16 Apr Finding Favor in the Eyes of the Nation
The Torah in Parashat Bo tells of the final three of the ten plagues that G-d brought upon Egypt, including the plague of darkness. The Sages tell us that this plague, in a certain sense, served as preparation for the eventual Exodus. The plague did not affect Benei Yisrael, and they took this opportunity to go through the Egyptians’ homes and make an accounting of their belongings. Then, before the Exodus, Benei Yisrael went to their neighbors and asked to borrow items that they would need for their journey into the wilderness. When the Egyptians denied owning the requested items, Benei Yisrael would produce the list that they had drawn up during the period of darkness, and they knew exactly what the Egyptians owned and where the given possessions were situated.
The Torah tells (12:36) that Benei Yisrael at that point “found favor in the eyes of the Egyptians.” This is explained to mean that the Egyptians were amazed to discover that their Israelite neighbors had gone through their homes during the plague of darkness without taking anything. We know from recent history that when a city is blacked out, looters run rampant stealing merchandise from stores. Benei Yisrael were given the opportunity to rob the homes of their wealthy Egyptian neighbors, and yet they abstained. They made a detailed list of the belongings they discovered and where in the home they were kept, but they took not a single item without permission. This level of honesty and high ethical standard made a profound impression upon the Egyptians, and in this way Benei Yisrael “found favor” in their eyes. After two hundred and ten years of contempt and degradation, Benei Yisrael earned the Egyptians’ respect and admiration by conducting themselves honestly and ethically.
A Rabbi commented that the final redemption will resemble in this respect the redemption from Egypt. Just as the Exodus from Egypt could not occur until Benei Yisrael earned the Egyptians’ favor and respect, so will the ultimate redemption unfold only once we are admired and held in esteem by the gentile nations. Today, unfortunately, the Jewish people do not have a reputation of honesty and strict ethical standards. We are looked at by many as cheaters and swindlers. Too many headlines have appeared reporting various scandals involving Jews, and we have yet to rid ourselves of this stigma. While this stereotype certainly results to some extent from a degree of anti-Semitic sentiment, we nevertheless bear the immense responsibility to conduct ourselves with scrupulous integrity in our dealings with the gentile world. Only then can we hope to earn their admiration and respect, and only then will Mashiach be able to come and redeem our nation.
A similar message arises from a verse later in the Parasha, where the Torah introduces the prohibition against breaking a bone of the Korban Pesach (the paschal offering that was eaten at the Seder during the times of the Temple). The Sefer Ha’chinuch explains that it is unbecoming for a nation of princes, the children of the King of kings, to eat directly off the bone. We are to eat the Korban Pesach in a dignified manner that reflects royalty and honor, and the meat must therefore be first carved off the bone. Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky commented that even though this prohibition does not practically apply nowadays in the absence of the Beit Ha’mikdash, its underlying message most certainly remains in force. We are still G-d’s nation, and it thus behooves us to conduct ourselves with dignity and self-respect. A Jew must never be seen looking dirty, unkempt or disheveled. It is our duty as Am Yisrael to leave a favorable impression upon those from other faiths with whom we come in contact, in any context, and in this way earn their favor and admiration – a necessary prerequisite for the onset of the Messianic era.
“B’nai Yisrael were given the opportunity to rob the homes of their wealthy Egyptian neighbors, and yet they abstained.”