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Vol. 14 No. 14
Avraham ben Chayim Dov z.l.
Nisim ben Rachel z.l.
Chayim Tzvi ben Shlomoh Zalman z.l.
The Ten Plagues
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)
The Medrash gives various reasons to explain why G-d struck the Egyptians with the plagues that the Torah records, and why in that order. They are based either on the principle of measure for measure or on the tactics that an army would use against an enemy.
Here is the K'li Yakar's own explanation of the Ten Plagues:
Blood: This came as a punishment to Paroh a. for his infamous boast 'The River (Nile) is mine and I created it myself', and b. for throwing the Jewish babies in the river, In addition, the fish died, because he tried to negate Ya'akov's B'rachah "And they will proliferate like fish in the midst of the land".
Frogs: This was for denying G-d, when he said 'I do not know Hashem' - therefore Hashem sent the frogs who not only knew Hashem, but who even went so far as to sanctify His Name by casting themselves into the burning ovens, as Chazal have taught. And where did the frogs come from? Why, from the Nile, as if they were denying the deification of the Nile (which the Egyptians worshipped), and acknowledging who the true G-d is. This conforms with Chazal, who have said that the admission of a litigant is as good as the testimony of a hundred witnesses.
Lice: This really was measure for measure, seeing as lice are the result of excessive perspiration, which in turn, comes with hard work. That explains why Yisrael, who worked outside in the fields, contracted lice, and that is why G-d now produced lice from the dust of the earth, with which He now proceeded to oppress their oppressors.
Wild Beasts: This was because the Egyptians subjugated Yisrael, who are compared to wild beasts, as Rashi explained in Sh'mos (1:19). There were no wild beasts in the land of Goshen, because wild animals do not attack one another.
Pestilence: This plague struck the Egyptians' animals, a fitting punishment, when one bears in mind that the sons of Ya'akov were shepherds when they arrived in Egypt, and their hosts imposed upon them forced labour, causing large losses among the abandoned sheep.
Boils: This was a punishment for having separated the women from their husbands. Therefore they were smitten with boils, which renders marital relations extremely difficult, as we find with Avimelech, who suffered
the same punishment after taking Sarah away from Avraham. Perhaps, based on the principle 'Ma'aseh ovos si'man le'bonim' it was even a sign of things to come.
Hail (& terrifying noises): The word for noises is 'kolos', which also means voices. This was a punishment for Par'oh's statement (denying G-d's Omnipotence) "Who is G-d that I should obey him?" And because he refused to listen to what G-d had to say, he was made to hear the Voice of Hashem, as the Pasuk says in Tehilim "The Voice of Hashem is on the water ... the voice of Hashem carves out flames of fire". And the hail comprised both elements.
Locusts: This is basically a symbolism. Paroh had said 'pen yirbeh' (lest they increase). To which G-d responded with 'kein yirbeh' (so they will increase!'). In any case, for trying to prevent Yisrael from increasing, G-d sent the plague of locusts (Arbeh) as a sign that Yisrael, like the locusts, would increase mightily, in spite of his efforts.
Choshech: This was measure for measure for having forced Yisrael to hide their children (to spare them from being drowned), to keep them in the dark, as it were, like the Torah specifically records with regard to Moshe.
The Slaying of the Firstborn: This was the Divine punishment for attempting to wipe out Hashem's 'firstborn' (a title pertaining to Yisrael). The drowning of the Egyptians, according to the K'li Yakar, was not a Divine punishment at all, since it was the Egyptians themselves who, in their evil, scheming hearts, ran towards the water (as the author will explain in Parshas Yisro, 18:11).
* * *
To Know that One is in Galus
"And I will take you from under the burdens of Egypt" (6:6).
The first thing, says the Chidushei ha'Rim, is to realize that one is in Galus, to understand that suffering and servitude are not natural phenomena. And that is what the Pasuk means here. Arriving at the realization that they were in Galus, and to develop a desire to go free was the first stage of Yisrael's redemption. And the Pasuk records that event when it writes (Sh'mos 2:23), "And it was in those many days when the king of Egypt died, and Yisrael groaned from the work, that their cries went up to G-d from the work".
