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In Shemot 15:22, Rashi says:

Moses led Israel away: lit., made Israel journey. He led them away against their will, for the Egyptians had adorned their steeds with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, and the Israelites were finding them in the sea. The plunder at the sea was greater than the plunder in Egypt, as it is said: “We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver” (Song of Songs 1:11). Therefore, he had to lead them against their will.

But in Shemot 12:36, Rashi says:

and they emptied out: Heb. וַיְנַצְלוּ. Onkelos renders: וְרוֹקִינוּ, and they emptied out.

Furthermore, in Bereshit 45:18, Rashi describes the emptying of Egypt as:

the best of the land of Egypt: [I.e.,] the land of Goshen. He prophesied but did not know what he was prophesying. They (the Israelites) would eventually make it (Egypt) like the depths of the sea, which have no fish. [From Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan, second version, ch. 43; Ber. 9b]

My question is, if the Jews emptied out Egypt before they left, where did all the "gold, silver, and precious gems" which the Egyptians adorned their steeds with come from?

On the other hand, if the Jews left more gold in Egypt than they took with them, how can we consider what the Jews did "emptying the land of Egypt"?

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2 Answers 2

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Mechilta (to 14:6) states that Pharaoh emptied out his treasury and disbursed it among his army, to induce them to pursue the Jews (with the promise, too, of dividing all of the spoils equally with them).

Presumably, no one had gone to Pharaoh to "borrow" gold and silver. (Indeed, the command (Ex. 11:2) was that the Jews should request "each man from his neighbor, and each woman from her neighbor" - pretty clearly excluding the royal household.) So when the Torah says that they had "emptied out Egypt," it must be referring to the belongings of the common people.

(Which also would explain how the plunder from the drowning of the army exceeded what they took away from Egypt: in an autocratic monarchy like Egypt, the king's wealth probably far exceeded that of all his subjects combined.)

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  • A very reasonable explanation +1
    – Double AA
    Feb 5, 2012 at 2:54
  • @DoubleAA But then it raises another question. If the Jews lived in Goshen seperated from the Egyptians, and the plagues did not affect goshen but only egypt proper... then who were the neighbors they were taking gold from!? Sometimes you just aren't supposed to link midrashim together and ask question :)
    – avi
    Feb 5, 2012 at 7:45
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    @avi A 'neighbor' is not always the person in the next house over.
    – Double AA
    Feb 5, 2012 at 14:13
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    @avi I completely agree with you that not all midrashim need to be understood in context with each other. That is precisely why I was so impressed with Alex's answer. You are the one being too technical here. Pharoh was not on the same social status as the rest of the people, and there can be a clear difference between what is in Pharoh's personal treasury and what he technically owned as de facto monarch of the land. These are not big assumptions at all in reading the psukim.
    – Double AA
    Feb 5, 2012 at 16:38
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    @avi, to take your questions in order: (a) Not all of the Jews lived in Goshen; Ex. 1:7 states that "the land was filled with them." (And Ex. 4:22 mentions the Jewish women "borrowing from... those who live in the same house.") (b) Aristocrats the Levi'im may have been, but they still weren't on the same social level as the king, and you wouldn't expect them to march into the palace (especially after Pharaoh had threatened Moshe with death if he came to see him again) and request stuff. (c) The land of Egypt became Pharaoh's in perpetuity (ותהי הארץ לפרעה), not the movable possessions.
    – Alex
    Feb 5, 2012 at 17:12
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The Yalkut Meam Loez famously lists 50 individual miracles that happened within the miracle of Kriyas Yam Suf. Number 45 notes that although the Bnei Yisrael took all the riches from Egypt on the way out, that was only from individual people. The royal treasures remained intact. They were taken by Pharaoh in the pursuit of the Bnei Yisrael and were washed up ashore for the Jews to take following the death of the Mitzriyim:

כי כן דרך האנשים שספינתם נטרפת בים והם ניצולים שאינם חושבים עוד על רכושם אע"פ שהוא רב. ומלבד זה שלח להם הקב"ה סכום גדול אחר שכל מה שהיה להם קודם היה כאין וכאפס לפני זה בשעה שיצאו מן הים. כי זה היה הגורם השלישי להתעשרותם. כי הקב"ה גזר על שר של ים שיפליט את המצריים יחד עם רכבם שהיו מלאים כסף וזהב ואבנים טובות ומרגליות. כי אע"פ שראינו בפרשת בא שבנ"י עשו את מצרים כמצולה שאין בה דגים, זהו מה שלקחו מאת המון העם. אבל מן המלכות עצמה לא נטלו כלום. אבל כשיצאו לרדוף אחרי בני ישראל קישט את כל הסוסים באבנים טובות ומרגליות ומילא את הרכב בכסף וזהב והרבה כרכרות מלאות כל טוב בלי מספר, כדי שעי"כ יהיה למצרים חשק ללכת אחרי בנ"י

Because so is the way of people whose ship is wrecked at sea and they are survivors who no longer think about their property even though it is large. And yet, Hashem sent them (the Egyptians) another large sum of which everything they had before was nothing (in comparison) at the time they went out from the sea. Thus, this was the third way they (the Bnei Yisrael) became rich. Because Hashem decreed (lit.) an officer (i.e. an angel) of the sea to deliver the Egyptians along with their chariots full of silver and gold and precious stones and pearls. Since even though we saw in Parshas Bo that the Jewish people made the Egypt like a deep sea without fish (i.e. emptied them of wealth) - this is what they had taken from the masses of the people, but from the kingdom itself they took nothing. So when they (the Egyptians) went out to pursue the children of Israel, they adorned all the horses with precious stones and pearls and filled the chariots with silver and gold and many chariots full of all good things without number, so that by doing so, Egypt would have a desire to go after the children of Israel...

In addition it is worth noting later that the Mechilta 14:31 adds that there were four reasons why the Jewish people saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. The third reason being:

וכדי שיקחו ישראל את הבזה שהיו המצרים טעונים כסף וזהב ואבנים טובות ומרגליות

In order that Israel would take the spoils that the Egyptians were laden with silver and gold, precious stones and pearls.

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