In Parshas Shmos, HaShem
told Moshe that the Jewish people would be taking gold, silver and clothing from
the Egyptians when they would be leaving. Here in Parshas Bo, however, gold and
silver is again mentioned, but clothing is omitted. Nevertheless, in the end,
they do take the Egyptians’ clothing with them, and they are told to wear them.
A more basic question, though, is: Why were they going out of
Egypt in Egyptian clothing? After all, they had merited redemption in part
because they had kept to their traditional Jewish clothing during all those
I think that HaShem wanted to teach us a tremendous lesson,
which is extremely relevant in every generation. As follows: There was
absolutely nothing wrong with wearing Egyptian clothing. It wasn’t shatnez,
it wasn’t immodest; there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the clothing.
(If it were, they would never have been permitted to wear them.) Yet,
during their stay in Egypt, the Jewish people were forbidden to wear them.
In Egypt, they were treif because they represented the
desire to be like the goyim. There can be things that are completely kosher
intrinsically, but because of the time and place, they are treif because
they represent the urge to assimilate. This is why Moshe was told in the
beginning that they would be taking the Egyptian clothing with them; but he
wasn’t supposed to tell the people while still in Egypt, while it’s still treif.
Only when they’re outside could they learn the lesson.
For example, when I was a teenager, the rage was long hair.
The Beatles, the hippies had long hair, and it was fashionable. What’s wrong
with long hair? Nazirim have long hair! What could be wrong with it? I remember
that the talmidim would ask the rebbeim, "What’s wrong with long
hair?" You can’t say that it makes a chatzitzah, the nazir
wore tefilin. The answer is, that there is really nothing intrinsically
wrong with long hair. But if you’re wearing it as a statement of being a hippie,
then it’s treif.
There was a rav in Miami, and people would come to him before
Pesach with ads in the Jewish press about cruises to the Bahamas on Pesach. They
wanted to know about the kashrus, Shabbos, tsnius. “Was there any problem?”
“No.” “Anything right about it?” “No.” There’s nothing wrong with
taking a cruise, if you’re doing it for health reasons, if you need a rest. But
the reason they were interested in it was because it was a symbol that they’ve
“made it.” In the secular world, going on a Caribbean cruise meant that you
were somebody. If you’re doing it to be like the goy, then there is something
wrong with it.
Another example: Lashon HaKodesh. Is there anything
wrong with speaking Hebrew? Yet, in the years before the State of Israel, Rav
Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld and the other rabbanim make a holy war against Lashon
HaKodesh. They spoke only Yiddish; no Hebrew.
The story is told that when Rav Zonnenfeld met Eliezer ben
Yehudah, the father of Modern Hebrew, he said to him: “I don’t understand. Why
is the Rav against Lashon HaKodesh?” He told him: “Wine is very choshuv.
We use it for kiddush and havdalah and other mitzvos. But
if the wrong person touches the wine, it’s forbidden to drink.” So too it says
in Shir HaShirim, ‘your palate is like wine.’ Language is the same way; if
the wrong people touch it, it becomes treif.” Ben Yehuda is purported
to have said: “The rebbe is speaking shtusim (foolishness).” “In
Hebrew,” said Rav Zonnenfeld, “we say shtuyot, not shtusim.”
And yet, in the 50s, when Chinuch Atzmai was started,
the Chazon Ish ruled that the language of instruction should be Hebrew. There
were people who wanted to put him in cherem. They asked him, “But
people were moser nefesh in their opposition to Hebrew!” He said: “That
was a different war.” He explained that at that time, Hebrew was a statement.
The Zionists were saying that as long as you live in Israel and speak Hebrew,
you don’t have to keep mitzvos. When Hebrew was a substitute for mitzvos,
it was ossur.
But in the 50s, the Zionists no longer needed Hebrew to
substitute for mitzvos, to ease their conscience, because this was a
generation that grew up without Torah, and they didn’t need a substitute. The
new war was about who would have influence over three quarters of the Jewish
children who didn’t know Yiddish. In order to wage war for the next generation,
it became necessary to teach in Hebrew.