“The length of time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.” (Exodus 12:40)
Parashat Bo describes the final two plagues, darkness and the slaying of the Egyptian first-born, the last of which causes Pharaoh to capitulate, finally, and release the Israelites from slavery. As they prepare to leave, they follow Moses’ instructions and ,”…Requested silver and gold articles and clothing from the Egyptians. God made the Egyptians respect the people and they granted their request. The Israelite thus drained Egypt of its wealth.” (Ex. 12:35, 36).
It’s an odd interlude in the midst of all the high drama. Classic commentators interpret this transaction as Egyptian reparations for generations of oppression. But why do the Israelites drain Egypt of all its wealth? The rabbis explain by comparing Egypt to both a trap without bait and a net without fish (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 9b). The goal is to make Egypt as unattractive as possible, lest the Israelites think about going back. Draining it of all its material wealth is a form of self-protection: a poor Egypt offers no chance for financial improvement. With no financial “bait,” the Israelites will have no reason to return and won’t be trapped (enslaved) again.
Egypt’s cultural dominance in the region also exerts a powerful attraction; nostalgia and familiarity pulls people back. Draining Egypt of its material resources makes it a miserable place to live, culturally. If no one is living there (no fish), the Israelites will not be tempted to, “follow the herd,” thus avoiding the “net” of spiritual enslavement.
Parashat Bo demonstrates an astute understanding of human nature. We think “perception is reality” is a contemporary idea. Parashat Bo testifies to its timelessness.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom