This week's parsha
The Gold of Egypt
"Speak to the Children of Israel, and they shall borrow from their neighbors gold and silver vessels" (Final instructions before the Exodus -- Exodus 11:2)
Did you follow the news stories last year about the Egyptian Law Professor who was initiating a suit against world Jewry before the International Court of Justice? He demanded the Jews return the gold and silver that their ancestors had taken with them on their way out.
It's not the first time in history such claims have been made: Alexander the Great once presided over a similar trial where the Egyptian claims were eventually defeated by the Jewish advocate calculating the back wages due for the 600,000 slaves over 400 years and demanding payment first. The Egyptians did the math and fled.
OK, so they owe us more than we owe them, but why did we take the money in the first place? The average slave presented with an uncertain chance at freedom would surely be too busy high-tailing it out of the country to be worried about making the rounds begging for keepsakes from his former masters.
Tradition relates otherwise. The "emptying out of Egypt" was such a priority that G‑d insisted, through Moses, that the Jews go door-to-door collecting. Commentators explain that G‑d insisted that the Jews should become rich in order to fulfill His deal with our father Abraham, "Your descendents will be strangers in a strange land, be enslaved... and afterwards leave with great wealth".
In Chassidic thought, this "looting" of Egypt's wealth is analogous to the spiritual riches the Jews accrued during their sojourn in Egypt. They left accompanied by treasures of gold and silver, but the real reason they were exiled to Egypt was for the spiritual remuneration obtainable. The years of slavery were marked by the physical hardships they encountered, but G‑d's intention was that their suffering should act as a "smelting pot" -- collecting, refining and elevating the elements of holiness lurking there and rendering the whole experience ultimately rewarding.
Wherever one finds oneself, whatever one is doing, there is a purpose to be realized and spiritual profits to be pursued. The roads of life that we stumble down are not digressions on our journey, nor are the chains of desire that seek to enslave us undue restraints on our freedom. By overcoming all obstacles and fleeing from foreign masters we reach the pot of gold waiting at the end of our passage through life.