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Vol. 4 No. 14
The Miracles of Egypt
There are two major historical events which we are obligated to remember daily - (1) the exodus from Egypt. This event, together with a chain of miracles which preceded it and which accompanied it, in demonstrating G-d's Omnipotence and inimitable powers, serves as the basis of Emunah and of Yir'as Shomayim; and (2) the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai, in essence the event that transformed us into a nation - the nation of G-d.
Apart from the awesomeness of the miracles themselves, in no small measure caused by the rapid succession in which they struck the Egyptian people, the unique character of those miracles is worth a glance. Indeed, it is that very character which set them apart from any form of witchcraft or magic, leaving them with a Divine imprint.
To begin with, witchcraft has its limitations. When it came to the plague of lice, the Egyptian magicians were unable to produce them in any form because, explains Rashi, demons (one of the forms of witchcraft employed by the Egyptians) have no jurisdiction over creatures smaller than the size of a barley. And black-magic, adds the Da'as Zekeinim M.T., cannot work unless the magician is actually standing on the ground (whereas here, this was impossible, because the entire ground of Egypt was covered with lice) - in contrast, Hashem's plagues struck when and where He predicted, without the slightest hindrance, and devoid of any limitations.
The Gemoro in Pesochim tells how not everyone was subject to the spells of witchcraft or to the attacks of demons. Depending partially on what one eats, and how one eats, some people are not susceptible to the power of magic. No such luck for the Egyptians. The plagues struck everywhere, and anyone designated by Hashem. No Egyptian was safe - indeed, at the plague of Makos bechoros not a single first-born was spared, with the sole exception of Par'oh, whom Hashem kept alive because He chose to. Yet not a single Jew was targeted. Not one Jewish first-born died, not one Jew was struck by hail, and not one solitary louse touched a Jewish body. And why on earth should a ferocious tiger bypass Jews and their animals, and then devour the first Egyptian in sight?
It is doubtful as to whether witchcraft in any form, could effectively paralyse an entire nation throughout the length and breadth of the land. It is certainly inconceivable for it to strike down one nation, whilst totally sparing a nation within that nation - G-d did!
And then there is the time factor. Chazal have informed us that witchcraft has its times. There are apparently times when witchcraft works, and times when it does not, (or at least the termination of the spell does not) which is why Par'oh accepted Moshe's challenge to remove the plague of frogs tomorrow. "Let Hashem remove them tomorrow," he said. But why not today?
"No," thought Par'oh, "Moshe is a crafty man, and because the plagues are painful and humiliating, he expects me to say today - and today is the day that the plague is due to terminate anyway. So I'll say tomorrow! The plagues will disappear today and Moshe will be proved to be a liar" (Ramban). But the plagues struck when Hashem predicted, and they terminated when Hashem ordained.
The depth of the miracles too, was awe-inspiring; when one considers that the hail consisted of the impossible phenomenon of a ball of fire surrounded by ice (Sh'mos 9:24 - see Rashi), and that the four handfuls of soot (two handfuls of Moshe plus the two of Aharon - all held in the one palm of Moshe) rose into the air when he threw it aloft, and sufficed to cover the whole of Egypt when it descended.
But perhaps the most awe-inspiring aspect of all was the utter helplessness of the Egyptians, as plague after plague struck them, slowly but surely devastating their land, as well as their sanity and self-esteem, whilst they looked helplessly on, unable to offer the slightest resistance or even the smallest semblance of defence. The only recourse they had to salvation from this terrible onslaught was the word "Yes" which, as we know, was not forthcoming.
It must have been uncanny, seeing the steady disintegration of the
mighty Egyptian nation, whilst the Egyptians themselves could do
nothing, absolutely nothing, to even ease the impact of one single
plague - to such an extent did Hashem hold them in check that they made
not the slightest move to do what any other enemy would have done - to
retaliate, if not against Hashem, then at least against the Jews, on
whose behalf Hashem was fighting - evidently, G-d was controlling not
only their bodies, but also their minds, with the result that,
incredible as it may seem, the Jews found favour in the Egyptians' eyes.
