The Exodus: Despoiling Egypt of their Riches

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

And God said to Abram (Abraham), “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; I will also execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Gen. 15:13,14)

What is the purpose of this great wealth? We then read God’s forecast to Moses at the Burning Bush:

And I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt with all My wonders which I will perform in their midst; after that Pharaoh shall let you go. And I will place grace in the Egyptians’ eyes towards the Jews, so that when you go, you will not go away empty-handed. Each woman shall request from her neighbor and the dweller in her house objects of silver and gold, and clothing, and you shall put these on your sons and daughters, despoiling the Egyptians (Exod. 3:20-22).

Finally, just prior to the last plague of Firstborn Deaths, God addresses Moses:

And God said to Moses, “I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall utterly completely chase you out from here. Now, tell the people to request, each man from his neighbor and each woman from her’s, objects of silver and gold (Exod. 11:1,2)

These last 2 quotes are the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, the first quote above. However, how do we explain the discrepancies of the women alone requesting silver and gold, while the second quote now includes the men? Also, why mention that the women will dress their children only in the second quote? Finally, the last quote alone incudes the words “utterly completely chase you out.” What is its significance?

Perhaps the purpose of the enslaved Jews receiving gold, silver, and clothing from their former oppressors, indicates that this was an act of God. Meaning, the Exodus was orchestrated by God. This demonstrates God’s fulfillment of his promise to Abraham, and not simply one people ridding their country of another people. For which oppressor ousts their slaves and gives them elaborate wealth, were it not by God’s plan?

A second consideration is that the Jews gain dignity to obscure their former slave status. As now was the very formation of the Jews’ nationhood, and nationhood comprises their future generations, God instructed Moses that the women dressed their children who are the next generation. This dignity may also serve as a foundation for the Jews to embrace God's Torah. For a less dignified people may feel unworthy or reluctant to accept God's authority when commanding the Jews in Torah. A poor taste of Egyptian authority can compromise accepting God’s authority. Therefore, the Jews could not transition from Egyptian authority to God’s authority without a transitional state of dignity.

Lastly, just prior to the final plague of Firstborn Deaths, God told Moses that the Egyptians would “chase” them out of Egypt. However, such an angry eviction would compromise the Jews’ dignity. Therefore, a third element of requesting gold and silver acted to counter this undignified “oust.” But as children do not sense this hostile attitude of eviction, God told Moses that only the men and women should ask for the gold and silver, not mentioning the children.

One must not think the second quote mentions women to exclude men. It merely means this was the women’s role, but men too would be asked later to request Egypt’s spoils.