As long as they were working without a break, they never gave a thought to the helplessness of their situation. No sooner however, had the king died, and they enjoyed a brief respite from their travails, the first miracle of the redemption began - they groaned. They realized that they were in Galus, and gave expression to their feelings. That was the beginning of the redemption, says the Chidushei ha'Rim. That is why this is followed immediately by the episode of the burning bush.
"Provide a wonder for yourselves!"(7:9).
R. Elimelech from Lizensk draws a distinction between master magicians and prophets who perform miracles. The former, he explains, understand the workings of the magic they perform, and so they remain unimpressed with their show. The latter, on the other hand, do not understand G-d's ways, and so the miracles that they perform to impress them no less than the people who witness them.
And that is what Paroh meant when he added the words 'for yourselves'. He was asking Moshe and Aharon to prove that they were superior to the Egyptian wizards by performing Divine miracles which would impress even themselves.
The Honest Frogs
"And the magicians did likewise with their magic, and they produced frogs all over the land of Egypt" (8:3).
The Yalkut refers to a border dispute between Egypt and Abyssinia. The plague of frogs it seems, settled the dispute. Since the frogs were restricted to Egypt, it became clear to one and all, that the borders of Egypt ended where the frogs began, and not one inch beyond.
Evidently, when the magicians, in their efforts to prove that they were equal to Moshe and Aharon, produced frogs too, they tried to produce them on territory belonging to Abyssinia, in an attempt to steal the latter's land. They failed however, in that they were only able to produce them within the boundaries of Egypt. Not a single frog was produced outside their own territory, as the above Pasuk indicates.
"But from the cattle of Yisrael not one died. And Paroh sent, and behold none of the cattle of Yisrael died 'except one'; and Paroh hardened his heart and did not send Yisrael out" (9:6/7).
The Ramban citing the Ba'alei Tosfos, explains that the son of Shlomis bas Divri from the Egyptian (who later cursed Hashem) was Halachically a non-Jew, since before the Torah was given a person's Yichus went after his father.
Based on that Ramban, the G'ro explains the above two Pesukim. The truth of the matter was that not one head of cattle belonging to a Jew died, just as Moshe had predicted. Yes, the cattle of the Shlomis bas Divri died, but then, he was considered an Egyptian, as we explained.
But Paroh did not know that. To his mind, Shlomis bas Divri was a Jew just like his mother. What he therefore saw was that the cattle of one Jew did in fact die. That was why he hardened his heart.
Walking Straight Through
"Go early in the morning and stand before Paroh" (9:13).
The Torah uses a similar expression with regard to Ya'akov earlier, when it says that Yosef 'stood him before Paroh'.
The Medrash explains this with the Medrash which relates how the doorway leading into Paroh's palace was deliberately built low, so that whoever entered was forced to bow down in honour of the image that stood exactly opposite him as he walked through. It seems however, that Moshe, like Ya'akov before him, walked straight through without bowing down at all, and the doorway simply raised itself to enable them to do so.
I'm a Tzadik Too!
"Hashem is a Tzadik and I and my people are wicked" (9:27).
According to a well-known Medrash, what Paroh really said was "Hashem is a Tzadik and I; whereas my people are wicked".
Rather presumptuous, one would think!
However, Paroh words conform with another Medrash, which describes how he initially declined to subjugate Yisrael, until the people deposed him for three months, forcing him to change his mind. And it was only when he did, that they returned him to his throne. In light of that Medrash, Paroh's claim was not so far-fetched after all.
From the Haftarah
Goshen, Part of Eretz Yisrael
(Adapted from the Ma'yanah shel Torah)
"It (Egypt) will be lowest of the nations ... and they no longer be a fortress for Yisrael, to mention their sin" (29:15:16).
