Firefighting by Jonathan Bloom


Towards the end of this week’s Parsha, Hashem sends the plague of Barad, hail, upon the Egyptians.  There are many unique aspects of the plague of hail.  The warning given by Moshe to Pharaoh is much longer before Barad than before the other plagues.  Also, this is the first plague that seems to make an impact on Pharaoh at all.  Previously, Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord?” (5:2), not recognizing Hashem in any way.  After Hashem brings the plague of hail, however, Pharaoh says, “This time I am wrong, the Lord is right; I and my people are villains.”  Before this, nothing had even begun to make Pharaoh recognize that he was wrong.  Now, he suddenly comes straight out and says him and his people are villains.  What brought about this radical change in Pharaoh’s behavior?

One possible answer comes from the Tanchuma Yashan (Vaera 20).  The Sages point out that one who is going to attack another person will usually try to take him by surprise, kill him, and then take everything he has.  Yet Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Pharaoh before the plague of Barad to go and gather all the cattle so that they would not be affected by the hail.  Pharaoh was so moved by this action of Hashem that he was compelled to admit that Hashem was right.

The lesson Hashem’s actions teach is profound.  Sometimes, we can make our enemies admit that we are right simply by acting nicely towards them.  Not always do we have to use sheer force to overcome our enemies.  If we treat our enemies in a proper manner, they might just decide to give in on their own.

We can also learn another interesting lesson from the plague of hail.  Each plague that Hashem brought taught the Jews important life lessons.  For example, the Midrash learns from the frogs’ willingness to jump into ovens in the Makkah of Tzefardeia that we should even give up our lives for Hashem.  Arov, the plague of wild beasts, teaches that only the wicked are punished and not the righteous, as only the Egyptians, not the Jews, were affected by the plague.  This same lesson was made even clearer when the Makkah of Dever, a cattle disease, did not spread to the cattle of the Jews.  What message, we may ask, can be learned from the plague of hail?  Rav Moshe Feinstein gave the following explanation.  The Gemara in Kiddushin 81a compares the Yetzer Hara to a flame of fire stuck inside a person’s body.  The person’s mission is to keep this fire under control and not allow it to overcome him.  The hail also performed this activity of containing its fire.  The Chumash says that the plague of hail included both fire and hailstones in it, yet the water of the hail did not put out the fire, and the fire did not melt the hailstones; rather, they worked together to perform what Hashem commanded.  We learn from here that we cannot use excuses like, “It was impossible for me to contain my fire (Yetzer Hara).”  The Barad teaches us that if we put in the necessary effort, we, like the Barad, can overcome our internal fires.  In fact, we can even apply the Barad’s other lesson here.  Sometimes, the most effective way to fight the Yetezer Hara is to avoid sheer force, instead of using it for the good, just as the hail worked with the fire to do Hashem’s will.

To Believe or Not To Believe by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein

Before and After by Ben Krinsky