To Believe or Not To Believe
by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein
This week’s Parsha describes the scene in Pharaoh’s palace upon the onset of the tenth plague in fairly clear terms (Shemot 12: 30): “Vayakam Pharaoh Layla Hu,” “And Pharaoh rose up at midnight.” Yet Rashi feels compelled to explain that Pharaoh got up “Mimitato,” from his bed. What additional information is Rashi adding with this comment?
The Siftei Tzaddik explains that Rashi is highlighting for us just how stubborn Pharaoh was in his unwillingness to acknowledge the supremacy of God. In the first nine plagues, Moshe warns Pharaoh of terrible things to come, and Moshe’s predictions are unfailingly carried out by the Hand of God. On the tenth time around, with the threat of the most horrific of all of the plagues looming over his head, Pharaoh simply goes to sleep, completely indifferent to Moshe’s warning. It is only when the firstborn begin to die that Pharaoh is awoken by the screams.
What was it that prevented Pharaoh from believing in Hashem? What motivated him to hide his eyes from the reality of his situation? Was it his ego? Was it his personal struggle with Moshe?
Interestingly enough, Pharaoh was not the only one who suffered from an inability to acknowledge the hand of Hashem. In Gemara Rosh Hashanah 11a, we are told that while the redemption was completed on Pesach, it began on the previous Rosh Hashanah when the decrees of hard labor were lifted. The Chatam Sofer explains that Bnei Yisrael did not recognize or acknowledge that the end of the torturous slave labor was a gift that came to them directly from Hashem. It was viewed as a function of the natural course of events, a lucky break. It was simply a political change. Only the plagues, which were open miracles, were able to finally force Bnei Yisrael to acknowledge that their freedom was caused by the Hand of G d. This idea is reflected in the Pesukim from last week’s Parsha (Shemot 6:6-7), “Ani Hashem, Vehotzeiti Etchem Mitachat Sivlot Mitzrayim, Vehitzalti Etchem Meiavodatam, Vegaalti Etchem Bizroa Netuyah Uvishfatim Gedolim…Viydatem Ki Ani Hashem Elokeichem, Hamotzi Etchem Mitachat Sivlot Mitzrayim,” “I am Hashem, and I shall take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from their service. And I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments…and you will know that I am Hashem, your G d, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” Only after the great miracles will Bnei Yisrael fully acknowledge that this was the hand of G d at work.
This Shabbat we study Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim, the main source for our belief in Hashem’s active role in the world and in our lives. It is important for each of us to pause for a moment and consider how often we are able to ignore Divine Providence, Hashgachah Pratit. We must strive to gain a deeper understanding of why we at times choose to hide our eyes from the reality. Once we have considered this, we can raise ourselves to a level where we see that everything that happens to us really does come from Hashem.
The Light of Freedom
by Sam Reinstein
Parshat Bo describes the final three plagues that Hashem inflicted on the Egyptians, climaxing with the ninth and tenth plagues, darkness and the destruction of the Egyptian first born. As they went along, the plagues became increasingly harmful to the Egyptians, with mere horrible irritants such as blood and frogs giving way to lice, wild beasts, boils, hail and locusts, which seriously damaged the Egyptians’ bodies and property. Given this progression, what was it about the ninth plague, darkness – which seems to be just another inconvenient irritant for the Egyptians – that it deserved to be near the top of the list in terms of severity?
A similar question arises from the book of Yechezkel, where the Navi describes the punishments that Hashem will impose on the other nations in the time of Mashiach. In the description of what will happen to the Egyptians, Hashem says, “I will cover the heavens and darken their stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not radiate its light. I will darken all the bright lights of heaven because of you [the Egyptians], and I will place darkness upon your land” (Yechezkel 32:7-8). What is so special about darkness that it was selected as the punishment that will beset the evil Egyptians in the future?
A final question may be asked about Rashi to Shemot 10:22 (s.v. Vayehi Choshech Afeilah). Rashi wonders why darkness was brought as a plague, possibly bothered by our original question of the darkness’s relatively mild nature compared to the other plagues. He offers two explanations from the Midrash for the purpose of this plague. The first is that, there were some people among Bnei Yisrael who were so assimilated into the immoral Egyptian society that they deserved to die. Hashem created darkness, so that the Egyptians would not see Bnei Yisrael burying these evil Jews and think that the plague affected Bnei Yisrael as much as the Egyptians. Additionally, Hashem had promised Avraham that Bnei Yisrael would leave Egypt “with great wealth” (Bereshit 15:14). The darkness allowed Bnei Yisrael to enter the Egyptians’ homes so that they could find their valuables, later to ask to “borrow” them and leave with these possessions at the exodus. While this does explain the timing of the plague, it seems to undermine the basic nature of the Makkah. Was this plague a harsh punishment for the Egyptians, or did it occur for these practical reasons?
