God tells Moses to go before Pharaoh and tell him if he doesn’t humble himself before the Lord then more plagues will come, the next one being locusts that will destroy all that the hail left behind.
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Pharaoh asks Moses who will be going to the desert to worship and Moses says everyone, but Pharaoh says it is a trick to free all the slaves, so only the men can go.
Moses doesn’t accept this and the locusts come. As before, the Pharaoh asks Moses to relieve the plague and he will do as Moses asks, but the moment the plague is gone, the promises are forgotten.
After the locusts came complete darkness for three days, and Pharaoh at this time tells Moses the next time Moses sees Pharaoh, he will be killed.
God now tells Moses that the last plague will come and after this one Pharaoh will throw them all out of Egypt, so when that happens the people are to go to their neighbors and ask for whatever they want of them.
God tells Moses the angel of death will kill the firstborn of all Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh down to the firstborn of the lowliest slave, as well as the firstborn of all the cattle. The Israelites are to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood over their doors, so the angel will know they are God’s chosen and to leave them alone. The rules for the Passover Seder are first enumerated here: which animal to use, how to cook it, when it is to be eaten, what to wear, and the restrictions against eating anything with leaven for the next 7 days.
The angel of death passes over Egypt, and the Pharaoh’s own son is taken. Pharaoh now is totally defeated and he calls for Moses and tells him to leave and take everyone and everything with him. The people ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold, silver, precious jewels- anything of value- and the Egyptian people gladly give whatever they have of value.
This parashah ends with God decreeing to Moses that, from this day forward, because God took all the firstborn of Egypt that all the firstborn of Israel will forever after belong to God.
One of the historical problems with people interpreting the Bible, especially the Hebrew found in the Old Covenant, is that they do not understand either the mindset of the Jewish people or the cultural usage and meaning of the Hebrew words; instead, they tend to use the modern and usual translation of the Hebrew in their interpretation.
For instance, the Hebrew word used in Exodus 3:22 where the women are to ask their neighbors for precious items is שאל (shah-ahl), which means to ask for a gift that isn’t expected to be returned. But some versions of the Bible render that word as “borrow”, and that is not correct. In fact, it is misleading because borrowing indicates the items belong to the Egyptians and should have been returned (which came back against the Jewish people many years after, which I will discuss later on in this message.)
Another example is Exodus 12:36: when the people leave and the Egyptians are giving them all the goodies, the Torah says that the people “despoiled the Egyptians.” We see the same Hebrew word used in Exodus 3:22, where God tells Moses that he will give the Israelites favor in the sight of the Egyptians and they shall spoil the Egyptians.
But “spoil” is not the correct interpretation of that Hebrew word, and the Chumash gives a wonderful explanation for this, which is why I recommend everyone get one so they can learn a truly Jewish understanding of the Torah.
The Chumash tells us the translation should not be “spoiling the Egyptians” but, rather, “saving the Egyptians”!
In the Chumash, we are taught that the Hebrew word used for “spoil” is נצל (nee-tzal). Throughout the scripture, this word occurs some 212 times and in 210 of those instances, within the context of the sentence, it is clear that its meaning is to snatch (from danger), to rescue (from a wild beast), to recover (property), or to plunder.
Now here’s the complicated part…the direct object of the word נצל is never the person or thing from whom the object is being saved, but the thing that is being rescued. In other words, if I say “I rescued the baby from the bear”, the bear is not the object of the word “rescued”, the baby is.
So, when using נצל in Exodus 3:22 (and today in Exodus 12:36), the use of נצל to mean “ye shall spoil the Egyptians” is wrong and would render the word’s meaning in the 210 other places in scripture to mean “spoil” instead of “save”.
Well, the other 210 places where נצל is interpreted to mean “save” or “rescue” is unchallenged by biblical scholars; therefore, the word’s meaning in Exodus cannot be totally different from all the other uses throughout scripture. No- the truest interpretation of the phrase “…and ye shall spoil the Egyptians” is “…and ye shall save the Egyptians.”
Huh? How can asking for gold and silver and precious jewels and such save the Egyptians? I mean, after the 10 plagues, there wasn’t much left to be saved!
Now you will see why I said earlier that the Chumash helps so much to know the Jewish mindset and rabbinical understanding of much of the scriptures.
As explained in my Chumash, by receiving gifts that are not expected to be returned, the Egyptian people would be remembered as having been kind to the Israelites upon their leaving, and since it was the people who were kind and generously gave whatever the Israelites asked for, the Israelites would realize that the cruelty heaped upon them all those years was only from the Pharaoh and his courtiers.
Because the generosity of the Egyptian people to the Israelites when they left Egypt would be remembered fondly, the commandment God gave many years later, in Deuteronomy 23:8, which was “Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian.” would be gladly obeyed.
The misinterpretation of the Hebrew word נצל has been used by enemies of the Bible (and anti-Semites, as well) as a blot against the moral teaching of the scriptures. However, both Jewish and Gentile apologists reply that the silver and gold were given in exchange for the labors that the Jews performed for centuries, without any compensation.
Think of it as back-pay.
Remember how earlier I mentioned the misinterpretation of the word שעל as “borrow” led to thinking the Jews owed the Egyptians? Well, in the Talmud, there is a story of the Egyptians making a formal claim to Alexander the Great against Israel, claiming that they should return all the gold and silver they took with them at the Exodus. The Jewish spokesman, however, was able to successfully convince Alexander that if there was any indemnity to be paid, it was to be from the Egyptians to the Israelites for the 400 years of slavery that Israel served with no recompense for all the work they did.
Today’s lesson is not a spiritual revelation found within the scripture or some moral imperative that will help us to become better Believers, but I believe it is a good lesson all the same.
It is so very important to be able to do more than just quote verses and know the location of a passage in the Bible This is especially true of the Hebrew portions of the Bible because Hebrew is a consonantal language and as such, without vowels to define the exact pronunciation, the only proper interpretation must be the result of reading the entire sentence and making sure the interpretation of any word “fits’ contextually with that sentence, within that paragraph, and hermeneutically throughout the entire Bible.
This is how Rabbis were able to determine that the interpretation of נצל as “spoils” in these two places in Exodus can’t be correct. And once they were able to determine that it meant the Jews didn’t despoil, but actually saved the Egyptians, well, isn’t that a kick in the pants? After 400 years of cruel enslavement, when finally being freed, God had his people save those who were not guilty of the crimes instead of revenging themselves upon them.
I recommend whenever you are studying the scriptures, you don’t use just a Bible, but also have a Bible commentary, a Chumash (for the Old Covenant), the Interlinear Bible set, and maybe even the Talmud or Septuagint handy. Besides those tools, an understanding of Hebrew and Greek would be beneficial, but I am sure that the vast majority of us are not intending to dedicate our lives to becoming biblical scholars and linguistic experts. We have plenty of those.
Seriously, though, if you really want to understand what is in the Bible, you will need to have the proper tools to investigate and the proper knowledge to know when something you are reading or being told just doesn’t “fit”.
And never forget the best guide to knowing God is his Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, which will not only guide your understanding but give you insight that no mere human being can ever have on their own.
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That’s it for this week, so l’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!