Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 16   No. 15

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Parshas Bo

The Plague of Locusts
(Thoughts from Rabeinu Bachye on the 8th and 9th plagues)

The Worst Plague of Locusts Ever - Twice

Rashi explains that, when the Torah writes (10:14) "and there will never be another plague like it", it is referring specifically to the species of locust known as 'arbeh', as opposed to the plague that took place in the time of Yo'el, (which the Navi also describes as the worst ever), which consisted of four species, which overall was just as unique as the plague in Egypt).

R. Bachye lists seven species of locusts; and what's more, he says, they all occurred in Egypt, which is hinted, in the seven times the word "arbeh" appears in the Parshah. And what the Pasuk means here, he explains, is that the species of Arbeh was predominant in Egypt, and that this is what was unique there.

He also cites the diametrically opposite opinions of the Ramban and Rabeinu Chananel. The former explains that locusts are in themselves, a natural phenomenon, and what's more, they are generally brought on by an east wind, and it is in that context that the Torah describes this plague as the worst, worse than any natural plague of locusts brought on by the east wind.

Whilst the latter explains that there would never be a plague like this one, that was decreed by a Navi (to preclude the plague of Yo'el, that came by itself, without the Navi's participation).


Killer Locusts

When Par'oh asked Moshe to pray to Hashem to remove only the plague of locusts, it is hardly surprising that he referred to it as "this death", since the locusts had eaten 'everything that the hail had left', and people were literally dying of starvation. But this is even more understandable, according to R. Bachye, who explains, at the end of Va'eira (9:32, see Rashi there), that G-d had miraculously spared the wheat and the spelt from the hail, because, unlike the barley and the flax, which were to a degree dispensable, and which had been totally destroyed, they comprised the Egyptians' staple diet. R. Bachye here, furthermore suggests that perhaps the locusts were killing the people directly by ejecting poison at them, much like the hornets in the time of Yehoshua (see Rashi Mishpatim 23:38).

And Par'oh added the word "only this death", a hint that although he had asked Moshe a number of times to pray for the removal of various plagues, promising that he would let Yisrael go as soon as the plague terminated, only to change his mind the moment the plague stopped, this was the last time, he assured Moshe, that this would happen. Interestingly, although it was not the last time that he refused to let Yisrael go, he kept his word, inasmuch as there is no mention of his asking Moshe to pray for the removal of the plague of darkness and that of the slaying of the firstborn.

(I am surprised that the author learns that from the word "rak", and not from the words "just this once", which is written in the same Pasuk.)


When Moshe Prays, G-d Answers

Moshe Davened for G-d to remove all the locusts from the land, until not one remained. And when Moshe prayed, G-d listened! Not only did every single locust disappear (even the pickled ones, as Rashi explains) but, says R. Bachye, no locust ever again settled in Egypt, to the extent that, even when the surrounding countries were smitten by a plague of locusts, Egypt remained locust-free.


Killer Frogs

In similar vein, he explains, when Moshe concluded his prayer requesting the removal of the frogs, he added that they would only remain in the river. To this day, he points out, the Nile rears crocodiles (which is a species of frog), which he then proceeds to describe; It sometimes leaves the water and crawls up to the river bank, where it devours whatever it finds there - as much as two or three people simultaneously. Neither spears nor arrows have any affect on its body, unless one manages to pierce its under-belly. The doctors say that it is covered with a poisonous substance, and that it is harmful to whoever touches it, even after it dies. (The Ramban cites Rabeinu Chananel who actually translates "tzefarde'im" as 'crocodiles').

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

Catch him by the River-Bank;
Catch him in his Palace!

"And G-d said to Moshe 'Come to Par'oh' " (10:1).

Commenting on the three groups of plagues ('D'tzach, Adash, Be'achav'), each of which comprised two with warning, and one without, as is well-known, R. Bachye observes how, in each case, the first warning took place by the banks of the Nile, whilst the second took place in Par'oh's palace.

The reason for this, he explains, is because G-d wanted to punish him for his incredible conceit and pompousness and to take him down a peg or two. He boasted about the River Nile, as the Navi writes in Yechezkel (26:23, citing Par'oh) "the Nile is Mine, and I made myself", and he boasted in his palace, as the Pasuk writes here 7:23) "And Par'oh turned round and went to his palace" (ignoring G-d's warning that the water of Egypt was about to turn into blood). So G-d set about bringing about his submission and ultimately his downfall, by warning him of one imminent plague, by the river-bank, and another in his palace.


