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According to Pesachim 119a, Yosef collected all the wealth of the world during the famine and b'nei Yisrael took all of it out during the exodus. The g'mara then traces what happened to it from there:

Thus it [the treasure] lay until Rehoboam, when Shishak king of Egypt came and seized it from Rehoboam [...]. Then Zerah, king of Ethiopia, came and seized it from Shishak; then Assa came and seized it from Zerah king of Ethiopia and sent it to Hadrimon the son of Tabrimon. The Ammonites came and seized it from Hadrimon the son of Tabrimon. Jehoshaphat came and seized it from the Ammonites, and it remained so until Ahaz, when Sennacherib came and took it from Ahaz. Then Hezekiah came and took it from Sennacherib, and it remained thus until Zedekiah, when the Babylonians [Chaldeans] came and seized it from Zedekiah. The Persians came and took it from the Chaldeans; the Greeks came and took it from the Persians . the Romans came and took it from the Greeks, and it is still lying in Rome.

Two things strike me in this passage. First, this great pile of wealth wasn't subdivided and distributed; according to the g'mara it's all in a pile in Rome. And second, this is all the wealth of the world.

But we have material wealth now, and we know that other conquests throughout history have involved redistribution of captured property. So either all the wealth of the world was eventually scattered, or what we consider wealth now is really nothing compared to what we took from Egypt. (Or, probably, some third possibility I haven't thought of.)

How do Chazal and other interpreters understand this passage and its claims about the spoils from Egypt?

  • ...like the tag says, it's an aggadic story/legend...c'mon, the Ammonites seizing ANYTHING from anybody? – Gary Oct 18 '13 at 20:38
  • @Gary, but that aggadic story has a context, and Avram smashing Terach's idols (e.g.) is also an aggadah yet we don't just dismiss it as noise. The rabbis presumably had a purpose in recording this aggadah; what are we supposed to understand from it? – Monica Cellio Oct 18 '13 at 20:44
  • good question! I'd personally put that one into the category with the story about the people with one great leg attached to the ground by an umblical cord... – Gary Oct 18 '13 at 22:02
  • Personally, I'd assume we need not take this midrashic tael literally... – WhatHathGodWrought Oct 22 '13 at 23:56
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See page 366 in Divrei Hayamim II (2nd Chronicles) Artscroll Tanach series. Rabbi Moshe Eisemann has a nice short essay on this.

In general, Chazal took the idea of wordly power and potential and labeled it "Kesef Mitzrayim" (the money of Egypt). So this is homiletic. It is not a specific amount of silver or gold bars.

When the Jews left Egypt, we were granted fledgling nationhood with a Torah mandate. The result of succeeding as the Torah nation would be the fact that we would have subjugated even worldly power for the pursuit of good instead of evil. Solomon achieved close to perfection in this regard for Israel. The next generations could have increasingly brought this ideology to the whole world. However, his son Rechavam floundered in the national Torah mandate, so the "wealth of Egypt" returned so to speak to its worldly address. The Jews lost out on their higher mission to get the whole world to recognize that power should be used for good only.

Kings Assa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, were all righteous. So, in their times, Israel got another chance to re-establish the level of control over worldly influence. Alas, Israel let the mandate slip again under succeeding mistakes and evil leaders. The great prize of worldly potential for goodness then rolled on through the exiles awaiting the full return of the Jewish people out of exile mentality. When this will be realized, Moshiach will turn the power of the world towards goodness permanently.

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