Leaving Egypt, our first exile, is the paradigm of Redemption and Transformation, setting the themes for the other four exiles and redemptions.
The women of Yisrael are told to “borrow” precious items of gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors. A lot is made of our leaving Egypt despoiled. In fact, it is this very silver and gold that make their way into the vessels, furniture and tools of the Mishkan. How can that be?
The Mei HaShiloach expands on a Gemara in Brachot to teach that even when we emulate the perverse acts of the Egyptians, when we do them, somehow, they become virtuous. He doesn’t mean that theft or rape or exploitation is, somehow, ever ok when we do it, that we have a mystical Get Out Of Jail Free Card, that our …….. smells, somehow, sweet. Chas v’Shalom!
The idea is that we transform the gold and silver, the material treasure of Ancient Egypt, once in service to the Avoda Zara, idol worship of elevating a flesh-and-blood leader, Pharaoh, into a false divinity, by using them in service to the one true Infinite God. These precious materials are no longer merely objects of display and dominance and envy, but rather shared by the entire people (and from there to all humanity and then to all creation) as they’re put to a higher purpose.
Likewise, the Ishbitzer teaches (based on a prophecy from Isaiah (14:30) that we take the most precious qualities of each society we found ourselves enslaved to and we refine them, often beyond all recognition, and repurpose them, remove them from the realm of ego and self aggrandizement into the realm of universal improvement and benefit, in other words into the service of The Almighty, partnering with Him to complete and perfect Creation (the authentic Jewish meaning of the often misused and misappropriated phrase tikkun olam).
Think of all the cultures where we were enslaved. Or discriminated against, made second-class citizens. Subjected to humiliation, unfair special taxes, limits to our occupations, not to mention wholesale slaughter. Think of the grandeur of ancient Babylon, ancient Persia, Greece and Rome. The pinnacle of European culture and enlightenment, pre-war Germany. Of the great Arab cultures of the middle east. And see the steep decline in today’s America, accompanied with rising anti-semitism and exclusion, that’s starting just now.
See the refinement in culture and in science and technology sweeping Israel. Not just the Start Up Nation, but the lone example of real Democracy in the Middle East, most of Asia and most of Africa. A nation filled with symphony orchestras and modern dance companies, a thriving jazz scene (consider how many Israelis went to study music at the Berklee College of Music over the last thirty years!), art museums, publishing houses and universities. Not to mention the greatest flowering in history of Torah studies of all kinds and from all points of view, that is not only thriving, but growing faster than the eye can see.
This is the promise of each Geula, Redemption, cascading and combining into the final, ultimate Redemption which is taking place right here, right now.
We haven’t come close to completing the process and there are plenty of mistakes and false steps along the way, but with each passing moment we truly go “From Strength To Strength”. We are truly marching out of Mitzraim b’Yad Rama, with a high hand.
Participate and celebrate. Together.