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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #128 - 05/13
...have never felt any success in previous efforts to learn a language - now I do!..

Eli Dahan

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Two moral questions about Exodus 11

At the beginning of Exodus 11, God revealed His plan to Moses the day before He “passed over” the Children of Israel, killing the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. Since childhood I've always wondered why God needed to kill them in order to bring the People of Israel out of Egypt, or if this whole scene could have played out differently somehow. I’ve never entirely understood the rationale of why the final plague had to be carried out that way.

Let's take a look at the first two verses of this chapter to try and understand some of the difficulties we encounter when we read this story, as written:

"Now the Lord said to Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man askfrom his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” (Ex. 11:1-2)

"וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה עוֹד נֶגַע אֶחָד אָבִיא עַל-פַּרְעֹה וְעַל-מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן יְשַׁלַּח אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּהכְּשַׁלְּחוֹ-כָּלָה גָּרֵשׁ יְגָרֵשׁ אֶתְכֶם מִזֶּהדַּבֶּר-נָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם; וְיִשְׁאֲלוּאִישׁ מֵאֵת רֵעֵהוּ וְאִשָּׁה מֵאֵת רְעוּתָהּ, כְּלֵי-כֶסֶף, וּכְלֵי זָהָב."

Once you read these verses, in fact, this entire chapter, you can’t help but wonder not only about the question I posed above, but also a moral question about the hardening of Pharaoh's heart as well as the property that the Israelites were commanded by God to ask the Egyptians for - silver and golden vessels. Did God really asked His chosen people to steal property from the Egyptians? Were the Israelites thieves and liars at God’s command?

These questions, thankfully, are not questions that the commentaries avoid dealing with.  Such questions arose generations back about the father of the Israelites - let’s not forget the behavior of Jacob, who stole the birthright and the blessing from his brother.  

In order to answer this question - שְׁאֵלָה- we need to go on a journey through the Hebrew Bible looking at the same root of the Hebrew word for question - this is the root "shin-aleph-lamed".

The main question about this root is the meaning - when you ask someone for something, are you asking them in order for them to give it back, like a library book or a bank loan, or are you are asking it to be given as a gift – מַתָּנָה - matana?

When Gideon asked his people for gold in Judges 8:24 they gave him their gold as a gift. However, when you read Exodus 22:13, the conclusion is different -

"If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution."

"וְכִי-יִשְׁאַל אִישׁ מֵעִם רֵעֵהוּ, וְנִשְׁבַּר אוֹ-מֵת; בְּעָלָיו אֵין-עִמּוֹ שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּם."

Here, if you borrow or ask for something, you must bring it back. In regard to this verse, many commentaries cite the verses from Exodus 3:21-22 that share God’s plan before the Exodus. Undoubtedly, a moral problem arises after reading these verses and the verses from Exodus 11.

Now for an answer that was shared with me by my supervisor of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University - Dr. Megidov. She wrote a beautiful didactic article about this issue, where she offered a solution to the exact moral question that we discussed today. She explained that the People of Israel were slaves in Egypt for many years. When a slave is freed, according to Deuteronomy, the master must liberate them with some sort of property in their possession, as written:

"וְכִי-תְשַׁלְּחֶנּוּ חָפְשִׁי מֵעִמָּךְ לֹא תְשַׁלְּחֶנּוּ רֵיקָם." 

"When you set him free, you shall not send him away empty-handed."(Deuteronomy 15:13)

The death of the firstborns



A slave cannot go out empty-handed. For that reason, the Israelites asked for the golden and silver vessels. After 400 years of being servants, they were freed with property in order to come back to the Promised Land, as God revealed to Abram in Genesis 15:13-14.

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart will be a discussion in a newsletter to come. In the meantime, let’s dream of and work towards ensuring the end of slavery in our world!

Have a blessed week,


Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation










His friend



He will ask












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