Every year at the Passover seder, we read Ezekiel’s allegorical description of the Israelites in Egypt:
“You grew big and tall. You came with great adornments and were beautiful of form, with flowing hair. But you were naked and bare.” (Ezekiel 16:7)
The prophet describes the Israelites as being large and numerous, yet, at the same time, impoverished and barren. Physically, Jacob’s family of seventy souls had developed into a large nation. Despite Egyptian persecution and oppression, they had become numerous. Morally and spiritually, however, they were “naked and bare.”
What about the “great adornments” that the verse mentions? What were these “jewels” of Israel?
These “jewels” symbolize two special traits of the Jewish people. The first trait is a natural propensity for spirituality, an inner desire never to be separated from God and holiness.
The second “jewel” is an even greater gift, beyond the natural realm. It is the unique communal spirit of Israel that aspires to a lofty national destiny. Even in their dispirited state as downtrodden slaves in Egypt, their inner drive for national purpose burned like a glowing coal. It smoldered in the heart of each individual, even if many did not understand its true nature.
For the Hebrew slaves, however, these special qualities were like priceless diamonds pinned on the threadbare rags of an unkempt beggar. The people lacked the basic traits of decency and integrity. They were missing those ethical qualities that are close to human nature, like clothes that are worn next to the body.
Without a fundamental level of morality and proper conduct, their unique yearnings for spiritual greatness had the sardonic effect of extravagant jewelry pinned to tattered clothes. “You came with great adornments... but you were naked and bare.”
(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, p. 276)