Wow. That’s about all there is to say when reading this parasha; in fact, when reading the next couple of parashot. Wow!
The seeds of the Nation of Israel have been planted in Goshen, seventy souls, and they begin to multiply. Joseph dies, and so, too, the generation of Joseph’s brothers. Later a new ruler, one of ancient Egyptian heritage (the Pharaoh who showed such kindness to Joseph was of the Hyksos and they were replaced by previously ousted Egyptians) is fearful of the multitude of Israelites, so he makes them slaves. As a way to maintain their numbers, he orders the death of the male children but the midwives refuse to do so and make excuses why they can’t get there in time to kill the children. The Israelites continue to prosper, despite the hard labor they are under.
One day a child is born who is kept aside, hidden for three months, then released to God’s care in a basket floating down the river Nile. His sister, Miryam, follows in the reeds (extremely dangerous when you consider that the Nile Crocodile, which can grow to 20 feet or more, likes to sunbathe in the reeds) and when a daughter of the Pharaoh finds the child and shows compassion, Miryam offers to get a Hebrew woman to nurse him. So, Moshe (Moses) is nursed by his own mother for years, and when he is returned to the daughter of Pharaoh he is old enough to have learned of his true heritage, which he remembers during his years under Egyptian study and while living in the Palace.
Moshe as an adult sees an Egyptian TaskMaster beating a Hebrew and in a fit of anger, kills the Egyptian, thinking no one will ever know. But he is discovered, and flees for his life. Living in Midian he takes a wife and becomes a shepherd. He has a son and when he is 80 years old, he sees the burning bush and receives his calling from God.
He didn’t take to it right away, but Moshe does go to Egypt and God has his older brother, Aaron, also go with him. Moshe asks Pharaoh to release the children of Israel. Pharaoh refuses, and to show even more disregard for the people and their God, he orders that they maintain their daily quota of bricks but refuses to give them the straw needed, forcing them to take what little time they have to themselves and use it to gather the straw they need. The people, understandably, were not too happy with Moshe and Aaron, and this parashah ends with Moshe asking God why He has made things even worse than before when He said He would free the people.
There is a small part of this I want to talk about today- it is in Chapter 3, verses 21 and 22. Here is what the Chumash has:
“And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty: (22) but every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians. (Italics added)”
In Deuteronomy 15:12 we are told that when a faithful servant leaves the master that the servant is to be equipped liberally by the master. Therefore, God is saying that the parting from the Egyptian peoples, not the royalty, but the people, should be friendly and compassionate.
Most interpretations are that the despoiling of the Egyptians is thought to be the overdue compensation for centuries of unpaid labor, and there is certainly some validity to that interpretation. However, we are told in Deuteronomy 23:8 that we “shall not abhor an Egyptian.” The hebrew word often translated as “spoil”, נצל , is found 212 times in the Tanakh, and in 210 of those times it is translated as to snatch from danger, to save. The Chumash, therefore, says the proper translation of the end of verse 22 in this chapter is to save the Egyptians, not despoil them. The fact that the children are to be the ones wearing these ornaments and jewels demonstrates that this is an act to be remembered throughout the generations.
I was amazed when I read this, and I believe this is a hermeneutically proper usage of the word “נצל” because God is a God of forgiveness and compassion, and even though there is a very strong argument that the Israelites were due compensation for their labors, it is more important to forgive and reconcile than to revenge and repay. The Israelites were going to save the Egyptians by asking them to provide their former slaves with gifts as they leave their service. How does this “save” the Egyptians? By letting them send away the Israelites with good feelings, with a clean slate, so to speak, and by letting the Israelites have the reminders of the generosity of the Egyptian people so that they will know it was the Pharaoh, not the people, who persecuted the Hebrews.
Saying that the Hebrews despoiled Egypt is to me an anti-Egyptian (if you will) interpretation, no different than the underlying anti-Semitic interpretation of the New Covenant writings, in which it sounds like the entire Jewish nation rejected and hated Yeshua, when in truth the people loved, listened to and followed Him. There were probably tens of thousands of followers of Yeshua at the time of His death and after His resurrection, yet the interpretations of the New Covenant books and letters make it sound like the entire nation wanted Him dead. It was only the political powers that were against Yeshua, not the people, not “the Jews”. It was the leaders, not the led.