The Kuzari cites the question that the king of the Kuzars asked the Chaver - why Yisrael sacrificed the Korban Pesach in Egypt, seeing as it is forbidden to bring Korbanos outside the Beis-Hamikdash? That being the case, Yisrael contravened the Isur of 'Shechutei Chutz' (sacrificing outside the Beis-Hamikdash).
The Chaver replied that Yisrael sacrificed the Pesach in the land of Goshen, which actually belonged to Eretz Yisrael, and the fact that the Egyptians had jurisdiction over it was only a temporary arrangement. (Presumably, before the B.H. was actually built, the whole of Eretz Yisrael was eligible to sacrifice Korbanos, and Shechutei Chutz applied only to Chutz la'Aretz).
The Ahavas Yonasan explains that as long as Egypt was a powerful kingdom and exercised jurisdiction over Goshen, sacrificing there was considered a sin on Yisrael's part, as we explained. But later, when Egypt lost its power and became a lowly nation, which no longer had jurisdiction over Goshen, it will become clear that Goshen belonged to Eretz Yisrael retroactively. At that time, the fact that they sacrificed the Korban Pesach there will no longer be considered a sin, as the current Pasuk intimates.
* * *
'And G-d spoke to Moshe and He said to him, I am Hashem who appeared to you at the (burning) bush, and I said to you "I am Hashem" ' (6:2).
' ... Moshe told this over to the B'nei Yisrael, but they did not accept it from him due to their irritability, and to the idolatry in which they indulged' (6:9).
' ... the sons of Shimon were Yemuel ... and Shaul, alias Zimri who "lent himself" to immorality, behaving like the Cana'anim ... ' (6:15).
' ... these are the names of the sons of Levi; Gershon, K'has and Merari, and the years of the life of Levi numbered a hundred and thirty-seven, he lived long enough to see Moshe and Aharon, redeemers of Yisrael' (see PIrush Yonasan) 6:16.
' ... the sons of K'has were Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron and Uziel, and the years of the life of the pious K'has numbered a hundred and thirty-three, long enough to see Pinchas, alias Eliyahu Kohen Gadol, who will be sent to redeem Yisrael at the end of days' (6:18).
'And Amram married Yocheved his aunt, who bore him Aharon and Moshe, and the years of the life of the pious Amram numbered a hundred and thirty-seven, long enough to see the children of Rechavya, son of Gershom (Moshe's son) 6:20.
'And it was on the day that G-d spoke to Moshe in the land of Egypt, and Aharon listened carefully and heard what He said to him' (6:28).
'And G-d said to Moshe "Why are you afraid?" See that I have made Paroh afraid of you as if you were his god, and Aharon your brother will be your prophet!' (7:1).
'When Paroh will ask you for a wonder, tell Aharon to take his staff and throw it before Paroh, where it will turn into a snake; because all the inhabitants of the world will hear the screams of the Egyptians when I break them, just as all the creatures heard the screams of the snake when he was dismembered (i.e. when the angels severed his hands, arms and legs in the beginning)' (7:8).
* * *
THE FOUR DECREES
(Adapted from the Medrash Rabah)
The midwives emulated the example of Avraham Avinu, about whom Hashem said "for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man". Furthermore they said that if Avraham could open a guest-house and feed total strangers, then surely they were obligated not just to refuse to kill the Jewish babies, but even to positively assist them to live.
"And G-d did good to the midwives", a. by convincing Paroh to believe them, and b. by rewarding their fear of Him with wisdom, in keeping with the Pasuk in Iyov (28:28), which implies that the reward for Yir'as Shamayim is Torah. Consequently, Yocheved gave birth to Moshe (since in connection with both Moshe and Torah, the Pasuk uses the expression 'Good'); whereas Miriam had a grandson called Betzalel, whose Chochmah is legendary.
"And the people increased", in fulfillment of the Pasuk in Eichah (3:37) "Who will issue a decree that came true, if Hashem did not command it?"
3. When Paroh's astrologers informed him that the redeemer of Yisrael's mother was already pregnant with him, but that they did not know whether he would be a Jew or an Egyptian, he gathered all the Egyptians, and asked them to 'lend' him all the baby boys to whom they would give birth within the next nine months, in order to throw them into the River Nile. And with that, despite their objections (on the grounds that no Egyptian would ever redeem the Jews), he issued orders to cast into the River every baby that would be born during the next nine months.
