This issue is sponsored by Elie and Yehudit Osborne
Vol. 23 No. 14
in honour of their father
R' Dovid Yerachmiel Halevi amu"sh
on the occasion of his special birthday.
May Hashem continue to bless him with many more years
of health, happiness and nachas from all the family.
Moshe and Aharon, with their freedom of access and freedom of speech, held Pharaoh in their grip, causing him endless frustration and embarrassment as they proceeded to take him to task for his cruel and merciless enslavement of an innocent nation.
To begin with, see how they walked in and out of Paraoh's palace at will, in spite of the guards and witchcraft-installed lions, whose task it was to keep out any unwanted intruders. They marched into his presence and out of it as they pleased, and spoke to him sternly, if respectfully, even when he was in the company of vassal kings. They confronted him as he relieved himself by the River Nile, stripping him not only of his dignity and self-respect, but also refuting his boastful claim to divinity, for Par'oh now knew that he was merely a human being like themselves - and he knew that they knew!
Quoting a G-d in which Par'oh did not believe, they repeatedly demanded from him that he set free his Hebrew slaves, a demand which he had no intention of meeting, and which, considering its patient but consistent repetition and the stern circumstances which surrounded it, must have irked him considerably.
Moshe and Aharon publicly demonstrated their superiority, when Aharon's stick "swallowed" those of the magicians. Indeed, so awe-stricken was Par'oh that he actually expressed his fear that the stick might swallow him, and attempted to flee the scene. That is why, explains the Medrash, Aharon always wielded the stick whenever he entered Par'oh's presence.
They subsequently wrought havoc in Par'oh's palace and far beyond, striking fear into the hearts of Par'oh and the whole of Egypt, as they began to demolish Egypt, with one plague after another, destroying each time a different aspect of what was then the most advanced civilization in the world. Par'oh's frustration and fear at his own inability to halt either the process of destruction, or even the warnings and threats that struck him with regular monotony, must have been tremendous. Yes, the meek and timid manner with which the fearful tyrant greeted Moshe and Aharon must have amazed even himself, as he confronted them again and again over the space of one year, making no attempt at any kind of retaliation, except for one occasion when he lost his temper and had them thrown out, only to call them back almost at once, witnessing the process of his own downfall without as much as raising a hand in his own self-defence.
The heart of kings lies in the Hand of G-d, and G-d had presented Moshe as a deity ("See, I have appointed you a god to Par'oh, and Aharon, your brother, will be your interpreter" Va'eira, 7:1). Consequently, Par'oh stood in awe of Moshe Rabeinu, having no inclination to fight him or to do him any harm, but to humbly accept his jurisdiction.
Only in one area did Moshe not assert his authority over Par'oh. He may have forced Par'oh to accept his and Aharon's stern words, but he did not force him to accept his terms - that was left to Par'oh himself. He was not deprived of his free-will, and the choice to send out the Jewish people remained his, and his alone, at least for the first five times, according to Rashi. In view of what we have said, it is difficult to understand how Par'oh could continue to stubbornly resist all Moshe's efforts to set the Jews free, when his dignity, his self-respect, his sovereignty, his country, everything that he had said and that he stood for, were at stake.
Such self-destructive stubbornness can only be attributed to a deep-rooted conceit, a conceit which led Par'oh to consider himself, alongside three other wicked men, Chirom, King of Tyre (not the friend of Shlomo Hamelech), Nevuchadnetzar, king of Bovel, and Yo'osh, King of Yehudah, as a 'god'. Chazal describe these four men as conceited. There are wicked men, explains the Medrash, who will march into Hell, insisting that they were right all along. They are so self-centered and conceited, they hold themselves in such high self-esteem, that they cannot conceive themselves as being fallible. Such a man was Par'oh. He would see his own disintegration before he would submit to another. That is why he lost everything, whereas with one word, "Yes", he could have and would have spared his own doom and that of the entire Egyptian nation.
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The Ten Plagues
(Adapted from the Medrash Tanchuma)
G-d's method of reward and punishment entails "Measure for Measure", as is well-known. It is a method that strongly impressed Yisro (See Rashi, Yisro, 18:11). Here is how the Medrash explains 'Measure for Measure' regarding the Ten Plagues:
Blood: Because in their quest to limit the numbers of B'nei Yisrael, the Egyptians would not allow the women to Tovel when they were Tamei.
Frogs: Because they forced their Jewish slaves to bring them vermin for their amusement.
Lice: Because they would make them sweep the streets and the market-places.
Wild Beasts: Because they would order them to go and fetch wild animals, simply to watch them suffer in the process.
Pestilence (the death of their animals): Because they made Yisrael look after their sheep, cattle and camels, far away in the mountains, in the valleys and in the deserts - in order to keep them away from their wives, to stop their numbers from increasing.
Boils: Because they turned them into bath-attendants - to heat up the cold water in their bath-houses and to cool down the hot.
Hail: Because they coerced them into planting gardens, orchards and vine-yards, which the hail destroyed.
Locusts: Because they made them plant wheat and barley - which the locusts ate.
Darkness: Because the Egyptians benefitted by making it dark for Yisrael, so G-d turned the tables. He made it dark for the Egyptians for the two-fold benefit of Yisrael; 1). So that the resha'im*1 who died then could be buried without the Egyptians' knowledge; 2). So that Yisrael could identify the secret locations where the Egyptians' valuables were hidden. Prior to leaving Egypt a short while later, they used that knowledge to 'persuade' the Egyptians into lending them their treasures.
The Slaying of the Firstborn*2: The Torah itself gave the reason for this plague when it wrote (in Sh'mos 4:22/23) "So says Hashem, 'Yisrael is My firstborn*3 son'. That is why I say to you (Paroh) 'Send out My son and let him serve Me. Should you refuse to send them out, I will kill*4 your firstborn sons' ".
*1The 'Resha'im' to which the Medrash refers to a full eighty per cent of Jews who befriended their Egyptian masters, who in turn, bestowed upon them much wealth, with the result that they displayed no interest in leaving Egypt. Consequently, G-d granted them their wish - they died and were buried in Egypt.
*2 The slaying of the firstborn, it transpires, served a dual purpose, as apart from the reason mentioned above, forced Par'oh to relent, to do what, until then, he had stubbornly refused to even consider - namely, to send Yisrael out of Egypt.
*3 G-d called Yisrael His firstborn, because, like a firstborn son conveys upon his father the title 'father', so too, were Yisrael the first to crown Hashem with the title 'G-d' (Meshech Chochmah) .
*4 This implies that preventing a Jew from serving Hashem is akin to killing him. Otherwise, how could it be considered 'measure for measure'?
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