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Vol. 22 No. 14
Yitzchok ben Chaim Tzvi z"l
Nissim ben Moshe z"l
Bentzion Avraham b en Chaim Tzvi z"l
The Finger of G-d
(Adapted from the Ramban)
"And the magicians said to Par'oh 'It is the finger of G-d!' So Par'oh hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as Hashem had said (8:15).
According to the I'bn Ezra, what the magicians meant was that, when they saw that they were unable to copy Moshe and Aharon's feat of bringing on lice, as they had with the blood and the frogs, they conceded that it was a Divine act. He explains that they believed in 'Elokim', Master of the world, but not in Hashem, G-d of Yisrael.
Consequently, he explains, they maintained that the lice did not come to punish the Egyptians, but as a natural phenomenon, that occurred via the constellations of stars, over which G-d presided. And this theory is what prompted Par'oh to harden his heart and to refuse Moshe's request to let Yisrael go free.
And as proof of this, he points out a). that the magicians referred to 'Etzba Elokim', and not 'Etzba Hashem' - even though Par'oh himself referred to Him as 'Hashem', when (in Pasuk 4) he asked Moshe to pray to Him to remove the frogs, and b). that although Moshe warned Par'oh about the impending plagues of blood and frogs, he said nothing about the lice.
The Ramban however, maintains that "Etzba Elokim" does not denote a natural phenomenon but a Divine punishment, as we find often, when the Torah speaks of 'Yad Hashem'. Moreover, according to the I'bn Ezra's second proof, why did Par'oh not call upon the magicians to imitate Moshe and Aharon by any of the remaining plagues, even by those that were preceded by a warning?
It is therefore clear, the author concludes, that, following their failure to produce lice, that the plagues were indeed the work of G-d, who was punishing Par'oh for his refusal to comply to His request.
They referred to "the Finger of G-d" and not to 'His Hand', the Ramban adds, because they realized that this was but a small miracle, and they mentioned the Name "Elokim" and not "Hashem", because, as we explained earlier, they did not acknowledge it (Hashem) - they only mentioned it when speaking with Moshe, since it was the Name that he used.
The author then offers two reasons to explain as to why G-d deprived the magicians of the ability to produce lice: 1). in order to teach them His Mastery over the world, that they were only able to do what He allowed them to. 2). Because, as opposed to the plague of water, which entailed transforming water into blood, and the plague of frogs, which meant binging them out of the river, lice entailed creating something new, an activity that is confined to the Creator exclusively. He does, however, quote the reason given by Chazal, as cited by Rashi in Pasuk 14.
Finally, commenting on the point raised by the I'bn Ezra, that Moshe did not warn Par'oh about the impending plague of lice, the Ramban explains that he only warned him about those plagues that brought about death or destruction, which most of the plagues did. Lice, boils and darkness were the exceptions.
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(Adapted from the Ramban)
The Four Expressions
"I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt
This, the Ramban explains, refers to the burden of slavery, which would come to an abrupt halt, whereas "and I will save you from their work" refers to their basic obligation to work for them.
"and I will redeem you", refers to the Egyptians reacting to the plagues by handing over the Jews (to Hashem) to redeem themselves - as the term Ge'ulah is really an expression of sale, and
"I will take you to Me as a nation", to the Giving of the Torah at Har Sinai.
A New Relationship
"And you will know that I am Hashem your G-d who is taking you out of the Land of Egypt" (6:7).
According to the I'bn Ezra, this refers to the fact that according to the Mazalos (the stars that form the Zodiac), the time for Yisrael to leave Egypt had not yet arrived. What the Pasuk therefore means is that they would know that G-d had overridden the Mazalos and was taking them out under His own personal jurisdiction.
In keeping with his explanation in Pasuk 2, that the Name 'Yud-Kei-Vav-Key' has connotations of open miracles that defy nature, the Ramban explains here that when Yisrael would witness the open miracles that He was about to perform, they would acknowledge that he was 'Hashem' and that he was their G-d, because, out of all the nations, they were His portion. This is similar in meaning, to "Hashem Elokeinu" in the first Pasuk in the 'Sh'ma'.
