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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Bo (5762)

This sedra relates both the final onslaught of the plagues and their predicable effect of forcing Pharaoh to allow the Jews to leave Egypt. The sedra also teaches the main laws of “Pesach Mitzraim” the laws of the first Passover.

Exodus 11:2

Please speak into the ears of the people let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and gold vessels.


Please speak: Rashi: The word ‘nah’ (in Hebrew) can only mean [here] ‘please.’ I beseech you [Moses], please instruct them about this (i.e., that the Israelites should take the sliver and gold vessels of the Egyptians) so that the righteous man, Abraham, should not say ‘He (i.e. G-d) fulfilled [His promise] that ‘they will enslave them and afflict them’ but the promise ‘and they will afterwards go out with great wealth’ He did not fulfill.


An obvious question here is why does Rashi see the need to cite this drash. The verse can be taken quite simply to mean that G-d told Moses to ask the Jews to take these vessels from their Egyptian neighbors because so He had promised Abraham.

Can you see what is bothering Rashi and what impelled him to use the drash?


The word ‘nah’ which means “please” is inappropriate here. Moses was telling the Jews to take the gold and silver of the Egyptians, their former slave drivers (which would be but minor compensation for the years of slave labor). Why then must Moses “beseech” them? Telling someone to take gold and silver that can be justifiably claimed, doesn’t usually need “beseeching” ! One would have thought that the Jews would gladly comply even without Moses saying ‘Please.”

The question, then, is why does G-d emphasize the need for “please”?


Rashi says that there was a special need to request the Jews to take the silver and gold. The need was that G-d had promised Abraham and He didn’t want to be accused of not keeping His word to that righteous man.


The question can be asked – maybe you thought of it yourself – that G-d should be motivated to keep His word even if Abraham wouldn’t make a claim against G-d, as the midrash (& Rashi) put it. If G-d promises something one would expect Him to keep His promise, whether or not a someone “catches” Him. Why do you think this emphasis had to be added – that Abraham will complain if the Jews don’t take silver and gold ? Is G-d more concerned with Abraham’s opinion than He is with His moral obligation to keep His word?


The answer can be understood by seeing the Talmudic source of this midrash. It is in the Tractate Berachos 9a. There it says that the Jews wanted so much to leave Egypt that they were willing to flee even without taking the time to collect the gold and silver. They didn’t trust Pharaoh and feared he might change his mind. So the sooner they got out the better. In such a case G-d would have no moral obligation to have the Jews collect their gold ad silver; just the opposite, He would want to calm the Israelites and let them leave immediately, if they so chose. But only because of His promise to Abraham did He have to “beseech” Moses to be sure they stayed around long enough to collect the valuables and thereby “fulfill the promise to Abraham.”


This mitzvah given to the Israelites in Egypt as they were to leave their servitude was a precursor to another mitzvah given to them at Sinai. That future mitzvah would be relevant to them when they would be living in the Land of Israel and themselves would be owners of servants. In Devarim 15:13-15 we find these verses:

“When you send him ( a slave) away free, you shall not send him away empty-handed. Adorn him generously from your flocks, from your threshing floor and from your wine-cellar, as Hashem , your G-d, has blessed you, so shall you give him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Hashem, your G-d, redeemed you; therefore I command you regarding this matter today.”

We see that the command and G-d’s “beseeching” Moses had a future orientation. The whole slave experience in Egypt was to be a real-time lesson in being sensitive to the stranger and the slave. Likewise was the taking of the Egyptians’ valuables to be a lesson in how we are to treat those who serve us. When they leave, after heir term of service is up, we are instructed to give them a going-away present. What we call today “severance pay” no doubt had its origins in this mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

Dr. Bonchek will be in the States IY"H this coming February on a lecture tour. Congregations or organizations interested in having him lecture for them are invited to contact him at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il.

The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devorim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and the Ba'alie Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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