First day Pesach

"They borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing" Exodus 12:35


Pesach marks the birth of our freedom. The Egyptian firstborn are dead. Now, Pharaoh says, "Get up and go." We had unbaked dough on our backs, but we also took away armfuls of Egyptian gold and silver. The word the Torah uses, va'yishalu, means both to ask for and to borrow; are these valuables a loan or a gift?

Rashi says the Egyptians are desperate to get rid of us; they say "take double what you asked for and go!" Their eagerness to send us away can also suggest that their gifts are in the nature of compensation for their guilt. Their silver and gold come with no strings attached.

Abraham Ibn Ezra is more of a cynic. Had God not made us favourable in their eyes, he says, the Egyptians would have given us nothing whatsoever. They are convinced we will be back in three days or less. These are not gifts, but tokens of power and continuing oppression.

But we took the stuff and left, indeed, va'y'naztlu et Mitzrayim, "They stripped the Egyptians." This fascinating verb also has two meanings. Here, it means to take everything. But the most common meaning of this word relates to being rescued. In tearing ourselves away from danger, we play a small part in bringing about our own redemption. We had to also save ourselves. We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; Jews will always celebrate our freedom and identify with the oppressed.

But these moments of moral complexity should mean that we, of all people, should also understand that when lives are at risk, people will sometimes have to do whatever it takes (even destroying identity papers and bypassing immigration controls) to bring about their own redemption.

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