle which had raged for years was decided.
During the king’s victory feast, the king asked the victorious warrior, “Why did you allow him to lift you on his back, making us certain that we would lose the battle, you should have lifted him from the outset!”
The warrior answered with a smile, “I knew I would defeat him, but he is large and I am thin, why should I tire to lift him all the way to the pit. I allowed him to carry me, and at the opportune moment and jumped and won.”
The analogy is that here too, Hashem allowed the Egyptians to carry all their wealth to the Reed Sea, then Am Yisrael came ready and received all the immense wealth as was promised to Avraham Avinu, “they will then leave with great wealth”. From here we discern Hashem great love for us and how much He wants our welfare. And so we are required to fulfil His will and serve Him with a complete heart. Amen.