Hard Earned Reward – Parshas Bo

The Jews in Egypt worked as slaves and built the country. When the Jews left Egypt they went out carrying many of the possessions that were originally owned by the Egyptians. Hashem commanded Moshe to instruct the nation to borrow gold, silver and clothing from the Egypt residents (Shemos 11:2). The perplexing issue here is that the Jews never returned what they had borrowed, how could they deceive the Egyptians in this way? This is a question asked by many commentators including Rabbeinu Bechaya.

Accounting

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) and Midrash teach us that indeed the Egyptians themselves many generations later had this complaint and brought the Jews to the court of Alexander the Great demanding that according to the Jewish Bible itself they were entitled to reimbursement. The rabbis showed up to the case and opened up the Bible to read about the 600,000 Jews who were forced to perform oppressive menial labor for Egypt for hundreds of years. “We agree to pay you back for the gold and silver that we borrowed, but we are charging you for all of the slave labor that we carried out when we suffered from your abuse.” The Egyptian and Greek accountants began to plug in the numbers regarding how much Egypt owed the Jews. The numbers were astronomical and were piling higher and higher to the point that the Egyptian representatives ran away forfeiting their case and worrying that their initiation of the investigation would end up biting them back.

Repeat

History repeats itself and time and again people try the same cons over and over in different forms. In August 2003 Dr. Nabl Hilmi, dean of faculty of law at the University of Al-Zaquaziq, Egypt headed an initiative to sue the Jews of the world to recover the gold stolen from Egypt to be paid back over the course of one thousand years plus interest. Many prominent Jewish lawyers have still been waiting to this day to take this case. It has been delayed indefinitely as no ethical court has accepted it to date. The Jewish lawyers all know that the countersuit that would follow would probably produce the largest monetary lawsuit in world history and they eagerly wait to defend their people and make a nice profit as well.

Answers

The Egyptians owed the Jews for their work and they also owned them a departure gift just as every master must give his slave when leaving according to Torah and universal law of the time (Rabbeinu Bechaya). At the time that the Jews borrowed the objects it was well understood that it was meant for them to keep. What master would give his slave gold and silver to borrow? When the Egyptians chased after the Jews at the Yam Suf and drowned in the process the Jewish people were the victors and they got to keep the spoils of war legally and ethically. They gained all of the riches of the Egyptian army and all that they had taken out of Egypt during the Exodus (Seforno). The Jews got what was rightfully theirs as partial repayment for their labor in Egypt.

Interestingly, Dr. Hilmi stated that the way he calculated the amount that he felt the Jews owed the Egyptians was based on the verses in Exodus which discuss the amount of gold and silver used in the building of the Tabernacle. He is actually correct in that the Jews dedicated much of their wealth to build a place for the Divine Presence. They celebrated all that Hashem had done for them in taking them out of slavery and establishing them as a great nation.