As the B’nei Yisrael emerged from the Yam Suf, the Torah states “Vayassa Moshe es Yisrael…” This wording indicates that Moshe Rabbeinu pressed the Jews to travel away from Yam Suf. Why was this necessary? Rashi explains that there was great wealth in the form of gold and silver adornments on the horses that the Egyptians had used to pursue the Jews, and it was this wealth that the Jews were busy collecting. Rashi further elaborates that this booty at the Yam Suf was far more than the wealth that the Jews amassed before the Exodus at Moshe Rabbeinu’s directive.
This is alluded to by the passuk in Shir Hashirim (1:11), which states, “I will add circlets of gold to your spangles of silver.” Rashi there explains this as an allusion to the destruction of Pharaoh’s cavalry at Yam Suf, and to the ornaments that B’nei Yisrael removed from their horses, which joined the jewelry and other valuables taken by the Jews upon leaving Egypt. The booty at the sea is referred to as gold in contrast with silver, as its abundance was such that what they took from Egypt was comparable to silver and the added wealth to gold. Moshe Rabbeinu perceived that there was too much emphasis on gathering this money. As such, he pressed them to leave Yam Suf immediately.
However, when it came to gathering the wealth of the Egyptians at the exodus from Egypt, we find that there was an unusual emphasis on doing so. Part of the original prophecy of the Egyptian slavery, at the bris bein habesarim enacted with Avraham Avinu was, “Know that your children will be enslaved in a foreign land… and the nation that they will serve I shall judge… and afterwards they will go out with great wealth” (Bereishis 15:13-14). The great wealth with which they would leave Egypt was an integral part of the very promise and foretelling of the enslavement and the Exodus!
Moreover, its roots go even deeper! Throughout the book of Bereishis, the Ramban explains how the template of Jewish history lies in the events in the lives of our patriarchs and matriarchs. One example is the story of how “Avraham descended to Egypt due to a famine…Hashem exacted vengeance with great plagues…and took him (Avraham) out of Egypt with great wealth.” The verses describe large quantities of livestock, silver and gold with which Avraham was sent forth from Egypt. It is evident that the Jewish nation’s Exodus followed the precedent set by the patriarch Avraham.
In the Torah’s account of the Exodus itself, we are informed no less than three times of the significance of that great wealth. When Hashem first informed Moshe Rabbeinu of his new role in history, as the leader who would take B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt, Hashem says to Moshe (Shemos 3:21-22): “…And I shall smite the Egyptians… and I shall see to it that the nation finds favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and I will ensure that upon your leaving Egypt, you shall not leave empty-handed… and each woman shall request from her Egyptian counterpart gold and silver articles and you shall empty out Egypt!” Just before the plague of the firstborn, Hashem says to Moshe (Shemos 11:2-3), “Please speak in the ears of the nation, and each man and woman shall request of their Egyptian associates gold and silver ornaments… And Hashem will have the Jews find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians.” Finally, in the account of the actual Exodus, we read (Shemos 12:35-36): “And the Jews did as Moshe commanded them… and they requested of the Egyptians silver and gold and clothing… And Hashem had the nation find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians…” This wealth seems to be so essential, so fundamentally necessary for the Exodus, that it seems that nary a mention of the Exodus goes by without reference to this “great wealth” as well! This seems quite peculiar.
The Ramchal, in his magnum opus Mesilas Yesharim, writes (Chapter 1), “And if you delve further into this matter (the choice a person makes whether to bond with this temporal physical world, or with the Eternal), we come to realize that the objects in the world, having been created to benefit mankind, literally hang in the balance. If man follows and is part of this world, and distances himself from Hashem, he ruins himself and drags down the rest of the world to ruination as well. However, if a person bonds with Hashem, and uses this world only to the degree that is necessary for him to further his service of Hashem, then clearly, as he raises his own level of spirituality and closeness to Hashem, so does he do that to the objects of this world, making them into vessels for the service of Hashem, thus suffusing them with Holiness and eternity as well…” Possessions, material articles, things, stuff–all these can be ruined by humankind, if they are misused, thus transforming their very existence into a vehicle for unG-dliness. Conversely, material possessions can reach their zenith, their raison d’être, by being used by man wisely as a vehicle that allows humankind to reach its ultimate purpose, Avodas Hashem.
When Adam Harishon sinned, he quite literally dragged the whole world along with him, out of Gan Eden, to death and physicality. In the words of the Midrash quoted by the Mesilas Yesharim, “He (Adam) was not careful, and he ruined things and destroyed the world.” That is, the world that Adam received and that ultimate good and purpose of creation were gone. However, the Exodus from Egypt was humankind’s second chance. The revelations manifested by the events in Egypt and through the giving of the Torah seven weeks later, were the sign of a new beginning, putting the purpose and goal of creation once again within reach. Along with that came… money! For what is the purpose of money? Why do you have the money that you do? To ruin the world? To drag down creation, to negate its very purpose? Alternatively, are your material possessions there to allow the entire physical universe to reach its goal and purpose, to find its fulfillment?
This is why such emphasis was placed on that ‘rechush gadol’. The Exodus and the subsequent bestowal of the Torah upon the Jewish people was the second chance for the world to justify its existence, and all the monies in the world, which had flown into Egypt’s treasuries during the years of famine and thereafter, made Egypt the super- economy of that era. All of this now belonged to B’nei Yisrael, waiting, as it were, for their actions to determine the fate of the items in the world… This is the significance of the money that the Jewish nation took along as they left Egypt; this was the money, the abundant wealth, promised long ago to Avraham Avinu. The money of the Exodus from Egypt. This is the money that traveled with them, the money that left with them. In contrast, bizas hayam, the treasures, the booty, that fell into the nation’s hands through the splitting of the sea was additional, incidental, and peripheral. It would only mean trouble, as it was ‘extra,’ for the monies necessary for their avodas Hashem, to restart the new world, was there as promised at the Exodus from Egypt.