The case of the Jewels of Silver and the Jewels of Gold is mentioned three times in Exodus:
In the account of the burning bush:
… every woman shall ask of her neighbour, 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 (Exodus 3, 22).
Later on Moses is told:
Speak now in the ears of the people, and let them ask every man of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold (Exodus 11, 2).
Then we are told:
And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment (Exodus 12, 35).
The Sages ask why was it so important to command the Children of Israel to borrow jewels of silver and jewels of gold from the Egyptians. The discussion in Brahkot suggests that this was not a command but a request that was made in order to make sure that the promise given to Abraham in the Covenant between the Pieces will be fulfilled:
“Speak, please [na] in the ears of the people, and they should borrow, every man from his fellow and every woman from her fellow, silver and gold vessels” (Exodus 11:2), the word please [na] is unclear. The students of the school of Rabbi Yannai said: Please [na] is nothing more than an expression of supplication. Why would God employ an expression of supplication in approaching Israel? The Gemara explains that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: I beseech you, go and tell Israel: I beseech you; borrow vessels of silver and vessels of gold from the Egyptians in order to fulfill the promise I made to Abraham in the “Covenant between the Pieces,” so that that righteous person, Abraham, will not say: God fulfilled His pronouncement: “And they will be enslaved and afflicted,” but God did not fulfill His pronouncement: “And afterward, they will leave with great possessions.” (Berahkot 9).
The Sages liken the Children of Israel to a prisoner who is offered to go free the next day with great fortune, and the prisoner is willing to renounce the promise of wealth if he could go free immediately:
Israel said to Moses: If only we could get out ourselves. The Gemara offers a parable to one who was incarcerated in prison, and people would say to him: We promise, we will release you tomorrow and give you much money. He says to them: I beseech you, release me today and I ask for nothing. So too, Israel preferred leaving immediately empty handed rather than leaving later with great riches (Berahkot 9b).
Men and women are equal in the demand for freedom. Moses asks Pharaoh: “And Moses said: ‘We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD” (Exodus 10, 9). Moreover, the women take active part in the redemption, since they are the ones who are expected to borrow the jewels of silver and the jewels of gold from their Egyptian neighbours: “every woman shall ask of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold” (Exodus 3, 21).
The case of the jewels of silver and the jewels of gold raises another question that relates to the relationship between the Israelites and the Egyptians. Did the Israelites cheat their Egyptian neighbours? Did they borrow the jewels of silver and the jewels of gold with no intention of ever returning them, thus leaving Egypt empty?
The Sages see the jewels of silver and the jewels of gold as a symbol of the blessing Israel received. Once they take the jewels, they take the blessing, and Egypt remains empty and bereft: “And they emptied Egypt, Rabbi Ami said: This indicates that they made Egypt like a trap in which there is no grain that serves as bait to attract birds. Reish Lakish said: They made Egypt like an abyss in the sea without fish” (Berahkot, 9b).
Viewed from this perspective the relationship between the Israelites and the Egyptians is a zero sum game. The success of Israel entails the failure of Egypt. If the Israelites leave “full” the Egyptians are left “empty.”
When we talk about prosperity and blessing, are we talking about a tangible finite asset that once it is given to Israel it is taken away from Egypt? Or could we perceive prosperity and blessing like sunlight or rain that are given freely to everyone, without discrimination, this one derives benefit and that one does not suffer a loss.
We are told that the women borrowed the jewels of silver and the jewels of gold from their neighbours. This suggests that beyond abuse and slavery there were also neighborly relationships; Perhaps there was a fraternity between the lower social classes.
In addition, Pharaoh asks to receive a part in Israel’s blessing: “Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said. Take both your flocks and your herds, as ye have said, and be gone; and bless me also” (Exodus 12, 31-32).
Perhaps the women who borrowed the jewels of silver and jewels of gold did not cheat their neighbors, but took the jewels as a symbol of blessing; a blessing that both Israelites and Egyptians will enjoy, this one derives benefit and that one does not suffer a loss, just like the prophet Isaiah describes in his prophesy:
In that day [there] shall … be … a blessing in the midst of the earth; for that the LORD of hosts hath blessed him, saying: ‘Blessed be Egypt My people and … Israel Mine inheritance.’ (Isaiah 19, 24-25).
Feature Photo: Assorted Silver Pocket Watches, by Giallo