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In parshat Bo, we read:

And the Lord said to Moses... Speak, please, in the ears of the people, and let them ask every man of his neighbor, and every woman of her neighbor, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold. [Ex. 11:1-2]

Why? To compensate them for slavery, as the Torah later says must be done for all freed slaves? But what use did they have for riches when facing the desert? All they needed was God's guidance and provision for their material needs. And we know what they ended up doing with this gold: Build an idol. Moses even castigates God for that in the Talmud:

Master of the Universe, the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel ... is what caused Israel to make the Golden Calf. [Berakhot 32a]

Note God's "dabber na" -- "speak, please". It's an entreaty. The Israelites were not inclined to ask for these riches. Also, they were in such a hurry that they didn't have time for the dough to rise, yet they had enough time to ask for silver, gold and jewels from the Egyptians?

I know God promised these riches to Abraham [Genesis 15:14]. My question is: Why did He?

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    Are you asking why they needed the riches in the desert, or what G-d meant when he said "na", or looking for a reason why G-d would ask this? Also, how do you know it was to compensate them for their slavery? Jan 17 at 14:09
  • Chizkuni comments: "These “gifts” would compensate the people for the many years they had performed slave labor without compensation." My question is general. Jan 17 at 14:11
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    Although I'm still confused as to exactly what you are asking, I will try to answer your question. Jan 17 at 15:08
  • @רבותמחשבות -- My question is my title! Jan 17 at 15:09
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    @MauriceMizrahi Alex answered the question in the title, and you told him he didn't answer your question. (Nevertheless, I believe that the answer I brought will satisfy all elements of your question as currently posted.) Jan 17 at 15:16
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Although there are various other views, Rabbeinu Nissim (Derashot HaRan 11, cited by Rabbi Sammy Bergman in his article in Toronto Torah 11:20) suggests that Hashem asked the Jewish People to deceive the Egyptians by "borrowing" their riches and wealth so that they would chase them to the Yam Suf, where Hashem would punish them in a miraculous manner, in front of the entire Jewish People. Although I would recommend reading the entire section to really appreciate Ran's idea, here is the section that directly addresses it (Rabbi Silverstein translation):

ולזאת הסבה עצמה צוה וישאלו איש מאת רעהו. שעם היות שממונם היה מותר להם ויכולין לקחתו, צוה שיבאו בעקבה, שאע"פ שיהיה זה לישראל דבר זר, ולזה אמרו דבר נא באזני העם ואין נא אלא לשון בקשה, והוא כאמרו ידעתי שהם אנשי חיל שלא יחפצו במרמות ותוך, עם כל זה תחלה פניהם בשמי שיעשו ככה ולא ישאלו למה, וכאשר הוגד למלך מצרים ולעמו שישראל בורחים אין ספק שחשדום באנשי דמים ומרמה. שאל"כ למה יתנכלו אליהם בדברים האלה, וכל זה הגיעם בלי ספק לרדפם.

And it is for this reason itself that He directed "that they ask each man of his neighbor…" For though the Egyptian money was theirs and they could have taken it by force, He directed that they take it by stealth, even though this would seem exceedingly strange to the Jews. This is the intent of: "Speak, I pray you [na], in the ears of the people." "Na" is a term of imploration (Berachoth 9a). It is as if to say: "I know them to be courageous men, who are averse to deceit and guile. Still, implore them in My name that they do as I ask and not ask the reason." And when the king of Egypt and his people were told that the Jews were fleeing, there is no doubt that they suspected them of being "men of blood and deceit." For if this were not the case, why should they have schemed against them in this manner? And all of this was certainly cause for them to pursue the Jews. For if Moses had commanded at the outset that they send the Jews away and not pursue them and give them their wages as well, there is no question that they would not have stirred from their places. And the motive for all of these things was hidden from the Jews — and possibly, even from Moses himself. For this reason there was certainly cause for them to begin to doubt the embassy of Moses, though they had believed in it implicitly in the beginning. And this is intimated in (Ibid 14:31): "And Israel saw the mighty hand…" That is, then they recognized that all that had been hidden from them until then and had given them cause for doubt was only a ploy to cause the Egyptians to enter the sea of themselves.

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  • But there was no deceit: the Egyptians willingly complied just to get the Israelites out of their hair: "And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And they emptied out Egypt." [Ex. 12:34-36] So how can your source claim the Egyptians were enraged at the "deceit" and pursued the Israelites? Jan 17 at 15:30
  • @MauriceMizrahi Firstly, the Ran clearly states that this appeared to be deceit even to the Jewish People, who knew that they were leaving permanently, yet Hashem told them to borrow valuable objects. Secondly, all the Torah says (in the source that you brought) was that the Egyptians "lent" them these objects "וישאילום", and according to Ran, the Egyptians assumed they would return them. When the Egyptians saw the Jews leaving permanently, they realized that it wouldn't be returned, and got angry and chased them. Jan 17 at 15:39
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Berachot 9a-b