This was true of the persecution of the Jewish people under Pharaoh during the time of Moses, and it was true of the persecution of the new Believers, the Messianic Jews, in Jerusalem during the first and second centuries.
Throughout the bible we see how the people suffered as a result of the sins of their leaders, we see this in the (subliminal) anti-Semitic teachings in the Christian world where so many Christians have been taught that Torah is invalid and doesn’t apply to them. Today, thank God, many Christians are becoming more aware of the fact that their Jewish roots are still valid, that Torah is still valid, and that it is not true that Yeshua died a Jew and then was resurrected as a Christian. The Epistles of Shaul are not polemics against the Torah, but apologetics for it. Yes, things will change, but the word of God does not change. Yeshua said that the world will pass away but His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31), and all of His words were in keeping with the Torah. More recently, we have had world wars, terrorism, James Jones, Charles Manson, etc. People suffering for the sins of their leaders.
What this passage reminds us is this: leaders don’t always speak for the people. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? I mean, if that’s true then we elect people based on what they say they stand for and what they will do, but that doesn’t mean when they are in power they will keep their word. Oh, really? Duh!!
We have to be the leaders, not them. For a government, or for that matter, a company, an organization, even a sports team, to be true to it’s standards, the leadership must be subject to the people, not the other way around.
Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? Didn’t Yeshua say as much when He told His Talmudim:
“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,…” Mattitayu 20:26
The government in Moses’ day was hereditary; the government in Yeshua’s day was comprised of appointed leaders by a despotic ruler, and the legal leadership (Sanhedria) were mostly political “hacks” appointed by Herod and not true Levites. Today, we have elected officials.
But, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if the ones in charge are there by heredity, by appointment, by election or by military coup: the leaders must be subject to the led. The organization, whether political or social or laic, must be an inverted triangle.
That is what God wants, that is how the bible shows us we should be organized. If you are in a position of leadership, you should lead by being an example, not an exception. You must lead by taking care of your people, with compassionate guidance, and by taking the responsibility for what happens. Rulership sucks- you have to do what the people want, and when that happens and something goes wrong, you have to take the responsibility for it. It’s essentially a “lose-lose”or a “win-win”: there is no middle ground.
We are beginning a new year today- although I think it is silly to teach that this is the time for making resolutions to change for the better. We shouldn’t make that an annual thing, it should be a daily thing. In any event, today’s lesson from the Word of God should encourage us to be both more understanding of those in leadership positions, and more attentive to what they do. We need to make sure that our leaders do what they said they would do, and that they be held accountable. The truth is that we, the people, are the leaders and the “leaders” we place in charge of us are just there to help facilitate things. But it’s our responsibility to make sure they do as we expect, and if they don’t, it’s our responsibility to place someone there who will.
I also confess I am as much to blame for this as anyone- I don’t follow politics much at all. I need to change, too.
I guaranty that if we start to successfully impeach and/or vote out of office those government officials who don’t do as we want, the ones that are there will realize their greatest shield against losing their job, which is our apathy, is no longer effective. And the ones we vote in will know they got there because their predecessor didn’t do what he or she was supposed to do and if they don’t, they will be out on their tuchas, too!
I am not preaching anarchy, I am preaching responsibility. As I said, we see throughout history how the people suffer for their government’s actions. If that is to be the case, then we should (at least) make sure those actions are what we want them to be.
God wanted the Egyptians to have the opportunity to be absolved of the horrible things their leaders did. The people certainly suffered much before the Jewish nation was set free, and to ask for gifts upon leaving the service, and to have the Egyptian people give those gifts willingly and generously, did save the people from the wrongdoing of their leaders.
Don’t accept what your government, corporate or (especially) religious leaders tell you without carefully reviewing and justifying the validity of what they say. Too often, for too long, people have been misled by the leaders they trust, so always make sure that you are aware of what you are being told.
Ultimately, it’s your butt on the line so you better make sure the ones you expect to keep it safe are doing their job.