The Reluctant Acquisition of Riches

The Ribbono shel Olam asked of Moshe Rabbeinu: “Speak, please, in the ears of the nation and they should request each man from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor vessels of silver and vessels of gold” (Shemos 11:2).

Chazal explain that Hashem made this request so that the tzaddik Avraham shouldn’t say that what was told to him regarding “they will enslave them and oppress them” was fulfilled but the promise of “they will leave with great wealth” was not fulfilled (Rashi).

Later (12:28), the Torah informs us that indeed, “…the Children of Israel did according to Moshe’s order, and they borrowed from the Egyptians silver objects, golden objects and garments.”

Why did Hashem have to plead with Bnei Yisrael to do this, and why does the Torah see fit to inform us that Bnei Yisrael heeded this request — one that actually brought them great wealth?

In the same parashah we learn the commandment for Bnei Yisrael to take a sheep for a korban Pesach. Since this animal was worshipped by the Egyptians, this mitzvah would seem to be a very great test, yet we don’t find that the Torah praises Bnei Yisrael for obeying this mitzvah, as it does in regard to bringing the gold and silver.

In his sefer Amaros Tehoros, the Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, quotes several approaches to this question.

The Bnei Yissascher (in Igra d’Kallah) explains that what is so praiseworthy is the fact that they did so solely because Moshe Rabbeinu asked them to, and because they knew they were fulfilling the retzon Hashem. Their motivation was solely spiritual; the fact that they would be materialistically enriched through their actions played no role at all.

The Rebbe, Harav Menachem Mendel of Rimanov, zy”a, offers another explanation. After long decades of vicious persecution and harsh enslavement, Bnei Yisrael were eager to leave Egypt as soon as possible and to sever all connections with their oppressors. In reality, Bnei Yisrael had no desire to take any objects from the Egyptians, for they preferred to have nothing more to do with them — and the impurity they represented — at all, forever. Borrowing these items meant that the Egyptians would later pursue them to ask for their return.

Furthermore, unlike the mitzvah of setting aside a lamb, where the mitzvah was relayed in the name of Hashem, Moshe Rabbeinu made this request without revealing that it was Hashem who had commanded him. (See Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh for an explanation as to why Moshe Rabbeinu worded the request by Hashem in this way.)

Nonetheless, Bnei Yisrael put aside their preferences and desires and heeded Moshe Rabbeinu.

The Rebbe quotes a third approach offered by the Ollelos Efraim. He teaches that when a climber wishes to ascend a tall mountain, he avoids three things: consuming heavy foods, wearing heavy clothing and carrying heavy objects.

The same applies when one wishes to ascend spiritually. In order to climb up the mountain of avodas Hashem, one must minimize material pleasures.

When Bnei Yisrael were told of the request to borrow gold, silver and garments of the Egyptians, they feared that possessing those items would interfere with their avodas Hashem. Therefore the Ribbono shel Olam had to plead with them to agree to take these articles.

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A talmid once asked Harav Nesanel Quinn, zt”l, longtime menahel of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, the following question:

Why did Hakadosh Baruch Hu use the word “v’shaalah” a word that many meforshim translate as she shall borrow,” rather than “she shall take”? After all, the Yidden kept the “borrowed” items permanently, something they were certainly entitled to do, as compensation for all the years of enslavement.

Harav Quinn replied that after Krias Yam Suf, Moshe Rabbeinu had to convince the Yidden to stop collecting the bizas hayam, the treasures the Egyptians had brought with them to battle, and go on to receive the Torah. Hakadosh Baruch Hu had promised the Avos that their children would leave Egypt with great wealth. However, Hashem did not want materialism to harm them. Therefore, He used the word “borrow” to imply that the wealth was not completely theirs.

Harav Quinn often related that when Rebbetzin Kaplan, a”h, was founding Bais Yaakov High School in America, she came to seek advice from Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l. Rebbetzin Kaplan, who had been a talmidah of Sarah Schenirer in Europe, wished to know what was important to stress in teaching American girls.“Abstaining from unnecessary luxuries,” Harav Mendlowitz replied.