In an attempt to clarify the expression, “Can I borrow a match,” a friend gave an explanation even more vivid. “Can I borrow your tickets to the Knicks game next Sunday?” There is, obviously, no way to borrow something you cannot give back. It is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the Israelites fashioning the Golden Calf a mere few weeks into the desert. How did a people who knew nothing but slavery come up with prodigious amounts of gold and silver?
It is set out succinctly in Parshat Bo, which we will read the Shabbat of January 19th. In Exodus11:2-3 we read, “Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” (Etz Hayim). The Stone Chumash translates it “Let each man request…” while the Hertz Chumash uses “…let them ask every man…” These are subtle, but significant differences in how to view the query.
There is no question, our forefathers in some manner cajoled silver and gold from the Egyptians prior to departure for the Exodus. That cannot be changed, the thing I am astonished by are the commentaries and their across the board nature.
The tack the Stone takes is the soul of Abraham would have a grievance against God. Specifically, that his offspring would be oppressed AND that they would leave their captivity with great wealth. How do we know this? Jaunt back to Parshat Lekh L’kha in Genesis 15:14 “…they shall go free with great wealth.” Read this way, it all starts to fall into place.
Moving to the Etz Hayim’s portrayal, it suggests the Israelites could have plundered the Egyptians, but they did not, during the plague of darkness. This chumash notes that when the Egyptians grasped the Israelites’ greatness, they quickly acquiesced to their “requests.” In the same footnote, it shifts to the notion that “external forces can sometimes help us even when we cannot help ourselves.” Notwithstanding our prior experiences, “the universe can be supportive of our hopes.” All it takes is one day in modern Israel to see that is still the case.
The Etz Hayim is the only commentary (of the four) that directs the reader back to Exodus 3:21 where it stated “…you will not go away empty handed.” Prior to beginning intensive study, it was difficult to see how the body and quantity of Jewish texts fit together or jelled. Then, one day (much later) it began to dovetail.
Gunther Plaut in his commentary raises the “borrow a match” scenario. What good is a used match to the lender when addressing the usage of “borrow” (sha-al)? Surely an erstwhile Egyptian could not have expected a “return” of their precious metals. Plaut then refers us to The Book of Jubilees and its concept that “Israel ‘plundered’ the Egyptians to make up for centuries of slavery.”
Each of the aforementioned Chumashim are well thought of and esteemed by their respective movements and compared only to demonstrate how one Torah concept can have a multiple but subtle views without in any way diminishing their reverence for our holy Torah. It is interesting to note that the most revered commentator across every denominational stripe, Rashi, treats the “borrowing” without fanfare by very succinctly stating, He fulfilled “the promise” (from Parshat Lekh L’kha) and they left with great wealth.
However we want to read this case of how we acquired so much gold to build the Golden Calf, one part is true: if each of our respective denominations can tackle an issue in the Torah and find some similarities as well as respectfully disagree, we can do the same in our community as well.