And he chose that particular form of death, says the Medrash, because his astrologers had informed him that the saviour of Yisrael was destined to be punished through water. They did not know of course that this referred to the episode of striking the rock for which Moshe was denied entry into Eretz Yisrael.
4. When Moshe and Aharon approached Paroh for permission to go for three days into the desert to serve their G-d, he ordered them to return to their daily chores and to stop asking for the impossible. If they had put in a request for one or two thousand of the workers to go, that he claimed, he may have considered it. But six hundred thousand!
Gnashing his teeth in anger, he called them filthy Jews (dirty in their own excrement), and ordered the taskmasters to ensure that they continue to fulfill their quota of bricks (that had been fixed on the very first day of enslavement, when they believed that they would get paid per brick).
Furthermore, the B'nei Yisrael possessed scrolls which they used to read on Shabbos, when, thanks to Moshe's intervention, they were free from working. These scrolls contained matters of Emunah in Hashem and about the creation, the deeds of the Avos and their teachings. Above all, they also dealt with Hashem's promise to take them out of Galus. All in all, the scrolls gave Yisrael immense pleasure, and filled them with hope for the future. Paroh now forbade them to read the scrolls and ordered Shabbos to be transformed into another workday.
* * *
YEHOSHUA THE GREAT
(Adapted from the Meshech Chochmah)
(continued from last week's main article)
The Gemara in Makos (11a) informs us that the last eight Pesukim in the Torah were written by Yehoshua, and that the Parshah of the cities of refuge too, were said by him. Indeed the Torah uses the word "va'yedaber" (rather than 'va''yomer') in that context, because it has the strength of a Torah law.
And furthermore, the Gemara in Nedarim (22b) places Yehoshua on a par with Moshe, when it states that if Yisrael had not sinned, G-d would have sufficed with giving them only two (of the twenty-four) Sefarim; the Seifer-Torah and the Book of Yehoshua, the latter because it sets out the borders of Eretz Yisrael (whereas the remaining Sefarim deal mainly with Hashem's anger following Yisrael's sins, and its after-effects).
That is why, the Meshech Chochmah concludes, G-d removed Bechirah (freewill and choice) from Yehoshua, just like he removed it from Moshe (as he explained in detail in his earlier piece on Moshe). This was necessary, he explains, so that no part of Toras Moshe should lack in perfection. And this is also hinted in Parshas Vayeilech (31:69), where Moshe foretells that after his death, Yisrael will sin, even though they did not do so until after the death of Yehoshua. Because, Rashi explains, as long as Yehoshua was still alive, it was as if Moshe had not yet died, for a Talmid is the embodiment of his Rebbe.
With that, he explains, we can better understand why both Moshe and Yehoshua were able to order the sun to stand still.
The sun and moon praise and glorify G-d constantly, as they move across the sky in their respective orbits. Their ongoing song of praise is one that stems from a deep understanding of their Creator, and what's more, they rejoice in their fulfillment of His wishes, which they are duty-bound to fulfill, as is expressed so eloquently in 'Keil Adon' (which we recite every Shabbos morning). Only they perform their duty without Bechirah, for Bechirah is an asset that is confined to man. And that is what places man, whose very essence is freewill and choice, on a higher plain than them - provided that is, he chooses correctly. But more than that. He also needs to have won the battle permanently, in that he has permanently overcome the will to choose. In effect, he has reached the level of the Heavenly bodies, but of his own choice. By his own Avodah he has divested himself of his will to choose. And this is what places him on a higher level than the Heavenly bodies. Now we can understand why both Moshe and Yehoshua were able to command the sun to stand still, seeing as both of them had attained a higher level than them. And that is why G-d was able to promise Yehoshua that "He would be with him like He was with Moshe" (3:7), something that He would only say to someone who was guaranteed never to sin (see Rashi Bereishis 28:13).