דבר נא באזני העם וגו׳ אמרי דבי רבי ינאי אין נא אלא לשון בקשה אמר ליה הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה בבקשה ממך לך ואמור להם לישראל בבקשה מכם שאלו ממצרים כלי כסף וכלי זהב שלא יאמר אותו צדיק ועבדום וענו אתם קיים בהם ואחרי כן יצאו ברכוש גדול לא קיים בהם אמרו לו ולואי שנצא בעצמנו משל לאדם שהיה חבוש בבית האסורים והיו אומרים לו בני אדם מוציאין אותך למחר מבית האסורין ונותנין לך ממון הרבה ואומר להם בבקשה מכם הוציאוני היום ואיני מבקש כלום

Speak now [na] in the ears of the people, etc. In the school of R. Jannai they said: The word ‘na’ means: I pray. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: I pray of thee, go and tell Israel, I pray of you to borrow from the Egyptians vessels of silver and vessels of gold, so that this righteous man [Abraham] may not say: And they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them He did fulfill for them, but And afterward shall they come out with great substance He did not fulfill for them. They said to him: If only we could get out with our lives! A parable: [They were] like a man who was kept in prison and people told him: To-morrow, they will release you from the prison and give you plenty of money. And he answered them: I pray of you, let me go free today and I shall ask nothing more!

(Soncino translation, my emphasis)

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  • I had read that. But it doesn't answer my question. What do these riches accomplish? Jan 17 at 14:29
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    @MauriceMizrahi It accomplished fulfilling the promise. In any case, if you are aware of sources that explicitly deal with your question but you aren't satisfied with the answer, you should mention it in your question so that answers don't simply provide you with information that you already know.
    – Alex
    Jan 17 at 14:35
  • @MauriceMizrahi That's why I asked you to please clarify your question... Jan 17 at 14:54
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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks answers the question as follows: God wanted the Israelites to be compensated to reduce their feelings of hatred against the Egyptians:

A people driven by hate are not – cannot be – free. Had the people carried with them a burden of hatred and a desire for revenge, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not taken Egypt out of the Israelites. They would still be there, bound by chains of anger as restricting as any metal. To be free you have to let go of hate.

In fact, the point is clearly stated later:

לֹא־תְתַעֵ֣ב מִצְרִ֔י כִּי־גֵ֖ר הָיִ֥יתָ בְאַרְצֽוֹ You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land. [Deut. 23:8]

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Over the years many rabbinic interpretations have been brought forward to answer this question. Two have been brought forward in the other answers, namely 1) compensation owed to the Israelites and 2) to further destroy pharoah's might. But the explanaton that I favor is one recently restated by Rabbi Zamore in her article entitled "Reparations: Seeding a Better Future". In the article she states that the silver and gold

would be used in the building of the mishkan, the portable tabernacle (Midrash Tanchuma, Terumah, 4; Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 12:35:1; Or HaChaim on Exodus 25:2)

There is no death or taking for personal use in this explanation. The silver and gold that is "taken" will be used righteously to serve G-d. As a friend once said to me, any material riches we think we own have really just been loaned to us by G-d and he may borrow them back at any moment if He has a more pressing use for them. G-d loaned the silver and gold to the Egyptians and now He, through the Israelites, is taking them back to be used in the building of the mishkan.

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  • Is it sufficient to say that the riches were to be used for the Mishkan, without an explanation for why that was where the source should come from? I'm not sure.
    – robev
    Jan 19 at 16:36
  • @robev Sometimes G-d tells us to do things without a full explanation at the moment we're commanded. For example, don't mix meat and dairy.
    – ron
    Jan 19 at 16:58
  • But the question is asking for a full explanation. Re: milk and meat, even though G-d didn't say why, many offer suggestions. So too here.
    – robev
    Jan 19 at 17:23
  • However, the Yerushalmi [Shekalim Y 1:5] says that the Tabernacle was to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf. If so, it could not have been the direct reason for the Israelites taking the riches. Jan 19 at 18:11
  • @MauriceMizrahi But G-d foresaw all of these things, and from the outset knew what would be used in the golden calf and what would be needed for the mishkan.
    – ron
    Jan 19 at 21:05
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Below is a summarized version of רבות מחשבות's answer.

G-d commanded the Israelites to “borrow” silver, gold, and clothing, from Egypt. Don Isaac Abarbanel said it was a trick to prompt the Egyptians to chase after the Jews so that G-d could destroy them.

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    Which is the same as רבות מחשבות's answer above.
    – Meir
    Jan 19 at 15:15
  • @Meir My answer helps because it's a summarized version. If one wanted to read a summarization, they could read my answer. I think it helps. Thank you for your comment.
    – Turk Hill
    Jan 19 at 17:07
  • Then the intellectually honest thing to do would be to say so in the body of your answer, for example "(This is basically the same as רבות מחשבות's answer, but summarized.)," rather than pretending that it's something completely new.
    – Meir
    Jan 19 at 17:10
  • @Meir I will do so, but I did not read רבות מחשבות's answer, so I was unaware that there was already an answer like this. Thank you for pointing that out to me.
    – Turk Hill
    Jan 19 at 17:23
  • @Meir רבות מחשבות quotes the Ran whereas this quotes Abarbanel, so that's a significant difference, not just a summary. But Turk Hill, it would be more helpful if you added a source for where you saw this commentary by Abarbanel
    – b a
    Jan 23 at 16:48

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