Perhaps one may also explain the sequence by way of what the Gemara refers to as 'Lo zu, af zu'. Not only did these acts of humiliation take place by the River bank (away from home), but they even took place in his own palace, a location where Par'oh would have felt the most secure.


The Master of All that Transpires

"In order that you will tell your sons how I mocked Egypt " (10:2).

That is one way of translating the word "his'alalti". Yes, the plagues in Egypt certainly demonstrated G-d's absolute authority both to K'lal Yisrael and the world, and filled them with awe. Even the leaders of the P'lishtim, after being punished for keeping the Aron for seven months, would declare (close to two hundred years later) "Why do you harden your hearts like the Egyptians and Par'oh hardened theirs? Did He not mock them, in order that they send them (Yisrael) out, and they left!"


Alternatively, "his'alalti" is rooted in the word 'oloh ' (a cause [ a deed]), inasmuch as the Pasuk refers to the deeds that take place in this world as 'alilos' (as we say each morning in "Hodu" "hodi'u ba'amim alilosov"), and as the Navi writes in Shmuel 1 (2:3) "and to Him should one ascribe all deeds". What the Pasuk therefore means here is that the plagues demonstrated to the world that G-d is responsible for everything that transpires in this world, and that nothing occurs that is outside His jurisdiction.

Up until that time, R. Bachye concludes, the people at large believed that the world was run by the laws of nature, and this was the first time that they made to understand the fact that there was a Divine power running it.


A Clever Strategy

" and he turned round and took his leave of Par'oh" (10:6).

The moment Moshe finished warning Par'oh about the terrible plague that was imminent, he made an about turn and marched out. A clever strategy, says R. Bachye.

Already following the devastation left by the plague of hail, the Egyptians described themselves as dead; Imagine what the situation would be like once the locusts had devoured whatever the hail had left behind. Moshe walked out, because he knew that they would weigh up the situation once he left the room, and decide unanimously to let Yisrael go, which after all, was the intended purpose of the warnings. No matter that seven plagues had passed without the least indication that Par'oh was affected by the plagues; No matter that Moshe had been told that he was wasting his time, because Par'oh would not relent. Moshe faithfully carried out his mission to try and induce Par'oh to relent!

And precisely what Moshe had predicted came true, It was with the intention of letting Hashem's people leave Egypt that Par'oh sent for Moshe to return.


Chag Shavu'os

"And Moshe said, we will go out with our youth and with our old folk since it is a festival of G-d for us" (10:9).

The "festival" referred to here can only be Shavu'os, says R. Bachye. It cannot be Pesach, since they celebrated it in Egypt. And it certainly cannot be Succos, which has no place here at all. It can only refer to Shavu'os, since G-d had already informed Moshe at the Burning Bush that, upon taking the people out of Egypt, he would serve Him on that very mountain".


The East-Wind & the Wicked

" Moshe stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and G-d led an east-wind through the land" (10:13).

The east-wind, R. Bachye explains, is designated to punish the resha'im, as we find in Beshalach (14:21) in connection with the drowning of the Egyptians, as well as in connection with Golus Yehudah and Binyamin on the one hand (see Yirmiyah 18:17), and with the Ten Tribes, on the other (Hoshei'a 13:15). And he cites various other sources in T'nach, culminating with the downfall of Gog and Magog, about which the Pasuk writes in Tehilim (45:5) "with an east wind you will break the ships of Tarshish".

And since it was the east wind that brought the locusts, it stands to reason that it was the west-wind that blew them back to where they came from; and sure enough, the Torah writes (in Pasuk 19) "And G-d turned a strong west-wind which carried the locusts and blew them into the Yam-Suf"


A Time to Punish

" morning arrived and the east-wind had carried the locusts" (Ibid).

Similarly, R. Bachye continues based on his previous theme, the Torah mentions 'the morning' because that is when He punishes the Resha'im (see Tehilim 101:5). And so we find in connection with Korach, where the Torah writes (16:5) "Come morning, and G-d will make known those who are his ". Correspondingly, he adds, we find that it is in the morning that G-d brings salvation to the Tzadikim, as the Torah writes in Yisro (34:2, with regard to Matan Torah) "and you shall ascend Har Sinai in the morning" (see also Yeshayah, 33:2, and Eichah, 3:23).

* * *


'All the congregation of Yisrael shall mix with one another, family shall make it (the Korban Pesach) together with family' (12:47).


'And you shall keep this Mitzvah of Tefilin at the time that is fitting for it on work days, but not on Shabbasos or on Yamim Tovim, by day and not by night' (13:10).



"Draw (mishchu) or purchase sheep" (12:21).

