The Passover Story: Redemption through gift giving

For today, have something I wrote a couple of weeks ago and sent to Andrew:

I’m re-reading the beginning of Exodus, in preparation to write a piece for the Occupy Judaism Haggadah. The piece will be about the practical impossibility of using no slave labour in the modern world, but along the way I’m rediscovering other wonderful (and sometimes awful – this is one of the worst sections of the Torah for having crucially important but nameless female characters, for instance) details.  This one reminded me of you [specifically: of things he had written about gift-giving]:

Exodus III:21-22 “And I [God] will give this people [the Israelites] favour in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty; but every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her in whose house she sojourneth, articles of silver, and articles of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall save the Egyptians.”

I found this one of the more opaque passages, so the commentary was crucial to making any sense of it. Here are the relevant parts:

shall ask – For the mere asking, they will be given in gladness and friendliness precious and valuable gifts. The Hebrew ‘she-al’ means to ask as a gift, with no idea of giving back the object thus received….”

upon your sons, and upon your daughters – The striking manifestation of kindliness and goodwill on the side of the Egyptian people is to be remembered by the Israelites throughout the generations; and, therefore, they are bidden to put these gifts and ornaments upon their children, who will ask concerning that great Day when the Lord saved Israel out of the hands of Pharaoh….”

and ye shall save the Egyptians – i.e. clear the name, and vindicate the humanity, of the Egyptians. Bitter memories and associations would have clung to the word ‘Egyptians’ in the mind of Israelites, as the hereditary enslavers and oppressors of Israel. A friendly parting, and generous gifts, however, would banish that feeling. The Israelites would come to see that the oppressors were Pharaoh and his courtiers, not the Egyptian people…. It is for such reasons the the Israelites are bidden to ask their neighbours for these gifts, in order to ensure such a parting in friendship and goodwill, with its consequent clearing of the name, and vindication of the honour, of the Egyptian people.”

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