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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bo: Ten Utterances, Ten Plagues and Ten Commandments
When G'd does something there is a multiple purpose in His act. Besides being a tool for punishing the Egyptians, the ten plagues were a demonstration of G'd's sovereign power over every detail of Creation. G'd constantly observes what is happening in the world and is involved in every detail of the world's affairs. There is a deeper significance between the creation of the world, the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai. The exodus from Egypt not only shows G'd's awareness and involvement in world affairs, but it also shows how He rewards the meritorious and punishes the transgressors. G'd clearly wants the Jewish people to live with this awareness on a constant basis, and has therefore entrusted us to remind ourselves every day of the exodus from Egypt. Many other commandments are connected to the exodus from Egypt, including Tefillin and Mezuzot. On Seder night, we are commanded to discuss in great detail the misery we endured in Egypt and how G'd took us out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. The Torah provides a formula for Jewish continuity.
G'd hardens Pharaoh's heart
In the beginning of this week's Parasha G'd says to Moses (Shemos 10:1-2): "Come to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst, and so that you can tell in the ears of your son and your son's son how I made a mockery in Egypt, and about My signs that I placed among them, and you shall know that I am G'd." This seems strange. Moses had already been G'd's proxy to bring seven plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so why did G'd find it necessary to explain all this to Moses at this point.
However, it appears that Moses was somewhat hesitant to approach Pharaoh and G'd therefore had to encourage him to go and see Pharaoh again. If we analyze this situation, we can well understand why Moses had become disillusioned. He had already appeared in front of Pharaoh nine times and Pharaoh was still as stubborn as ever and kept refusing to let the Jewish people go. Moses knew that there were going to be ten plagues, but he had expected that Pharaoh would slowly break down until eventually he would acquiesce and let them go. G'd wanted to put Moses at ease and therefore informed him that it was He who now stopped Pharaoh from giving in by hardening his heart. G'd further explained that the reason for this was due to the fact that the purpose of the plagues was not just a way to punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their atrocities against the Jewish people, as Moses had understood. As is often the case, when G'd does something there is a multiple purpose in His act.
We now understand why G'd gave these instructions to Moses. When G'd saw that Moses was disillusioned, He explained to him the broader picture of the purpose of the ten plagues. Besides being a tool for punishing the Egyptians, this was to be a demonstration of G'd's sovereign power over every detail of Creation. G'd wanted the world at large to realize His complete control of the universe, and even more so, that the Jewish people should live with a constant awareness of this and pass it on from generation to generation.
Constant observation and involvement
The Ramban and other commentators point out that at the revelation at Mount Sinai, G'd introduced the Ten Commandments with the words (Shemos 20:2): "I am HASHEM Your G'd Who took you out from the land of Egypt …" Had G'd said "I am HASHEM Your G'd Who created the world" it would only present G'd as the Creator of the universe. At this historical moment, G'd wanted the world in general, and the Jewish people in particular, to be told that G'd did not just create the world and abandon it to be governed by the laws of nature. Rather, G'd constantly observes what is happening in the world and is involved in every detail of the world's affairs.
Creation, exodus and revelation
The Kabbalists explain that there is a deeper significance between these three events: the creation of the world, the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai. The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:1) teaches that the world was created with ten utterances. These ten utterances correspond to the ten Sefirot. The ten plagues that took place in Egypt prior to the exodus manifest G'd's continuous control over every detail of the Creation that was created with the ten utterances. When G'd revealed Himself at Mount Sinai, He elevated the Jewish people to the highest level of prophecy, so that everyone clearly heard when G'd commanded the Ten Commandments. Rav Saadia Gaon explains that the Ten Commandments entail all 613 commandments described in the Torah. These commandments are G'd's instructions to the Jewish people how to conduct themselves in the world that He created with the ten utterances.
Reward and punishment
The early Halachic authority, Rabbeinu Asher, known as the Rosh, writes (Orchas Chaim Le'haRosh paragraph 26): "Whoever does not believe in the exodus from the land of Egypt is lacking in his belief in G'd Himself … And this is the basis for the entire Torah." The exodus from Egypt not only shows G'd's power and His awareness and involvement in world affairs, but it also shows how He rewards the meritorious and punishes the transgressors.
G'd wants the Jewish people to live with this awareness on a constant basis, and has therefore instructed us to remember the exodus from Egypt every day. This commandment is mentioned in Parashas Re'eh (Devarim 16:3) where it says: "So that you shall remember the day you left the land of Egypt all the days of your life." We fulfill this obligation twice a day when we say in the third paragraph of Shema (Bamidbar 15:41): "I am HASHEM Your G'd Who took you out of the land of Egypt." And we further elaborate on this in the paragraphs following Shema, both in the morning and evening prayers. We have an additional obligation to remember the exodus when we recite Kiddush.
Tefillin and Mezuzot
Many other commandments are connected to the exodus from Egypt. The Torah portions inserted both in our Tefillin and Mezuzot mention this important historic event. Many people have the custom to say a special prayer before putting on Tefillin in the morning. In this prayer we mention that G'd instructed us to fulfill this commandment that we shall remember the miracles and wonders that He did for us when He took us out of Egypt, and that He has the strength and power, both above and below, to do as He wishes.
On Seder night, we are commanded to discuss in great detail the misery we endured in Egypt and how G'd took us out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. The Torah teaches that the format of this commandment is primarily the obligation of every father to teach and relate to his children about the great miracles that G'd performed for us at the exodus. As it says (Shemos 13:8): "And you shall tell you son on this day saying to him, 'It is for this purpose [to fulfill the commandments] that G'd performed [the miracles] for me when I went out of Egypt.'" This emphasis the importance of providing our children with a solid Jewish education. It is not sufficient that one believes oneself in G'd and observes His commandments. We must instill this belief in our children and show them how it affects our life both on a regular weekday and on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
This is the Torah's formula for Jewish continuity: First of all, we must strive to be constantly aware of the message of the exodus from Egypt, and internalize that G'd is the omnipotent ruler of the world. To reach this goal the Torah instructs us once a year to relate in great detail all that happened at the exodus, and to remind ourselves of it twice a day. Not merely as an interesting historical tale, but with a clear message that G'd wants us to fulfill His commandments and to live with an awareness of His involvement in our personal lives both as a community and as individuals. Only in this way can we hope that our future generations will live as proud Jews continuing the link that was started at the time of the exodus.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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