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WHAT FAMILIES ARE SAYING ABOUT YCT

L’chvod Rav Avi, Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Linzer, Rabbi Love, Rav Katz and the rest of the faculty and staff, Obviously, we are grateful that you have created a holy place of learning for both Chai and Tzachi. But do you realize the profound influence you have had and continue to have in our lives? Thank you for helping us to create an open orthodox home where Torah is observed consciously. Thank you for modeling for us how to live the Torah that we learn. Thank you for helping us to raise our children with the knowledge that they could question anything that did not make sense to them, and that that is a proper and healthy attitude to apply to all aspects of Torah living. It brings us tremendous comfort and gives us strength knowing that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is here to inspire and guide all of us.

With heartfelt thanks,
Estelle and Harvey Posner
Parents of Chai Posner (YCT ’10) and Tzachi Posner (YCT ’17)

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Written by Rabbi Avi Weiss   
Thursday, 06 January 2011

Understanding the True Nature of Reparations

January 7-8, 2011/ 3 Shevat 5771

By Rabbi Avi Weiss

How could it be that as the Jews left Egypt they despoiled the Egyptians (va-yenatzlu) and took their goods (Exodus 12:36).

Based on this sentence, many anti-Semites have claimed that Jews are thieves, stealing from others. The mainstream response to this accusation is that the taking of Egyptian possessions was in fact a small repayment for all the years of Jewish enslavement.

There is yet another approach to the text that has far reaching consequences in contemporary times. Perhaps the Jews did not take from the Egyptians after all.  Possibly the Egyptians, upon request of the Jews, willingly gave their property as a way of atoning for their misdeeds.

This approach would read the word va-yenatzlu not as meaning “despoil” but rather “to save” (from the word le-hatzeel). In giving money to the Jews, the Egyptians' soul repented, and in some small way was saved.

To paraphrase Dr. J.H. Hertz and Benno Ya'akov, 20th century commentaries: an amicable parting from Egypt would banish the bitter memories the Jews had of the Egyptians. Jews would come to understand that the oppressors were Pharaoh and other Egyptian leaders as opposed to the entire Egyptian people. The gifts ensure "a parting of friendship with its consequent clearing of the name, and vindication of the honor of the Egyptian people."

All this has much in common with a burning issue which surfaced in the early 1950's. Should Jews accept reparation money from Germany? David Ben Gurion argued for accepting such money feeling that Germany should at least pay for their horror, for otherwise they would go completely unpunished. Menachem Begin argued the reverse. He held that the payment would be viewed as blood money, an atonement to wash away German sins. In his mind, this was unacceptable as nothing could ever obviate the evil of the Third Reich.

The Book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 1:9) proclaims that there is nothing new under the sun. The contemporary debate concerning recouping monies and plundered assets from the Germans and Swiss and others for their misdeeds during the Holocaust has its roots in the exodus from Egypt. Was va-yenatzlu, mandated as it was by God, a unique event not to be repeated, or, did it set a precedent to be emulated in order to give those connected with evildoers the chance to repent?

While I applaud the courage of those who have dedicated themselves to winning financial restitution for Holocaust survivors, I am deeply concerned.  The fact that many people are not even familiar with this episode of the Exodus narrative clearly shows that our ability to remember the essence of the slavery in Egypt has not, in any way, been dampened by our successful recovery of Egyptian property.  As we justly pursue the return of funds we must be careful that it does not become any type of obstruction to our ability to preserve the legacy of the Shoah – an event that was not primarily about stolen money, but was about something much more important, stolen souls.

 

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