The extent of the miracles and their depth clearly illustrated, once and
for all, that G-d is unique and that He has no equal on earth or in
The Medrash Tanchumah writes that the order in which the Makos struck Egypt was by no means haphazard, but strictly followed the pattern that successful invading armies would strike at their enemies. This is the way it would be done"
1. First of all, a besieging army would stop up the defenders' water supply .... So Hashem turned their water into blood.
2. If the defending army refused to surrender, they would make a terrible noise to frighten them .... So Hahsem sent the frogs (whose incessant croaking scared them more than the presence of the frogs themselves).
3. If they still refused to surrender, then the archers would let loose a volley of arrows .... So Hashem sent the plague of lice (which pierced their flesh).
4. Should the defenders persist in defending their country, then they would send in wild mercenaries, who were thirsting for blood .... So Hashem sent the wild animals.
5. Next, they would kill their animals and
6. Hurl boiling tar at them, .... So Hashem smote the Egyptians with wild animals, and then with pestilence.
7. If the enemy still refused to capitulate, then they would catapult rocks into the city ... So Hashem sent the plague of hail-stones.
8. Then came the final assault, when all the army would attack .... So Hashem dispatched His army - the locusts.
9-10. Finally, upon capturing the city, they would imprison the enemy,
and then kill all their leaders .... So Hashem imprisoned them in a tomb
of darkness and killed all their first-born.
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
Moshe is born after a six month pregnancy. When he is born, the house is filled with light. After three months, Yocheved is no longer able to hide him, so she places him inside a basket among the rushes by the banks of the Nile.
Hashem sends a heatwave and everyone, including Bisya, Par'oh's daughter, goes down to the Nile to bathe (others say that Bisya went to bathe in the Nile because she was stricken with tzora'as. No sooner does she pick up the infant Moshe than her tzora'as disappears. She realises that he must be a righteous soul. Because she has saved Moshe, she willgo alive into Gan Eden.) Moshe refuses to feed from any Egyptian woman, so the young Miriam brings her mother Yocheved, whom Bisya pays two silver pieces a day to feed the young baby and to look after him. He is drawn out of the water on the 6th Sivan.
Moshe is brought to Bisya who brings him up as if he was her own son. She names him Moshe, though the name his father Amrom gives him is Chever, and his grandfather Kehos (assuming he is still alive - see above 2348) calls him Avigdor. (In any case, he has many more names - some say seven, others say ten).
Kehos dies, aged 133 (like Rifkah, and others add Leah to the list).
Samloh mi'Masreikoh, King of Edom dies, and they crown Shaul, a handsome youth from P'soroh, on the River P'ros. Par'oh sees that Bil'om's advice to reduce the numbers of Klal Yisroel has not worked, so he tries a new strategy. He announces that from now on, if a Jew fails to supply his quota of bricks, his youngest son will be placed on the walls in place of the missing bricks.
One day, Par'oh is sitting down to eat. Elparanis, the queen is on his right, Bisya on his left, with three-year-old Moshe on her knee, and Bil'om with his two sons and the other ministers of Egypt are sitting in front of the king.
Suddenly, Moshe removes the crown from Par'oh's head, and places it on his own. Bil'om sees this as a bad omen, and he advises Par'oh to kill Moshe, but, miraculously Par'oh accepts the possible explanation that Moshe is only a child and does not understand what he is doing, and puts the matter to the test. A burning coal and a jewel are placed in front of Moshe, and they watch to see what he will take.
The clever Moshe makes straight for the jewel, but an angel pushes his hand onto the hot coal, which he picks up and places in his mouth. From that time on, Moshe suffers from a speech impediment.
Moshe grows up in Par'oh's palace; he wears purple and becomes extremely powerful. Each day, he goes to visit his brothers in Goshen. He enquires about their well-being, and they tell him about all the new decrees of Par'oh and of Bil'om. He also discovers how Bil'om had tried to have him killed by the episode of the crown. This makes Moshe angry, and he waits for an opportunity to kill Bil'om. Bil'om, however, gets wind of Moshe's plans, and he flees, together with his sons, to Kukyonus, King of Kush. Moshe persuades Par'oh to relieve his Jewish slaves from working one day each week. That day turns out to be Shabbos. This makes Moshe extremely happy.
