In The Details by Reuven Herzog


As Pesach arrives and the Seder takes our complete attention for two nights, unfortunately certain sections get highlighted and others get “passed over.” This is one of the outcomes of making a long night more enjoyable to all, especially boredom-prone children.  One of the more likely sections of Maggid to be victimized in this regard is the three-way Machloket between Rabi Yosi HaGlili, Rabi Eliezer, and Rabi Akiva about the miracles in Mitzrayim and the Yam Suf.  This section is caught directly between two of the most exciting passages of Maggid: the counting of the Ten Plagues and the enjoyable song “Dayeinu”.  But despite this, the section teaches us one of the most important and lasting lessons of the entire holiday.

This three-paragraph section of text in the Haggadah deals with a debate amongst three Tana’im regarding the Makkot both in Egypt and at the Red Sea. Based on a comparison of Pesukim that contrast Hashem’s finger in  Mitzrayim to His whole hand at the sea, Rabi Yosi HaGlili learns that the Mitzrim were afflicted with five times as many plagues at the Red Sea as in Egypt. This would mean that in total there were fifty plagues.  Rabi Eliezer and Rabi Akiva both expand on this. They use another Pasuk, and multiply that number by four or five.  The Pasuk in Tehilim (78:49) states, “Yeshalach Bam Charon Apo Evrah VaZaam VeTzarah Mishlachat Mal’achim Ra’im,” “He sent forth upon them His anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, (and a) sending of evil angels.” All of these evils accompanied the ten Makkot and compounded them, totaling a true number of either forty or fifty plagues in Egypt, and therefore 200 or 250 at the sea.

At first look, we seem to be gloating over the horrible amount of suffering that the Mitzriyim endured, both in Egypt and at the Yam Suf.  Even the text of the Haggadah hints at this: Immediately following Rabi Akiva’s final tally is the introductory line, “Kamah Maalot Tovot LaMakom Aleinu,” “How many levels of favors did the Omnipresent bestow upon us,” as if to say that we are praising God for the 250 plagues he brought on Egypt!  This should strike us hard as Jews, as we are commanded to not rejoice even in our enemies’ downfall. Sholomo advises in Sefer Mishlei (24:17), “BiNfol Oyivcha Al Tismach,” “When your foe falls, do not be glad.” But furthermore, this praise of God seems to be completely out of line, and not wanted at all!  In Masechet Megilah (10b), the Gemara recalls a Midrash detailing the discourse between Hashem and the angels at Keri’at Yam Suf.  When the Mitzriyim begin to drown, the Mal’achim immediately break out into song, praising God for saving the Jews.  But Hashem silences them, giving the harsh rebuke of “Ma’asei Yadai Tove’im BaYam VaAtem Omrim Shirah?!” “My creations are drowning in sea, and you have the gall to sing?!” Hashem here seems beyond distraught over his destruction of the Egyptian army, and unable to even allow others to engage in happiness over Bnei Yisrael’s salvation.  So if God doesn’t want to be praised for a tragedy, despite its positive effects on Bnei Yisrael, why are we doing so?   And why are we highlighting just how bad it was, aggravating the situation as it is, as if to remind God of every little detail that He was not happy to do?

 A classic answer given is that we, Bnei Yisrael, do gain more out of every single detail.  Because of a Pasuk in Parashat BeShalach, “Kol HaMachalah Asher Samti VeMitzrayim Lo Asim Alecha,” “Then any of the diseases that I placed in Egypt, I will not bring upon you” (Shemot 15:26). We want to highlight just how much Hashem is not doing to hurt us.  By mentioning all the pain Mitzrayim went through, we are increasing our list of immunities, and thanking Hashem for that.  But this still does not really solve the issue of insulting Hashem; we are still reminding Him of the horrors brought upon Egypt.

In truth, this whole section requires a complete reinterpretation.  Until this point, we have just been looking at the result of all the Makkot: essentially, at a number.  The importance of this argument is not in the final number, and not in the idea of making Egypt suffer more or Bnei Yisrael ail less.  Rather, it is in the concept of magnifying Hashem’s work.  Between Rabi Yosi, Rabi Eliezer, and Rabi Akiva, the miracles the God performed are expanded five, twenty, even twenty-five times!  What is crucial here is not the specific fact that these were Makkot, but Otot and Moftim, miraculous events revealing the presence of God.  We have ten plagues, but each one had a tremendous amount of minute details.  Whether it is the Tzefardei’a jumping into Egyptian ovens or the Dever only killing animals that were in the fields, each Makkah had so many details that it is truly astounding to comprehend the true events at the time.

But again, what is behind all of this?  Every single little detail comes from Hashem Himself.  Each minutia is a small miracle of God, a tiny event that reveals His presence.  God is not only found in the “big stuff,” He is constantly involved in the little details.  As for us, we just have to see him. Even if there are no longer gigantic, open miracles that defy nature, we still have to look at ourselves, examine what happens every day to keep the world moving, and realize that God did that.

The idea of God’s omnipresence is what is memorable about this particular section of the Haggadah.  Every day, we should strive to mimic these Tana’im, trying to see even more of God’s influence in every event.  And this is specifically why the following paragraph names Hashem, “HaMakom,” the name that means literally, “the Place.”  “HaMakom” is only used to refer to God’s omnipresence, His being everywhere, at all times.  When referring to miracles, He truly is always there.

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