The answer to all these questions can be found in the way the Torah describes the plague of darkness, as explained by Rashi. The plague lasted six days. During the first three days, the darkness was so intense that the Egyptians could see nothing, no matter how many flames they lit. During the last three days, the darkness was even denser, and no Egyptian could arise from his place, nor could anyone standing sit down. During this latter period, the Egyptians were trapped and completely lost their freedom of movement. Now, it was Bnei Yisrael who had independent mobility, while the Egyptians were confined like slaves. Hashem punished the Egyptians Midah Keneged Midah (measure for measure). Moshe had previously asked for three days of freedom for Bnei Yisrael to worship Hashem, and Pharaoh refused. Now, the darkness enslaved the Egyptians for three days.
It was during the plague of darkness that Bnei Yisrael, as well as the Egyptians, realized that the slavery was finally over. Bnei Yisrael could easily have massacred the helpless Egyptians and escaped from Egypt during the plague. Hashem was testing them to see if they would leave Egypt on their own or wait for Moshe to command them to march to freedom, and they passed the test. During the period of darkness faced by the Egyptians, the Torah says, “but for all the Children of Israel, there was light in their dwellings” (Shemot 10:24). While darkness may not have been the most brutal plague, it was perhaps the most crucial one, for the light that Bnei Yisrael enjoyed represented their freedom from bondage. It was, as Rashi indicated with the Midrashim he cites, a precursor to the Geulah. Thus, darkness earns its place as the penultimate Makkah and as the fate in store for Egypt in the time of Mashiach.
There are two other holidays in which light is mentioned and we celebrate freedom, namely Purim and Chanukah. The Megillah says after the story of the Jews’ victory over their enemies, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16). This light represents our physical freedom from those who wanted to murder us. On Chanukah, we gained our spiritual freedom from those who tried to prevent our Torah observance, and we celebrate this freedom through the light of the Menorah. The light that Bnei Yisrael enjoyed during the plague of darkness represents both the physical and spiritual freedoms that they gained at the exodus. This is why this plague was so important. This is also why the first Mitzvah that Moshe taught Bnei Yisrael at the time of exodus was the blessing of the moon – we celebrate that which provides light during the darkness of night.
by Ari Levine
In preparation for the tenth plague, Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon (12:13), “Vehayah Hadam Lachem Leot Al Habatim Asher Atem Sham, Vera’iti Et Hadam Ufasachti Aleichem, Velo Yihiyeh Vachem Negef Lemashchit,” “The blood should be a sign for you upon the houses where you are, and I will see the blood, and I will skip over you, and there will not be among you a plague to destroy.” We can see that the purpose of the blood (at least on the surface) was to serve as a sign indicating a Jewish house. If so, why did the Pasuk say that the blood would be Lachem, “for you,” rather than Li, “for me?” Why did the Jewish people need a sign if it was really for Hashem?
Sefer Chagai states (2:9), “Gadol Yiheyeh Kevod Habayit Hazeh Haacharon Min Harishon.” The Rabbis learn from this (Bava Batra 3a) that the second temple would be larger and last longer than the first temple.
The Rashba was once asked by a non-Jew how he could possibly believe that there will be a third temple rebuilt and Mashiach will come if the prophet referred to the second temple as Haacharon, “the last.” The Rashba responded that one can interpret Haacharon to mean “second” in this context, as the word Haacharon does not always mean last. This can be proven from Hashem's three signs given to Moshe to prove his authenticity as the redeemer of Bnei Yisrael. The Torah writes the first sign was the staff becoming a snake. The second was Moshe's hand becoming leprous. Hashem tells Moshe that if the first sign is not good enough, the people will listen to “Ha’ot Haacharon,” the last sign (4:8) and believe that Moshe was sent by G d. Why did He refer to the second sign as “Ha’ot Haacharon” if there was a third sign? The obvious answer is that Haacharon does not always mean last, but also can mean second.