Moshe is eighteen years old when he sees an Egyptian beating a Jew, the husband of Shlomis bas Divri. Some say that the husband was none other than Doson, others maintain that Doson and Avirom committed adultery with Shlomis and her daughter.
Par'oh tries to kill Moshe, but an angel carries him away,transporting him forty days journey (1000 miles) outside Egypt.
Achiyah ha'Shiloni is born. He is from the tribe of Levi, and will live for more than five hundred years.
Kukyonus, King of Kush, gathers a large army to go and quell a
rebellion, and he leaves Bil'om to run the affairs of state in his
absence. But Bil'om exploits the situation and assumes the throne. He is
accepted by the populace. Kukyonus defeats the people of the East and
Syria, and return to his country. But Bil'om locks the gates of the city
and refuses him entry. Moshe flees from Par'oh and finds himself in the
camp of Kukyonus, who has besieged his own capital in an attempt to
recapture his country and regain the throne.
The opening possuk of the Haftorah refers to the ingathering of the exiles, in the same way as the Torah writes in our Parshah "And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt" (6:6). Both pesukim refer to Yisroel's ultimate settling in Eretz Yisroel. The Novi also speaks of the retribution that G-d will mete out to those nations that despise Yisroel and plunder them, which is reminiscent of the punishment of Par'oh and the Egyptians, that began in our Parshah. A The bulk of the Haftorah that follows deals with the prophecy of Yechezkel to Par'oh, King of Egypt, and that too serves as a strong connection between the Parshah and the Haftorah. A One possuk in particular, stands out, inasmuch as, although it is written in connection with the Par'oh of Yechezkel's times, it is seen by Chazal as referring no less to the Par'oh of our Parshah (in spite of the fact that some nine hundred years separated them). "Speak and say" said Hashem to Yechezkel, "So says Hashem who is G-d, 'I am about to fight with you Par'oh, King of Egypt, the great 'tanin' (sea-monster) who crouches in the midst of his canals, the one who says "My Canal belongs to me, and I formed myself' ". A It is because the entire economy of Egypt depended upon the canals of the Nile, writes Rashi, that the Novi compares its King to a "tanin" (a sea-monster), and his subjects - in the following possuk - to the fish of the River. It is no coincidence that, when Par'oh would initially request a sign from Moshe that Hashem had sent him, Moshe was to tell Aharon to throw down his stick and it would become a "tanin". Rashi translates this as "snake", but in all probability he means a sea-snake (see Ikar Sifsei Chachomim) or a crocodile, a "monster" that breeds in the River Nile, as this was symbolical of Par'oh himself. G-d was simply warning Par'oh with just how much ease He could transform him into an inanimate object, should he continue to refuse to comply with His wishes. A "The canal is mine" boasted Par'oh, "and I don't need the Heavens for my water or sustenance" (Rashi). The Redak adds that Par'oh maintained he had no need of the economy of other states either, and that he (alias Egypt) could make it on his own. There are a number of reasons, explains the Medrash, as to why our rain descends from the sky. One of them is in order for us to acknowledge that we need Hashem for our water-supply. It teaches us basic emunah and reminds us to whom to daven for our parnosoh. In Egypt it rarely rains. The River Nile overflows its banks and maintains the Egyptian economy. Little wonder that Par'oh denied knowledge of Hashem, when first approached by Moshe. A "And I formed myself," bragged Par'oh. "With my own strength and wisdom I developed my greatness and my kingdom" (Rashi). Or he may have meant to say that it was he who formed the River Nile for his own use (Redak). It is remarkable how power goes to the head of the gentile leaders, how so many of them laid claim to Divine power (Par'oh, Chirom, Nevuchadnetzar, etc.). And it is no less remarkable how, in extreme contrast (as the Medrash points out) our revered leaders seem to increase their humility, when Hashem hands over to them the reigns of leadership (Avrohom, Moshe and Aharon, and Dovid Ha'melech). That is because the greater they become, the closer they get to G-d, and, the closer they get to G-d, the more they become overawed by His greatness, and the smaller they become in their own esteem.
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