Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

Can we honestly say that the Israelites conducted themselves properly, with true honesty and integrity? Were they too not guilty of acts of duplicity, disingenuousness and exploitation? What adds insult to injury is that the source of this three day "sleight of tongue" deception is none other than the G-d of Israel, the Compassionate Lord of Truth.

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Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin,

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Arutz 7
In this week's Biblical portion, we come to the end of the plagues against Egypt and the final preparations towards the exodus of the Israelites into freedom. After having read in great detail an anatomy of the heinous cruelty of the Egyptian despot as he delegitimized, enslaved , tortured and slaughtered countless Israelites, the "good guys" are now poised for triumph.

But how good are these "good guys"? Can we honestly say that the Israelites conducted themselves properly, with true honesty and integrity? Were they too not guilty of acts of duplicity, disingenuousness and exploitation? Did not the Israelites request, "each from his/her friend, gold and silver articles" to borrow in advance of their journey? (Exodus 11: 2, 3). Does not our Biblical portion close by reiterating the fact that the Israelites "borrowed from and took advantage of "the Egyptians, draining the Egyptians of their resources? (Ex. 12: 35, 36).

And would the Egyptians have even considered giving their silver and gold as a loan to the departing Israelites had they not believed the Israelites were only going on a "three-day-long U.J.A. mission" and would soon be returning to Egypt?

This had been the operative request which Moses and Aaron had initially made to Pharoah: "The G-d of the Hebrews has revealed Himself to us," said (Moses and Aaron)." Please allow us to take a three day journey into the desert, and let us sacrifice to Y-H-V-H our G-d. Otherwise He may strike us down with the plague or the sword." (Exodus 5:3).

And indeed all of the negotiations with Pharoah were predicated on the temporary nature of their requested exit leave. For example, at the end of the seventh plague of hail, Pharoah asks, "Exactly who will be leaving?," to which Moses ringingly responds, "we will go with our sons and our daughters, with our sheep and our cattle. It is (merely) a Festival to G-d for us;" but Pharoah would only allow the males to leave for the three day period. (Exodus 10:8-11).

And what seems to add insult to injury is that the source of this three day "sleight of tongue" deception is none other than the G-d of Israel, the Compassionate Lord of Truth: "You (Moses) and the elders of Israel shall come to the King of Egypt and say to him, 'the Lord G-d of the Hebrews has chanced upon us, and now allow us to go for three days into the desert so that we may offer a sacrifice to the Lord our G-d" (Ex 5:18). And it was similarly G-d's idea to have the Israelites borrow gold and silver from their neighbors (Ex 11:1, 2). How can we justify not only a duplicitous nation but also a duplicitous G-d?

Interpretations which attempt to justify the Israelites and their G-d abound. The Ibn Ezra (his long interpretation to Ex. 10:10) suggests that Moses was only requesting that the Israelites would make their sacrifice at a place in the desert distanced from Egypt only by a three day journey, but not that they would actually return in three days. Even he (Ibn Ezra) admits, however, that Moses couched his words in such a way that Pharoah would think they would be back in three days.

The Abarbanel maintains that the three days was not a lie; it was merely an initial gambit to see if Pharoah would at least allow the Israelites a temporary worship visa. Perhaps it was even a way to demonstrate to the Israelites precisely how cruelly possessive Pharoah was. However, it is difficult to blind our eyes to the fact that the ability of the Israelites to "borrow" gold and silver from the Egyptians was based upon the assumption that they would soon be returning back to Egypt.

Rav Elhanan Samet, in his masterful Studies of the Weekly Portions, cites the Eleventh Sermon of the Rav, in which Rabbenu Nissim explains the necessity for the three-day request and the connected borrowing of the gold and silver: "The Almighty wished to effectuate a situation whereby the Egyptians themselves, by their own free will, would run after the Israelites into the Reed Sea drown therein."

The goal of the Bible is to teach the Egyptians, and through the Egyptians the entire world for all future generations, that the enslavement of a people and the destruction of their children in the Nile River, were abominations which the one true G-d of Israel and the world would not tolerate. The only way in which the Egyptians would be seen as being punished for their genocidal crimes would be their drowning in waters similar to those Nile waters which had executed innocent Israeli babies.

And only if Pharoah felt he had been duped by the Israelites, only if the Egyptians had reason to run after them in order to reclaim their gold and silver, was there the good possibility that Egypt would not merely cry good riddance after the Israelites but would actually follow them to their encampment into the Reed Sea.

Rav Samet adds to this picture the words of an unknown commentary to Exodus 3:18 in the Rav Pininim Bible editions, maintaining that it is legitimate in warfare to utilize deceptive means to vanquish an enemy. If indeed freedom and justice are to triumph over evil genocidal tyranny, the victory must be total and obvious to all. Let no one think one can vanquish evil by methodology of sensitivity and complete disclosure.

Fire must be fought with fire, or else the enemy fire will win the day and destroy the world. This is what President Harry Truman taught the world when Nazism was vanquished at end of the Second World War.




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