A hint, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that one acquires small animals by means of 'Meshichah' (drawing the animal).


" And touch the lintel and the two doorposts with some of the blood in the bowl " (12:22).

When they actually did it, the Torah switches the order, the Ba'al ha'Turim observes ("And they placed it on the two doorposts and on the lintel"). This teaches us, he says, that it doesn't matter in which order of precedence they placed the blood.


"And He will not allow the destructive angel ( ve'Lo yiten ha'Mashchis lavo )" 12:23.

The words ve'Lo yiten appear in two other places, says the Ba'al ha'Turim Once with regard to the Minchah of a sinner (Vayikra 5:11) "ve'Lo yiten olov Levonah", and once in the Parshah of Sotah (Naso 5:15) "ve'Lo yiten olehah Levonah" - to teach us that Yisrael left Egypt on the dual merit of the Korbanos and of the righteous Jewish women, who are compared to Levonah (frankincense [see also Pasuk 37]). And it is because the Sotah did not go in their ways that Levonah is precluded from her Minchah.


"Wrapped in their garments (tz'ruros be'simlosam)" (12:34).

The same word is used, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, in Shmuel 2, (20:3), where the Pasuk writes "va'tiheyenoh tz'ruros alm'nos chayos" - a hint, says the B'al ha'Turim, that a widow should keep her face covered with her dress.


"va'yenatzlu es Mitzrayim (and they emptied Egypt)" (12:36).

The Gematriyah of these three words is equivalent to that of 'as'uhah ki'metzudah she'ein bah dagan' (they made it like a store-house that is devoid of corn' - the exact word with which Chazal describe the Pasuk.


"And the B'nei Yisrael traveled from Ra'amses to Succos (Succosoh)" 12:37.

The same word appears in Vayishlach (33:17) "ve'Ya'akov nosa Succosoh". This teaches us, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, that Yisrael left Egypt on the merit of Ya'akov.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 124:
Not to Sever the Head of A Chatas ha'Of (cont.)

The author already wrote in the Mitzvah of building the Beis Hamikdash, about the inability of our wisest sages to explain, even at a basic level, the meaning of the details of the Mitzvos, and that we are barely able to give reasons for the Mitzvos in general.

As far as this Mitzvah is concerned, bearing in mind that a bird is generally brought by a poor person, he suggests that the basis for the Melikah and the prohibition of severing the head of the bird in the process, serves to remind us to deal with a poor man's needs with alacrity. Hence, the Kohen does not need to go searching for a knife with which to Shecht and which needs to be inspected, both of which would otherwise delay the poor man from going to work to provide his family with bread. And it is for the same reason that the Kohen begins the Melikah from the back of the neck (which is conveniently placed in the palm of his hand), to avoid having to turn the bird's neck to where the Simanim (the two pipes) are situated. Furthermore, killing the pigeon or the dove (to which Yisrael are compared) from the back of the neck serves ("mi'mil orpo" as a hint that Yirael should not be stubborn ('stiff-necked' [k'shei oref]). And as for the prohibition against severing the neck, this is because a bird with its head intact looks that much less disgusting than one with its head severed, and it is only right to 'honour' the Korban of a poor man to the best of one's ability. He suffers enough on account of his poverty, and one should avoid increasing his suffering by spoiling the appearance of his Korban. All this is based on the theory (mentioned often by the author), that the purpose of Korbanos is to acquire superior Midos, and to perfect one's deeds by performing the Mitzvos that we have been given specifically for that purpose and taking to heart the lessons that they contain. For it is the way of human-beings to imbibe ideas and to fix them in one's heart by way of deeds and not by words (as the old saying goes 'Actions speak louder than words!').

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah Chazal describe how the Mitzvah is performed: This is how the Kohen holds the sin-offering of the bird during the Melikah - He holds its two feet between two (the index and the little) fingers), and its two wings between the other two (the fore and the middle) fingers. Then he stretches its neck to the width of two fingers and performs the Melikah. This, the Chachamim say, is one of the hardest Avodos in the Beis-Hamikdash. If the Kohen changed and held the bird in some other way, the Korban is nevertheless Kasher. Any location of the Mizbei'ach is eligible for the Mitzvah. This too, is in order to hasten the completion the Korban of poor man as much as possible (as we explained earlier) and the rest of the details, are discussed in Maseches Zevachim and in the Rambam (Hilchos Ma'aseh ha'Korbanos chapter 6).

This Mitzvah applies when the Beis-Hamikdash stands both to Kohanim and to everybody else. Anyone who severs the head of a Chatas ha'Of is subject to Malkos.

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