Shabbat Blog: Promises, Promises

Friday, January 7, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה ע֣וֹד נֶ֤גַע אֶחָד֙ אָבִ֤יא עַל־פַּרְעֹה֙ וְעַל־מִצְרַ֔יִם אַֽחֲרֵי־כֵ֕ן יְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶתְכֶ֖ם מִזֶּ֑ה כְּשַׁ֨לְּח֔וֹ כָּלָ֕ה גָּרֵ֛שׁ יְגָרֵ֥שׁ אֶתְכֶ֖ם מִזֶּֽה׃

And the LORD said to Moses, “I will bring but one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; after that he shall let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you out of here one and all. (Ex.11:1)

דַּבֶּר־נָ֖א בְּאזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וְיִשְׁאֲל֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ ׀ מֵאֵ֣ת רֵעֵ֗הוּ וְאִשָּׁה֙ מֵאֵ֣ת רְעוּתָ֔הּ כְּלֵי־כֶ֖סֶף וּכְלֵ֥י זָהָֽב׃

Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” (Ex. 11:2)

וַיִּתֵּ֧ן יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶת־חֵ֥ן הָעָ֖ם בְּעֵינֵ֣י מִצְרָ֑יִם גַּ֣ם ׀ הָאִ֣ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֗ה גָּד֤וֹל מְאֹד֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעֵינֵ֥י עַבְדֵֽי־פַרְעֹ֖ה וּבְעֵינֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃

The LORD disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people. Moreover, Moses himself was much esteemed in the land of Egypt, among Pharaoh’s courtiers and among the people. (Ex. 11:3)

This small interruption pauses God’s forecast of the plague of the firstborn. There is no immediate reason given for the need to “borrow” precious items for their Egyptian neighbors.

Some have suggested that it was necessary so that the Israelites would have material for the constructions o the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

Rashi, following the Talmud (Berachot 9a-b) teaches that this step was taken in order for avoid the perception that God does not keep His word. After all, the prophecy of bondage shared with Abraham (Gen.15:13) was fulfilled, now God had to keep the second half of that prophecy, that the Israelites “shall go forth with great substance.” (Gen. 15:14)

The importance of keeping our words emerges from this approach.

On the other hand, consider this verse (Eccles 5:4) - ט֖וֹב אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־תִדֹּ֑ר מִשֶּׁתִּדּ֖וֹר וְלֹ֥א תְשַׁלֵּֽם. - It is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill. 

Conversation Starters:

  • Why is it important to keep our word?
  • Why do you think the Rabbis use this particular example to teach the importance of keeping promises?
  • Do you think it is a good idea to make promises? Consider this verse (Eccles 5:4) - ט֖וֹב אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־תִדֹּ֑ר מִשֶּׁתִּדּ֖וֹר וְלֹ֥א תְשַׁלֵּֽם. - It is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill. According to Rabbi Meir in the Talmud (Hil. 2a) the best course of action is not to vow at all. Why do you think that is?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Barry Gelman

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of Judaism. 

Category: ERJCC Blog