is coming. The birth of Am Yisrael
as a nation. All births are difficult and involve pain and suffering. But they do not involve injustice. Most especially, the birth of the Nation that is destined to bring Hashem's Torah to the world and thereby perfect it in His kingdom cannot possibly be brought about by injustice...but many seem to think that it can. There are three main aspects of Yetziat Mitzraim
that are often misinterpreted in this light, and I want to discuss all three.
The Guiding PrincipleAvraham Avinu
set the standard way back in Parshat Va'yera
. In debating with God to save the people of S'dom
, he asked (B'reishit 18:25), "...Shall the Judge of all the Earth not do justice?"
Avraham won that debate with God...there is no other way to put it. If only there had been 10 righteous men in the cities of the plain they would have been spared. And the principle was established for all time...Hashem will only act justly. If something He does seems unjust, it is we who do not understand. This is the basis for our understanding of the Exodus story, as well as all the others in the Torah and later.
The Three-Day Request
Shmot 3:18: "...you and the elders of Israel will go to the king of Mitzrayim and you will say to him, 'Hashem, the God of Israel has called to us; and now let us please go three days journey in the desert, and we will sacrifice to Hashem our God.'"
That's all we asked for...a three-day vacation...with an unspoken implication that we would come back. Over and over again, that's what Moshe talks about. But when we finally packed up and left, we never came back.
Isn't that deception? We lied to Paro and then took advantage of it! Some of the commentators even say that when Paro was told "that the nation had fled" (Shmot 14:5) that it meant B'nei Yisrael had continued moving away from Egypt after three days, instead of turning around as expected. So what gives?
The answer is, three days was just an opening bargaining position. Even Paro understood that we wanted more; hence his attempts to limit who would go each time he was ready to concede after bad plague experiences. And the fact that even such a reasonable request was refused (three days off after over 200 years of service?) shows just how imperative it was for us to get out of there.
But the clincher is, the three day idea was dropped by the Mitzrim
at the end! The horror of the deaths of the firstborn made them want to get rid of the Jews forever, and they kicked us out for good! Hashem told Moshe it would happen: "And Hashem said to Moshe, 'One more plague will I bring to Paro and to Mitzraim; after that he will send you from here. When he sends you, he will surely completely drive you away from here.'" (Shmot 11:1) After the plague, Hashem says, Paro himself will tell you to leave and never come back. Then in 11:8, Moshe tells Paro the same thing...when Paro's servants come to kick the Jews out, they will tell them to leave...period. No more discussion of a three-day pass...Moshe clearly tells Paro we are leaving for good. So there is no deception.
And in fact, in 12:22-23, we see that both Paro and the Egyptians only want to kick the Jews out...they don't say anything about returning. And finally, when Paro hears that the Jews are leaving (despite the commentaries I mentioned earlier), he doesn't complain that the Jews broke their word. He bemoans the fact "that we sent away Yisrael from serving us." (14:5) We
told them to go away and never come back, and now I regret it. That's what Paro means here.
So there is no injustice here. We started with an opening proposition that would let Paro show if he would respect Hashem and Yisrael; when he failed the test we told him the deal was off and that we were going for good, and that is what happened.
The "Spoiling" of Egypt(based in part on an original Meturgeman Drasha, Parshat Bo, 6 Sh'vat, 5762)
Shmot 3:21-22: "I will put the favor of the this nation in the eyes of Egypt, and it will be that when you go, you will not go empty. Each woman should ask of her neighbor and of the one in whose house she dwells vessels of silver and vessels of gold and clothing; you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; ונצלתם Egypt." (See also 12:35-36)
The word I didn't translate is the stickler. It's usually translated, 'you will spoil.' As in, the spoils of war. Compare the Purim story, where we fought our enemies but did not touch the spoil. Our purpose is not to be common marauders, but to win/maintain our freedom as a Nation.
It's made worse by the fact that the Hebrew word for 'ask' is usually translated 'borrow.' It looks like Hashem is telling us to lie once again to the Egyptians...ask for a loan that we don't intend to pay back.
I don't know about you, but my God doesn't work that way. While it's true that the Hebrew word for ask also can be used for borrowing, it is anathema to say that is what happened here. It also goes against logic...we just explained that the Egyptians wanted to be rid of the Jews forever...why would they want to see them again, even to get their loans back?
Rather the Jews asked their Egyptian neighbors for fair and just compensation for centuries of slave labor. Just as the owner of a Jewish slave has to compensate him liberally when he releases him (D'varim 15:13-15,18), so too the Egyptians had to make good for the services they had received. And they did, willingly.
So what is ונצלתם? There is an excellent analysis in the Hertz Chumash...he makes it very clear that the word means, not spoil, but SAVE! There is no other place in Tanach or in modern Hebrew where the root נצל is translated any other way. (You've heard of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance corps...they SAVE lives, they don't spoil them.)
The Egyptians did a horrible thing to the Jews...and they received their punishment in full with the plagues. They didn't need additional punishment for not compensating their released slaves properly. Even more, they didn't need the continued hate and resentment of B'nei Yisrael
. We are commanded not to hate them, and to allow them to convert (D'varim 23:8-9). How could we do this if, in addition to everything else, they had turned away empty handed? This is what they were saved from.
(I should note that in light of the clear meaning of the Torah text that the Egyptians gave willingly
because Hashem made them like us at the end, I have great difficulty with the Midrash that says we used the Plague of Darkness to find all the things they had tried to hide from us.)
The Hardening of Paro's Heart
Shmot 7:3: "I will harden Paro's heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt."
This is the big one. It sounds like Hashem needs a straw dummy to prove His strength; so He keeps setting him up and knocking him down. Poor Paro, then, shouldn't be reviled. He should be pitied. Over and over again he was prepared to surrender, but Hashem wouldn't let him. He lost his free choice, and was punished for it. What kind of justice is that?
But the Ramban makes it all very simple. He says, God wasn't taking away
Paro's free will, he was giving it back
! The Plagues were so overwhelming, Paro had no choice but to admit to Hashem's power and give in...and being forced to be good is no less a loss of free will then being forced to do evil. So when he reached that point (it wasn't until the sixth plague), God restored the balance
...He gave him enough strength/stubbornness to make his own choice as before! And he chose evil.
It was this ultimate evil of Paro...the basic nature that always went to the evil choice when given half a chance...that brought about the need for all ten plagues. And so, in the final analysis, his punishment was just and deserved, as are all punishments from God.
It seems clear to me from these three cases; if we only take the time to understand the situation, Hashem always
is the God of Justice. Since we are commanded to imitate His attributes, it behooves us as well to increase our efforts to act justly; to drop the petty hatred and bickering, and to once again become a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, and a true Light to the Nations. Only then can we truly bring the Geula