February 11, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1056, B’Shalach, Parsha Thought


“And Moshe led Israel onward from the Red Sea…”

The term “led Israel onward” used here is traditionally thought to imply that the Jewish people were hesitant to move from the site where they crossed the Red Sea and Moshe had to force them to continue on their journey.

Rashi, citing the Midrashic work Mechilta, explains that indeed Moshe had to force them to leave because the Egyptians had decorated their horses with gold and silver ornaments and precious stones. The Jewish people were so engrossed in removing these treasures from the bodies washing up on the sea shore that they were not ready to continue their journey.

Commentators raise the question why Moshe forced them to leave. Didn’t G-d promise to the Jewish people that they would leave Egypt with great wealth? Indeed, G-d “pleaded” with Moshe to get the people to borrow the possessions of the Egyptians so that G-d’s promise to Avraham that his progeny would leave with great wealth would be fulfilled. Presumably, there were no upper limits given as to what constituted great wealth, and as much as the Jewish people amassed in Egypt proper, there was no reason why they couldn’t acquire more from the Egyptian dead. If so, weren’t they engaged in a Mitzvah, complying with G-d’s will that they leave with great wealth?


When G-d told Moshe to tell the Jewish people to take the wealth of Egypt with them, he prefaced that request with the following words:

“And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.”

Only after this introduction did G-d state to Moshe:

“And it shall come to pass, that when you go, you shall not go empty. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of who dwells in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and garments; and you shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters, and you shall spoil the Egyptians.”

And, indeed, in the next Parsha the Torah records how G-d’s request was fulfilled:

“And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moshe; and they asked of the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold and garments. And G-d gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And they despoiled the Egyptians.”

From the above passage we see that G-d wanted the Jewish people to take the wealth of Egypt in a respectable manner. G-d wanted the Egyptians to look favorably on the children of Israel and actually desire to part with their wealth.


The mystical rationale behind this is that, in truth, the entire process of the Jewish people being in Egypt and then leaving with its wealth was intended to “liberate” the sparks of holiness embedded in Egypt. The principal goal of liberating these sparks was to set the stage for the ultimate giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which enables us to transform the world. That transformation is incomplete when the world exhibits signs of resistance. The ultimate goal of Redemption is to have the world consent and willingly submit to G-d’s rule.

This helps explain why G-d did not allow King Dovid to build the Beis HaMikdash. It is traditionally ascribed to Dovid’s coarsening role as a warrior. But David’s wars were necessary; indeed he performed his duty as a monarch by defeating the nations attacking Israel and for this he was not allowed to build the Temple? Why did the Jewish people have to wait for King Shlomo to build it?

One answer to this question is that King Dovid’s wars, while necessary, indicated that the world was not yet receptive to G-d’s plan of making His dwelling place on Earth through the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. Only in King Shlomo’s time, when the nations of the world paid homage to him, indicating that the world had demonstrated receptivity to G-d’s Master Plan, was it possible to build the Beis HaMikdash.

The first step in this process occurred when the Egyptians viewed the Jewish nation favorably. That was an opportune time to take their wealth, which set the stage for Sinai and enabled the use of those materials in constructing the Mishkan.

When the Egyptians had a change of heart and pursued the Jewish nation, signaling the reverse of their good will, it indicated that they had taken only a baby step and did not indicate that they had truly changed. Indeed, it is not until the Messianic Age that will we see the nations of the world being transformed and supportive of the Jewish people and their role in making the world a “dwelling place for G-d.”

As we are living in Messianic times now, as the Rebbe has told us, we can see this process coming closer to fruition. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, arguably the greatest manifestation of Exile, and Russia’s support of Jewish interests (although, by no means perfect) we can already see how this transformation process is closer to fruition than ever before. However, when the Jews left Egypt three millennia ago the process was still in its infancy and subject to vacillations.

This may explain why Moshe was unhappy with the Jews tarrying at the banks of the Red Sea to pillage the wealth of the Egyptian dead. Although they were commanded to take the wealth of the Egyptians with them, there was a proviso: they must do so with the consent and good will of the Egyptians. Otherwise it was not a step in the direction of Sinai, but a meaningless desire to accumulate even more of the wealth of Egypt; a step in the wrong direction.

The lesson for us in our own day and age is that while we have been given a license to enjoy our material blessings, we must always be mindful of our motives. Our intention should be for elevating and transforming the material to get us closer to Moshiach.


A second way of answering the question of why Moshe was unhappy with the Jewish people’s tarrying at the Red Sea involves a better understanding of the changing roles that occurred at the splitting of the sea.

As long as the Jews were in Egypt, they were commanded to take the treasures of Egypt with them to liberate the sparks embedded within Egypt. This process, however, has its limits. When a requisite number of sparks are liberated, the focus has to change.

Once they had been liberated from Egypt and were out of reach of its army, Egypt was no longer allowed to be their focus. While there might still have been some sparks left there, as evidenced by the gold and silver worn on the horses of the Egyptian pursuers, it was no longer the mission of the Jewish people to liberate them. Now their mission was to march forward to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.

Before the sea was split, the Jewish people responded to the crisis of impending attack by a vengeful foe in four ways. One group said “let us return to Egypt;” a second: “let us fight them;” a third: “let us drown ourselves in the sea;” while a fourth group said “let us pray.” G-d rejected all four responses. Why?

The Rebbe explains that none of these responses was appropriate for this situation. They had been told that their Exodus from Egypt was tied to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. “March forward toward Mount Sinai!” should have been their only response.

Certainly, after the tribes had crossed the sea, Egypt should have been outside of their purview. Whatever mission they had had in conjunction with their stay in Egypt was now over; now the focus must be directed, exclusively, forward to receive the Torah.


A similar pattern of reluctance to move away from the past and confront the new present direction can be seen today.

The Rebbe has revealed to us that the process of “liberating the sparks of holiness” which necessitated our going into exile has drawn to its end. “Now,” the Rebbe said, “our mission is to welcome Moshiach.” While in the past, observance of the commandments was focused on self and world-refinement, today, the focus must be on preparing ourselves to greet Moshiach.

What is the difference?

It certainly does not mean that we take the Mitzvos less seriously. The distinctive Jewish belief in a Messianic Era means that our fidelity to the observance of the commandments will become even stronger than it is today. Not only will we not decrease the number of Mitzvos we observe, G-d forbid, our mitzvos will increase in number because we will be able to fulfill the commandments that require performance in the Beis HaMikdash, etc.

What this means is that our focus should no longer be on repairing what is wrong with society, but on realizing what potential for the Redemption exists right in front of our noses and then attempting to reveal that potential. This does not mean that there are no ills in society and that we should not attempt to repair them, but it means that we repair them by revealing the Messianic energies that already exist, which will extinguish the remaining negatives.

A simple analogy can illustrate this point. While embarked on a journey we cannot focus solely on our destination. Rather, we must put our attention on the journey itself. This means following directions, obeying signs and signals, not falling asleep and defending ourselves against any distraction that can cause us to lose our way.

Only when we reach our destination can we change our focus to see that we are properly attired, etc., consistent with the importance of that destination. It would be foolhardy for us to think about the trip itself because we have already reached our destination.

The Rebbe explained that the Redemption is here, waiting in front of us. Now our mission is to “open our eyes” and recognize the new reality; “prepare ourselves for the imminent Redemption” and usher it into our lives by living a life of Redemption. We should stop looking back at history and cease fighting ancient battles. The crucial battle that we have left is the battle to keep our eyes open.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
See website for complete article licensing information.