Hashem told Bnei Yisrael through Moshe that the third sign would be “Lachem Le’ot,” “for you a sign,” a sign that the third Beit Hamikdash will be built in the future. Hashem is going to gather us from the four corners of the earth as we say in the Beracha of “Teka Beshofar Gadol” in the Shemoneh Esrei. Hashem will reunite us in Israel for the creation of the third and final temple. This may seem hard to comprehend because of the current conflict in Eretz Yisrael over the Gaza situation, where (in a worst-case scenario) a civil war could break out, but we must have Emunah (hope) in Hashem that He will keep His promise that one day we will all be united as one Jewish nation living in Eretz Yisrael.
by Eitan Rapps
In this week’s Parsha, Moshe and Aharon request from Pharaoh to go to the desert for three days so that Bnei Yisrael can celebrate a festival for Hashem. Pharaoh denies the entire notion of going out, but Moshe says in Perek 10 Pasuk 9, “with our youngsters and with our elders we shall go, with our sons and our daughters, flock and cattle.” Pharaoh then replies in the next Pasuk, “See that evil faces you.” Rashi says two things about this. One is that Onkelos translated it as, “See that evil which you intend to commit turns back at you.” The second thing that Rashi says is that he quotes a Midrash that tells of a star called Raa. Pharaoh said to Moshe and to Aharon, “my astrological predictions tell me that this Raa star will meet you in the desert and it is an omen of blood and killing.” Later, when Bnei Yisrael committed the sin of Egel Hazahav, Hashem wanted to kill them, as the result. Moshe davened to Hashem, and said, “Remember what Pharaoh said? ‘See what Raa Is facing you.’ It will look as if you can’t control the fate of Pharaoh’s astronomers!” Because of this, in Perek 32, Pasuk 14, it says, “Vayinachem Hashem Al Haraa,” “Hashem reconsidered regarding the star Raa.” Hashem then turned the blood of death (of the star) into the blood of circumcision, and this was the reason that Yehoshua had to circumcise Bnei Yisrael’s males upon entry into the Land. When the circumcision was performed, in Sefer Yehoshua, Perek 5, Pasuk 9 it says “Hayom Giliti Et Cherpat Mitzrayim Mealeichem,” “Today, I have rolled away the humiliation of Egypt from upon you.” Egypt would have “proved” that Hashem has no control over astrological predictions. We, of course, know that this is false, and that is why Hashem changed the sign of death into the sign of life.
by Chaim Cohen
In Perek 10, Pasuk 1, Hashem says to Moshe that he should go to Pharaoh because Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart, “Leman Shiti,” “So that I can put my signs.” The Ramban says that the reason Hashem wanted to put signs was to show Bnei Yisrael His glory, and not only to punish Pharaoh. Rashi disagrees and says, that since Pharaoh broke his word three times, Hashem saw that Pharaoh would not fully repent with all of his heart unless Hashem did wonders in Egypt. Ramban’s opinion seems to have more basis in the rest of Tanach. In Perek 3 Pesukim 6 and 7 the Navi Tzifanya writes, “Hichrati Goyim Nashamu Pinotav… Amarti Ach Tiree Oti Tikchi Musar.” “I have cut off nations, their webs have become desolate… I said surely you will fear Me, you will accept Mussar.” Accordingly, we see that Hashem does destroy nations to send a message to Bnei Yisrael. In addition, had the purpose been to punish Egypt, Hashem could have smitten Egypt with one fell swoop. Rather, it is drawn out to show Bnei Yisrael that this was from Hashem, the God of their forefathers. Next, Bnei Yisrael might not have accepted the Torah at Har Sinai if Hashem had not proven that he was their God, since when he appears to Klal Yisrael he says “For I am Hashem who took you out of Egypt.” We can learn from here that we should follow the news, even if it does not concern us or our brethren in Eretz Yisrael, since it can be a message from Hashem that we must improve.
Food for Thought
by Willie Roth
1) Why only by Makat Arbeh did Pharaoh’s advisors plead for Bnei Yisrael’s release?
2) How were Bnei Yisrael justified in taking the Mitzrim’s possessions during Makat Choshech?
3) How does the Parsha of Hachodesh Haszeh Lachem connect to the previous Parsha of Pharaoh being stubborn about not freeing Bnei Yisrael?
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