Unexpected Admiration

Unexpected Admiration 

To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind. -Theophile Gautier

ballet

The Exodus narrative is reaching the climax of the Plagues. The Egyptians suffer months of strange, unusual and miraculous attacks by the Hebrew God and His agents, Moses and Aaron. Blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils and hail afflict the Egyptians. While painful and highly disruptive, they can recover, life can continue.

That is until the coup de grâce, the plague of locust. The locust invasion is so massive, that it blots out the sky. They consume every grain, every vegetable, every fruit. The entire agricultural production, the entire industry, the entire economy of the mighty Egyptian empire is reduced to nothing. Their situation appears hopeless. Then they are hit with the plague of Darkness. The darkness is so thick, so pervasive, so petrifying, that the text testifies that the Egyptians did not move, did not physically budge their bodies the entire three days that they were subject to the plague.

After these divinely orchestrated attacks for the purpose of freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, the reaction of the Egyptians is nothing less than unexpected: they admire Moses and the Israelites.

Rabbi Hirsch explains on Exodus 10:2 that the Egyptians realized after the plague of darkness that the Israelites had not suffered the blindness as they had. The Hebrews were able to move around unimpeded for three days, while the Egyptians remained unmoving the entire time. Every Egyptian house was open, every possession was revealed for the taking. Yet the Egyptians found nothing missing. The Israelites had not taken advantage of their master’s vulnerability. Nothing had been taken in what otherwise would have been a thieves dream – a completely accessible target with no chance of being identified or caught.

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates:

“For three days their oppressors, blinded and rooted to the spot by darkness, had been completely at their mercy. For three days all the possessions of the Egyptians had lain unprotected in their homes. But no Jew took advantage of this opportunity for revenge; no Jew touched an Egyptian or even the least of their possessions. It was at this moment, when sight was restored to the Egyptians and they found all their possessions untouched where they had left them, that God caused the Egyptians to comprehend the moral greatness of this people. This realization at last overcame the antipathy the Egyptians had felt for the Hebrews, and, even more than all the miracles he had performed, the moral greatness of his people made also Moses, as a man, great in the eyes of the Egyptians.”

As a response to this admiration, when the people of Israel, as per God’s request, ask to borrow the possessions of the Egyptians, without any qualm, the Egyptians give them gold, silver, utensils, garments. In the divine calculation, it is part of a long overdue compensation for the harsh slavery the Hebrew nation suffered. And even after the final plague, the Death of the Firstborns, when Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian populace is clamoring for the Israelites to leave, yet again the text mentions both the Egyptian admiration for Moses and the Israelites and their giving them gold, silver and garments as they depart.

Our enemies may yet learn to admire us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the complete and speedy recovery of Shlomo Eliezer ben Ita.

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