"And G-d spoke to Moshe Saying"
"Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe leimor" (6:10).
Commenting on the word "saying", in this most oft-repeated Pasuk in the Torah, the Ramban cites the commentaries (i.e. the R'dak), who explains that, whereas in the vast majority of places, "leimor" means 'to convey to Yisrael', in this instance it means 'to say to convey to Par'oh' - the message that he should let Yisrael go.
He queries this, however, from many sources where it is impossible to explain it in this way. One example of this is the Pasuk in Acharei-Mos (18:1) and in other places, where the Pasuk continues "Speak to the B'nei Yisrael and say to them
The Ramban therefore explains the phrase to mean that the relevant message that G-d was conveying to Moshe was clear and succinct, not by way of doubt, nor in the form of a hint.
An excellent example of this is the Pasuk at the end of 'Vayeitzei', where Lavan told Ya'akov how 'Yesterday, G-d said to me saying (leimor)' that he should not harm him. What he meant was that G-d ordered him in no uncertain terms to do Ya'akov no harm; otherwise, he had every intention of doing just that.
And, the author adds, it is precisely because the very essence of Moshe's prophecy was "Mouth to mouth, with a clear vision and not in riddles" that we find this phrase repeated so often throughout the Torah.
Afraid & Aggressive
"And behold you have not listened until now" (6:16).
Moshe said this because G-d was about to bring upon Par'oh the first plague. He is informing him that those plagues were a punishment for his refusal to obey the command of his Creator.
Interestingly, the Ramban explains, it is only on Moshe and Aharon's very first visit that Par'oh bluntly refused to obey, when he said "I do not know Hashem and also Yisrael I will not send out". From that time on, he did not rebuke or curse them, but listened to what they had to say - because, following the incident in which Aharon's stick swallowed the snakes of his magicians, he was terrified of the ensuing plagues.
What he did do, however, was to put on a show of strength by encouraging his magicians to mimic whatever Moshe and Aharon did. That is how he managed to hide his inner fear of G-d's punishments with an outward show of strength. And that is what the Torah means when it writes that "Par'oh hardened his heart."
And it is the same vein that the Ramban explains the Pasuk later (7:23) "
and behold you have not listened until now", on which Rashi comments 'neither to the wonder of the snake nor to that of the blood'. The Ramban there explains '
not to the wonder of the snake and not even to the plague of the blood' (which ought to have served as a warning signal of the suffering that awaited Par'oh should he continue to refuse).
Fixing the Time
"For when (le'mosai) shall I pray for the frogs to be removed?" (8:5)
Commenting on the 'Lamed' in "le'mosai", Rashi explains that Moshe was about to Daven immediately for the frogs to depart at whichever time Par'oh would designate.
The Ramban however, disagrees. Moshe was asking Par'oh when he wanted him to Daven for the frogs to disappear immediately, he explains, and as for the seemingly superfluous 'Lamed', there are many examples of this in the Torah. One such example occurs just a few Pesukum later, (in Pasuk 19, where G-d told Moshe that the miracle contained within the plague of pestilence, where all the Egyptian animals would die but those belonging to Yisrael would all survive) would take place the following day ("le'mochor"), and where the "lamed" is superfluous. As proof of this, the Ramban cites the Pesukim 8 & 9, which describe how Moshe Davened for G-d to remove the frogs, and how G-d removed them - without adding the word 'mimochoros'.
The question arises as to why Par'oh said 'Tomorrow', when the obvious response would have been 'Now!'
The Ramban, citing the Ga'on, R. Shmuel ben Chofni, explains that, on the possible assumption that the frogs were the result of some astronomical phenomenon, he thought that the frogs were due to depart that day, and that that was why Moshe chose to ask him when he did. So he opted to ask for their removal the next day, in order to call Moshe's bluff, to prove him a fraud - when they would depart immediately.
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