Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Bo 5758
January 31, 1998
Before the Jews could leave Egypt, they had to take care of one last piece of unfinished business. Generations earlier, the Almighty had told Avraham that his descendants would experience slavery and suffering. But He also assured him that they would emerge with great wealth. The time had now arrived for the fulfillment of this promise.
The Jews were instructed to approach the Egyptians and ask them for their valuables. To prevent the Egyptians from denying that they possessed any treasures, the Almighty put a foolproof plan into place. During the plague of darkness, while the Egyptians were completely immobilized, the Jews were free to roam around wherever they wanted.The ancient Hebrews took advantage of this opportunity and entered their neighbors' homes, discovering the locations of all their valuables. If an Egyptian subsequently claimed to have nothing of value, the Jew would say to him, "What about the silver candelabra hidden in the back of the closet?" The amazed Egyptian would then hand over his precious possessions.
Nonetheless, why were the Egyptians willing to give up their personal treasures simply because they were impressed by their slaves' knowledge of the contents of their homes? Were they afraid of being struck by another plague as terrible as the first ten that had already decimated their country? Or, was this an admission that the Jews were the victors and as such were entitled to the spoils of war?No, the Almighty had not cast some kind of spell over the Egyptians to make them suddenly like the Jews. There was a reason for them seeing the ancient Hebrews in such a favorable way. "Hashem gave the people chayn in the eyes of the Egyptians," the Torah tells us. The chayn--favor, grace, beauty, charm-- of the Jews is what made the difference.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the Egyptians were amazed by the fact that the Jews hadn't removed a single item from their homes during their three days of unrestricted access. It was their ability to restrain themselves that impressed the Egyptians.There are numerous ways in which we Jews can make a favorable impression upon the gentile world in which we live. Examples abound of Jews who have excelled in the arts and sciences. In the financial realm, too, many Jews have been extremely successful. We can highlight the disproportionately high number of Nobel prizes that have been won by people of our faith.
We learn from the experience of our ancestors, however, that our ability to be morally superior is what most impresses others. Our chayn, the sweetness and charm of the Jewish people, is our best feature.Rabbi Asher Vale
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