The Golden Rule by Rabbi Benny Berlin


Immediately before the final plague–the death of the firstborn–G-d informs Moshe, “Please speak in the
ears of the people: Let each man request of his fellow and each woman from her fellow silver vessels and
gold vessels” (11:2).

Why?

Because I, says Hashem, told Avraham that his children are not only going to leave Mitzrayim but they’re
going to leave with great wealth. G-d wanted to fulfill the promise.

The question is, why did Hashem not just produce gold and silver? Why did he need the Jewish people to
ask the Egyptians for it? Hashem created all the makot, but he could not create gold and silver?

The answer can alluded to in a story R’ Mordechai Kaminetzky told over about the Rashash (R’ Shmuel
Shtrashun of Vilna 1819-1885).

The Rashash was known for his great Torah erudition and great wealth. He spent many hours immersed
in Torah study (his commentary on virtually the entire Talmud is printed in most editions of the Talmud)
and took off time from his role as a merchant banker to administer a free-loan fund.

One day, a tailor named Zalman came to borrow money. He explained his desperate needs to the
Rashash, who granted him a loan of three hundred rubles to be repaid in one year. The transaction was
recorded in the Rashash’s ledger.

One year later, to the day, Zalman appeared at the home of the Rashash. Deeply involved in a talmudic
discourse, the Rashash did not wish to be disturbed. Zalman, who knew that the loan was due that day,
came into the room where the Rashash was learning, excused his interruption and returned the three
hundred rubles.

Trying to minimize the interruption, the Rashash took the money, and tucked it into the back cover flap of
the volume he was using, with the intention of removing it later on. He continued with his studies and was
deeply engrossed for the rest of the afternoon. When he finished, he returned each of his sefarim to its
proper shelf, including the volume which now held the money tucked away in the cover flap.

A few weeks later at his office, the Rashash reviewed his ledger and saw that Zalman had not paid back
his loan. He summoned Zalman to inquire about the money.

Naturally, Zalman claimed that not only had he returned the loan but that he had returned it on the very
day it had been due. Yet, there were no witnesses to the event, nothing had been recorded and the
Rashash had no recollection of the matter. A discussion ensued and it was decided that both parties
would go to a Din Torah where the matter would be decided.

The news spread like wildfire. The simple tailor was involved in a Din Torah with the revered Rashash.
People were outraged that anyone had the audacity to contradict the scholarly and saintly Rashash, and
the tarnishing of Zalman’s character and reputation had begun.

The Beis Din ruled that since there had once been a debt and it was now the word of one man against the
other, Zalman would have to swear that he had indeed repaired the loan and then he would be absolved
of further debt. The Rashash however did not want to take a chance of having a fellow Jew possibly
swear falsely, and so he relented and dropped the case.

Anger and bitterness were cast upon the hapless tailor. People stopped doing business with him, and the
tailor and his family became the objects of mockery and degradation. Soon, unable to cope with the
constant abuse, Zalman gave up his business and moved to a hamlet, out of town, a broken and
sorrowful man.

A year later, the Rashash once again was involved with the same subject as he had been studying on
that fateful day. Once more, he pulled out that rare volume he had used then. As he turned through the
pages, he noticed a large number of bills in the back flap. Zalman! This was the money that Zalman had
claimed he had paid.

Immediately he sought Zalman to make amends.

“What good is forgiveness?” said Zalman bitterly. “My business is gone, my money is lost, I have nothing.
I am the laughing stock of the community.”

“Not only will I return your money,” said the Rashash, “but I will go to every shul, and announce from the
bimah that it was my mistake and that people should restore their proper respect towards you.”

“No,” said Zalman sadly. “People will only say that the Rashash is a tzaddik, and it is his compassion that
compels him to act in this manner. They will never believe that I was really right.”

The Rashash was perplexed, for he understood human nature and knew that Zalman was right.

Finally he said, “I have a daughter… now if I take your son as a son-in-law, which means that you would
became my mechutan, then no one would doubt that you are indeed a respectable man.”

Zalman agreed to this proposal. The prospective bride and groom agreed as well, and a marriage was
arranged between Zalman’s son and the Rashash’s daughter, and Zalman regained his former status in
the community and regained his spirits.

Now to go back to the original question. After 210 years of slavery, the Jews had a slave mentality. You
can take the Jew out of Egypt, but it was much harder to take the Egypt out of the Jew. They were
engrossed in the feeling of inferiority, despair, and hopelessness. But when the people who enslaved
them were now showering them with gifts, it would psychologically remove the slave mentality from their
heads. Just like in the story, Zalman was degraded and humiliated and only had his spirits lifted once the
Rashash made that union between his own daughter and Zalman’s son. The act of the Egyptians giving
Jews gold and silver, the very people who originally enslaved them, had a profound psychological effect.
This is why Hashem did not just miraculously produce gold. G-d wanted to remove the Jews’ slave
mentality.