Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Take the Money and Run

Was Moses the Bernie Madoff of his time?

Print Email

Sitting down this week to watch Che, Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant, four-hour-long meditation on the mechanics of revolution disguised as a biopic of the t-shirt industry’s favorite son, I was visited by the ghost of adolescence past.

Fifteen years ago, I reminisced—as a sanguine Benicio Del Toro mumbled another bit of lovingkindness to a beatific looking peasant before rushing off to blow up some Batistudas in the green hills of Cuba—15 years ago, a movie like Che would have made me shiver with excitement.

Back then, I belonged to that most beautifully sad of species, the high school revolutionary, all Marxist aphorisms and impotent rage, reading Che and Trotsky and Marcuse and humming “The Internationale” as most of my peers were rocking to Ace of Base. Had some daring director brought the story of Havana’s finest guerilla to life back in 1993, I might have been tempted to comb back my platinum-blond Mohawk (forgive us, O Lord, the sins of our youth), lace up my Doc Martens, and march on the teachers’ lounge, demanding a moratorium on homework and other manners of capitalist oppression. In 2009—with normal hair, sensible shoes, and, I hope, a somewhat more complex political outlook—all I could muster was nostalgia.

A few days later, however, my inner barnstormer was once again reawakened as I immersed myself in another story of a political trailblazer, a freedom fighter who had faced down a mighty oppressor, a revolutionary so intense he makes both Mr. Guevara and Mr. Del Toro seem impish in comparison: Moses.

Here he is, in this week’s parasha, delivering the final three plagues on Egypt and its smarting tyrant, all hot rage and holy spirit. I read the portion with joy: given my aforementioned political past, I have always relished the Exodus story, which I interpreted as one of history’s greatest examples of glorious revolution. Having just watched Che, I was looking forward to “Let my people go.”

And yet, as I reread the parasha, something strange happened: I noticed a passage I had never noticed before. “And the children of Israel did according to Moses’ order, and they borrowed from the Egyptians silver objects, golden objects, and garments. The Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they lent them, and they emptied out Egypt.”

My head felt light, my throat dry, my forehead swelled. What was this business about robbing Egypt? In my memory, the Israelites were just and beleaguered and in such a rush to get out of town that we’re all still condemned to an annual week of consuming the abominable abdominal punishments of unleavened bread. And yet, with all the hastening and the light travel”the Israelites, we are told, fled with only “their leftovers bound in their garments on their shoulders””they somehow managed to schlep silver, gold, and garments? Taken, mind you, not from the Pharaoh’s bottomless vault, but from ordinary, hardworking Egyptians, who might have invested in the garments and the gold as a retirement fund? Moses as Madoff? It was more than I could take.

For days, the question haunted me: why the thievery? Why not just leave with what was rightfully theirs and be thankful for their redemption? The more I thought about it, the more I meditated on Moses and Che and my 15-year-old self, the more obvious the answer became. Moses had to bankrupt Egypt for the same reason Che refused to rest on his laurels after dethroning Batista and I refused to attend my prom, plotting instead a failed hostile takeover of the school’s public address system in an attempt to shout out sassy slogans and shock the gathered crowd of dolled-up teens: a real revolutionary never rests. A real revolutionary is equally engaged in construction and destruction. A real revolutionary must not only deliver his people from evil but also despoil his opponent for good. Simply put, in taking Egypt’s gold, Moses played it out like a desert Tony Montana, saying to Pharoah that if he’d like to play rough, he’d have to say hello to Moses’s little friend.

This, I realized, was a message that even decidedly non-revolutionary souls could find deeply useful. Take President Obama, for example: as he pushes forth his economic stimulus package, he may do well to summon his inner Moses and wage total and destructive war against some real and vicious enemies. Like Merrill Lynch’s John Thain, say, or the nitwits of Citibank, the same greedy Goliaths who devastated our economy and are now purchasing nifty new corporate jets or spending a cool million on redecorating their offices. Confronted with these marauders, Obama, usually the coolest of cats, might do well to rebel, not only by passing sound policy but also by doing to the malicious moneymen the same thing the Israelites did to Egypt: robbing them of all their silver, garments, and gold, and making sure the evil empire never again rises to enslave and oppress.

Then again, it’s far more likely that we’ll all keep our cool, keep away from revolutions, and keep ourselves amused: after all, Steven Soderbergh’s next project is another biopic, this time of Liberace.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Take the Money and Run

Was Moses the Bernie Madoff of his time?

More on Tablet:

How To Make Middle Eastern Stuffed Vegetables

By Joan Nathan — Video: Filled with warm rice and unexpected spices, they’re perfect for a cool autumn night—as a side dish or vegetarian entree