The Midrash1 comments on the verse2Moshe led the Jewish people away from the Red Sea,” by noting that Moshe had to forcefully lead them away. This was because3 the Jews were so busy with the “spoils of the sea” — spoils even greater4 than those they took with them when they left Egypt — that they didn’t want to leave.

At the time of the crossing of the Red Sea, G‑d revealed Himself to the Jews in “all His glory,”5 leading the nation to sing G‑d’s praises. Indeed, the revelation was so great that they sang: “This is my G‑d”6 — “They pointed at Him with their finger.”7

After all this, how was it possible to be so absorbed with the “spoils of the sea”; what possible value could gold and silver have in comparison to the revelation of G‑dliness at the crossing?

Their reluctance to leave the “spoils of the sea” did not stem from greed, but was because they believed G‑d wanted them to gather as much booty as possible.

What led the Jews to this conclusion?

At the time of the Exodus, Jews were commanded to obtain “vessels of silver and gold”8 from the Egyptians. The purpose was not only to fulfill G‑d’s promise that they would leave Egypt “with great wealth,”9 but also to “drain Egypt [of its wealth].”10

Thus, when the Jews saw after the crossing that the Egyptians still possessed gold and silver, they felt duty bound by the command to “drain Egypt.”

However, since Moshe ordered the Jewish people to leave — in order to hasten their arrival at Sinai to receive the Torah — they should have understood that this was now G‑d’s desire. So, the original question remains: why did Moshe have to force them?

In truth, having to be forced to leave didn’t mean they weren’t ready to obey Moshe; they understood quite well that his command was a proper one, and were quite ready to follow his orders.

Nevertheless, the Jews were not convinced intellectually that they should leave, since, in their mind, the command to “drain Egypt” was still in force. They were thus “compelled” to follow orders.

This will be better understood by considering the inner meaning of the phrase “to drain Egypt of its wealth,”11 for what was so important about removing the physical wealth of Egypt?

The “great wealth” of Egypt refers to the sparks of holiness — “the great spiritual wealth” — found within the Egyptian silver and gold. By transferring the jewelry to Jewish ownership, these sparks were elevated from Egyptian impurity to Jewish holiness.12

Since the service of purifying and elevating the sparks of holiness found within the physical is a vital aspect of Divine service, so much so that it fulfills the purpose of creation — providing a dwelling place for G‑d in this world — it was impossible to forego this “great wealth.”

The same was true, of course, regarding the “spoils of the sea.” Knowing as they did the importance of elevating the spiritual sparks found within the spoils, the Jews gathered the wealth with great enthusiasm.

This, then, is why Moshe had to forcefully lead them away from the sea: Not, Heaven forbid, that the Jews did not want to obey Moshe’s order — which was, after all, G‑d’s command — with joy and delight.

Because the Jewish people were wholly immersed in purifying and elevating the sparks of holiness, tearing themselves away from this mode of service and changing spiritual “gears” was difficult, and so they had to be “compelled.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, pp. 77-81