Volume 3 Issue 15
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
"Don't get mad," said the philosophers of the eighties,
I am not sure if the objective of the ten
plagues was for the Almighty to get even with the nation that
had enslaved His people. Certainly there are Midrashic sources
that correlate the ten plagues as direct punishment for Egyptian
crimes against the Jewish people. (Tana D'bei Eliyahu Chapter
7) So perhaps we might say that the Jewish people got even.
There is, however, no scriptural reference to the fact that they
got mad. In fact, each time Moshe went to Pharaoh a serene and
calculated negotiation occurred. "Let My people serve Me,"
Moshe commanded. When Pharaoh refused his obstinence was met with
a clear and calculated threat. "If you refuse to allow the
people to leave, I will send the following plague in you land."
And so it went. Sometimes a plague immediately followed a warning,
other times plagues came with no warning at all. When Pharaoh
found Moshe and arranged for a cessation of the scourge, Pharaoh
reneged on his commitment soon after. Moshe became frustrated,
perhaps he even became impatient, but there was no anger until
the final plague. Then, he not only got even, he got mad.
warned Pharaoh with the words of Hashem, "At about midnight,
I will go out in the midst of Egypt and every firstborn in the
land of Egypt shall die." (Exodus 11:4) Though Moshe detailed
the ramifications of the plague he was greeted with an apathetic
Finally the Torah tells us, that "Moshe left Pharaoh in burning
anger" (Exodus 11:8) Why, only then did Moshe storm out in
a rage? Was he not accustomed to the callous recklessness of the
Egyptian leader? What irked him during the last encounter more
than any of the previous ones?
The great physicist Albert Einstein escaped the Nazi inferno
to find a haven in the United States. During World War II his
letter to President Roosevelt initiated the effort that spurred
the creation of the atomic bomb. His theory of relativity was
a prime factor in its development, and Einstein knew the destructive
power that his ideas could potentially release. When Einstein
heard in an August 6, 1945, radio broadcast that an atomic device
was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, he reacted with stunned
silence. After a moment of somber reflection he only found two
words to say. "Oy vey!"
Rabbi Shimon Schwab (d.1994) explains that Moshe had patience
with Pharaoh up to a point. Throughout the ordeal, the reckless
king's obstinate decisions caused a great amount of discomfort
to his people. Even when his advisors pleaded, "How long
will this man [Moshe] be an obstacle, let them [the Jews] serve
their G-d," Pharaoh refused. His recalcitrance brought plagues
of pestilence, boils, locust, and darkness -- in addition to blood,
frogs, and lice. All of these afflictions were vastly uncomfortable
-- but not fatal. Even the fiery hail did not harm the G-d-fearing
Egyptians that sought shelter.
The last, the Plague of the First Born, had the most devastating
ramifications. It meant the deaths of thousands of Egyptians "from
the firstborn son of Pharaoh to those of the maidservant who was
behind the millstone." It was devastation so powerful that
the Torah says that "such has never been and will never be
again." (Exodus 11:6) Pharaoh was able to stop the imminent
destruction with one simple word -- "Go." Yet he chose
to remain steadfast in his denial, bringing the downfall of his
people and the death of innocents. And that callous and reckless
behavior infuriated Moshe, whose compassion for the simplest of
beings earned him the right to be the leader of the Jewish nation.
The stark contrast displayed by his nemesis appalled him to the
point of rage. The Torah commands us, "do not to hate the
Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land." (Deuteronomy
23:8) The Torah's attitude toward a nation that held us captive
is even more compassionate than that of its own leaders. Barbaric
leaders egging on many simple people throughout the world, to
act in a self-destructive manner are reminiscent of the Pharaoh
who destroyed his own family to save his ego. It's enough to make
anybody -- even the most humble man who ever lived -- very angry.