According to a book entitled, Embitterment: Societal, Psychological, and Clinical Perspectives, (Linden, Maercker, 2010), feeling persistently resentful towards other people can not only affect one’s mental health, but can actually have an effect on physical health as well. In fact, the negative power of feeling bitter is so strong that the authors call for the creation of a new diagnosis called PTED, or Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, to describe people who are incapable of forgiving the transgressions of others. The importance of being able to move on even after having been wronged by another, or as they say in Yiddish, to Fargin, is a concept found in this week’s Parashah as well.
As the Jewish people are readying themselves for their release from the bondage of Egypt, Hashem reminds Moshe of one task to take care of before they leave: “‘Dabeir Na BeOznei HaAm VeYish’alu Ish MeiEit Rei’eihu VeIshah MeiEit Re’utah Kelei Chesef UChelei Zahav,’” “‘Speak, please, in the ears of the nation, and they should request each man of his neighbor and each woman of her neighbor vessels of gold and silver’” (Shemot 11:2).
This is not the first time Hashem has spoken about the importance of collecting from the Egyptians. During Moshe’s initial conversation with God, he is told that the Jews will take gold and silver on their way out of Egypt. This promise goes all the way back to Avraham Avinu, who was told during the Brit Bein HaBetarim that although his descendants will be slaves in a foreign land, when it is time to leave, “VeAcharei Chein Yeitz’u BeRechush Gadol,” “afterwards they will leave with great bounty” (BeReishit 15:14).
It is clear from the Pesukim that the collection of gold and silver from the Egyptian people is a fundamental aspect of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim. Why?
Rav Jonathan Sacks points out an interesting Halachah found in Sefer Devarim which can help us better understand the mandate to collect spoils from the Egyptians. In Parashat Ki Teitzei we are told: “Lo Teta’eiv Adomi Ki Achicha Hu Lo Teta’eiv Mitzri Ki Geir Hayita VeArtzo,” “Do not hate an Edomite because he is your brother, and do not hate an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land” (Devarim 23:8).
This Halachah is perplexing. I shouldn’t hate an Egyptian because I once lived in his land? We didn’t just live in their land. We were their slaves, and they were our taskmasters! We built their pyramids while they murdered our innocent children. Why shouldn’t we hate them with every bone in our bodies?! The truth is that within this one Halachah we find the foundation of what it means to be a free society. As Rav Sacks argues, “A nation that is driven by hate cannot be free.” As long as our lives are focused on the distaste we feel for another people we are incapable of asking ourselves who we would like to be. When our focus is on the hate of another, we cannot focus on our own goals, our own dreams, and our own growth.
This doesn’t mean that we must forget the past. In fact, we have numerous Mitzvot which state explicitly that we are to learn from the atrocities inflicted upon us by the Egyptians. It is our job to take those experiences, glean lessons from them, and pledge never to treat another human being that way. When the Torah commands us regarding the special sensitivities we must feel towards the convert, the orphan, and the widow, it explains that we must act in this fashion because, after all, “you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Shemot 22:20).
There are two very different ways for us to remember. We can remember in order to stoke the embers of hatred and to remind ourselves how nasty they were to us, or we can remember in order to cull lessons that can be utilized and channeled towards positive accomplishments.
Why was it part and parcel of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim that the Jews collect gold and silver from the Egyptians? Because there was a concern that Bnei Yisrael would leave Egypt with a bitter hatred for the Egyptians. Although to a certain extent that hatred would have been valid, it would have handicapped Bnei Yisrael. The Jewish People were setting the foundation for their nationhood, and they were tasting freedom for the first time. If they couldn’t walk away from the bitterness and the resentment, they would never be able to live as a productive, free nation. They are told to ask the Egyptians for gold and silver because it is hard to hate someone who is showering you with gifts. The gifts wouldn’t change the past, but the hope was that they would change their perspective in the future.
If this message is true on a national and communal level, it is certainly true on a personal level. How often are we so overcome with anger and bitterness towards someone who has wronged us that we can’t find it within ourselves to move on? Friendships that took years to build are destroyed in moments because of comments blown out of proportion. What is even more tragic is that often the one who refuses to back down is the one who ends up in the worst shape. He remains forever trapped in his anger, ensnared in his resentment for another person.
Our challenge is to be the person who can step back, take the broader perspective, and be willing to Fargin. It doesn’t mean we weren’t hurt, and it doesn’t mean we forget. It means we realize that if we can release ourselves from the bondage of negative energy, we will live a life which is healthier mentally, physically, and spiritually.