Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?
Twice in the early chapters of Shemot, Hashem seems to command the nation to deceive Paroh and/or the Egyptians. Hashem tells Moshe to ask Paroh for only a three day furlough in the Wilderness, while His real intent is for them to leave for good. Later, he instructs the nation to request items of gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors even though the objects are not to be returned.
- Why isn't Hashem upfront with Paroh about His plans? What was gained by requesting just a short holiday? And finally, was Paroh really duped? Attempt to bring evidence in both directions, and see A Three Day Journey?
- When the Egyptians gave of their vessels, did they intend them as loans, anticipating that the Israelites would be returning, or as outright gifts knowing full well that the Israelites were leaving forever? If the latter, should the Israelites' actions be considered theft? See Reparations and Despoiling Egypt.
- In each of the above cases, was the duplicity justified? Why or why not? In general, when is deception of the enemy allowed? Does the fact that one was unjustly treated permit dishonesty in return?
Mitzvot for the Masses?
Is it possible that certain commandments were given only because of the misguided beliefs of the masses?
- Ibn Kaspi posits that the blood of the Pesach which was smeared on the doorposts had no effect on either Hashem or the destroying angel, but was intended merely to allay the fears of the Israelite masses. The people (erroneously) believed that blood was a panacea to allay tension, and so Hashem went along with their perception so as to prevent panic during the Plague of the Firstborns. For elaboration and other understandings of the ritual, see Purpose of the Pesach.1
- For other examples where commentators make similar claims, see Shadal regarding impurity in Tzara'at and the "evil eye" in Half Shekels – For Census or Tabernacle, and Rambam's understanding of the Purpose of the Sacrifices.
In two instances in Parashat Bo, Moshe speaks in the name of Hashem and invokes Divine authority, even though there is no previous record of Hashem having communicated the particular content. In Chapter 10, Moshe confronts Paroh on Hashem's command, but, seemingly on his own initiative, announces the Plague of Locusts in God's name. Similarly, in Chapter 11, though Hashem tells Moshe that there will be one final plague, it is Moshe himself who first announces in God's name that this plague will kill the firstborns.
- Is it possible for a prophet to speak on his own initiative and to then attribute that speech back to Hashem? Or need one assume that, despite the textual silence, Hashem must have given the directions beforehand?
- How much autonomy does a prophet have? Is he simply Hashem's mouthpiece, or is he allowed to act on his own? If the latter, is it possible for a prophet to make a mistake? See Invoking Hashem's Name Without Explicit Divine Sanction.
The Israelites' Religious Identity in Egypt
According to several commentators,2 the slaughtering of the Pesach symbolized the Israelite rejection of Egyptian idolatry. This position assumes that the Israelites had assimilated in Egypt and needed to demonstrate their loyalty to God in order to merit redemption (see Purpose of the Pesach).
- Is there any evidence in Shemot to support the claim that the Israelites had forsaken Hashem and adopted foreign gods? What was the Israelites' Religious Identity in Egypt?
- What does it mean to be "religious" in an era before the Torah was given? Was there anything (beyond monotheism) that would have marked the Israelites as distinct from their Egyptian neighbors?3
The Reparations Debate
Many explain that the Egyptians gave gold and silver vessels to the Israelites prior to their leaving Egypt as compensation for years of enslavement.
- If you were living in Egypt at the time, would you be willing to accept such reparations?
- Compare with the debates which raged in Israel in the early 1950s over the propriety of requesting and accepting West German reparations. See the Oznayim LaTorah in Reparations and Despoiling Egypt for more.
For more, see: Parashat Bo Topics.