Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 14
26 Teves 5758
January 24 1998
Many commentaries have dealt with the question: How could
Hashem inflict the plagues on Egypt if Pharaoh's refusal to
release Bnei Yisrael was the result of Hashem's hardening
Pharaoh's heart, i.e., strengthening Pharaoh's resolve not to
release Bnei Yisrael? Rav Avraham Dov Berish Flamm z"l (see page
4) explains as follows:
Chazal say that Bnei Yisrael became idol worshipers in Egypt.
The plagues, writes R' Flamm, were a response to this fact.
Their purpose was not to punish Pharaoh at all; rather, their
primary purpose was to disabuse Bnei Yisrael of their idolatrous
notions and to demonstrate to them the existence of G-d and His
power. (This is borne out by the fact that the first of the
Aseret Hadibrot reminded Bnei Yisrael: "I am your G-d Who took
you out of Egypt.") Indeed, some commentaries interpret the
words at the beginning of this parashah, "And My Name Hashem I
have not made known to them," to mean, ". . . I have not made it
known to Bnei Yisrael." The Jews in Egypt simply did not know G-
d and they had to be taught.
When Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart, it was only so that He
could have additional opportunities to teach Bnei Yisrael about
His strength. Pharaoh was not punished for refusing to release
Bnei Yisrael after his heart was hardened.
Nevertheless, R' Flamm inquires further, was it fair to Pharaoh
that he should suffer so that Bnei Yisrael could learn about G-d?
Yes, it was, because Pharaoh needed to learn the very same
lessons. Had not Pharaoh said (5:2), "Who is Hashem that I
should listen to Him?"! Moreover, whose fault was it that Bnei
Yisrael had forgotten G-d? It was Pharaoh's fault, and it was
therefore appropriate that he should suffer for as long as it
took Bnei Yisrael to recognize Hashem.
(Shemen Ha'mor: Ma'amar
Arubot Hashamayim, ch.12)
"He said to his daughters, `Then where is he? . . . Summon
him and let him eat bread'." (2:20)
"G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, 'I am Hashem. I
appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov [by the
Name] Kel Shakkai, but with My Name Hashem I did not make
Myself known to them'." (6:2-3)
These verses were Hashem's answer to Moshe after he questioned
Hashem at the end of last week's parashah. Moshe had asked why
the Egyptians' subjugation of the Jews became harsher after Moshe
presented himself to Pharaoh as G-d's messenger.
R' Avraham Abish Lissa of Frankfurt z"l (died 1768 -- see page
4) explains as follows: Although Hashem had told Avraham that his
descendants would be sojourners in a foreign land for 400 years,
the actual exile to Egypt lasted only 210 years. The early
redemption was possible because the Egyptians subjugated the Jews
more harshly than Hashem had planned, thus condensing the pain of
400 years into only 210 years.
Had Pharaoh not increased his subjugation of Bnei Yisrael at
the end of last week's parashah, the exile would have lasted
longer. And, had that happened, the Jews might never have been
redeemed, for Chazal say that Bnei Yisrael were already at the
brink of spiritual oblivion (i.e., 50th gate of impurity) when
Hashem took them out of Egypt.
When Hashem first appeared to Moshe, writes R' Abish, Moshe
could not understand why Hashem was speaking about the
redemption; after all, 190 years remained in the planned exile!
And, after Moshe presented himself to Pharaoh and Pharaoh cracked
down on the Jews, Moshe could not understand why G-d was allowing
this to happen. G-d replied, "I am Hashem" - the Name associated
with His mercy. "It is because of My mercy that I am condensing
the suffering of the exile into a shorter period, for otherwise,
there will be no redemption," Hashem told Moshe. "What of My
prophecy to Avraham that the exile would last 400 years? I never
revealed Myself to him as a merciful G-d. In that role I can
change My plan."
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Machazeh Avraham p.57)
R' Shmuel Avigdor Halevi z"l (R' Abish's son-in-law - see
above) asks: Surely Hashem knew from the beginning that the
exile would last only 210 years! Why then did He tell Avraham it
would last 400 years?
He answers: There are two reasons commonly given for the exile
in Egypt - to prepare Bnei Yisrael to be G-d's servants and to
rid them of bad traits such as the jealousy which caused Yosef's
brothers to sell him. When Hashem told Avraham of the exile, the
sin of the brothers was not yet committed and they had the option
not to commit it. [Although Hashem knew what they would choose,
He does not punish until man actually makes his choice.]
Originally, Hashem planned a 400 year period in which Bnei
Yisrael would prepare to accept His yoke.
However, after the trait of jealousy manifested itself among
the Jews, the subjugation had to be intensified in order to rid
them of that trait. As a result, the exile ended sooner.
In this light we may understand a strange statement of Chazal
(quoted in Rashi to 11:2). Chazal say that Hashem pleaded with
Moshe: "_Please_ make sure that the Jews receive gifts from the
Egyptians lest Avraham say that I did not keep My promise to Him
that they would leave with gifts." This midrash implies that
Hashem was thinking of not keeping His promise. Why? Because
the purpose of the exile had changed since He had spoken to
Avraham, and now the Jews were no longer deserving of riches.
"The sons of Reuven . . ." (6:14)
"The sons of Shimon . . ." (6:15)
"These are the names of the sons of Levi . . ." (6:16)
Why does the phrase, "These are the names," appear only in
connection with Levi's sons? R' Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz z"l
(the "Shelah Hakadosh" - died 1630) explains that Levi saw
prophetically that his descendants would not be enslaved in
Egypt. [This is why Moshe and Aharon were able to wander freely.]
However, Levi wanted to participate in the suffering of his
brethren, so he named his sons accordingly:
- "Gershon" - from the word "ger"/"sojourner".
- "Kehat" - from the word "keheh"/"blunted" (an allusion
the beatings that Bnei Yisrael suffered).
- "Merari" - from the word "mar"/"bitter" (the root of
The Shelah adds: From here a person should learn to always
participate in the troubles of the community, even if he is not
(Mussarei Ha'Shelah Al Ha'Torah)
Rashi explains that Moshe did not want to pray inside the city
because it was full of Egyptian gods.
R' Heschel of Cracow z"l (died 1663) asks: Why was this a
problem for the first time after the seventh plague? Moshe never
said before that he would pray only outside of the city!
One of Egypt's gods was the sheep. Just before the seventh
plague, the Torah says (9:20), "Whoever among the servants of
Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem hurried his servants and
livestock to the houses." Before this plague, the sheep were in
the fields, so Moshe prayed in the city. Now, the sheep were in
the city, so Moshe prayed in the fields.
"Hashem is the Righteous One." (9:27)
Why did Pharaoh acknowledge this specifically after the plague
of hail? R' Chizkiyah bar Manoach z"l (13th century) explains
that it was because Hashem warned the Egyptians to take their
sheep indoors. Human warriors do not give such warning to their
R' Avraham Dov Berish Flamm z"l
born 5564 (1804) - died 24 Tevet 5633 (1873)
R' Flamm is considered to be the leading disciple of the famed
Dubno Maggid, R' Yaakov Kranz z"l, although, in fact, the two
never met. (The Dubno Maggid died in the year R' Flamm was
born.) R' Flamm was, however, the leading student of the
Maggid's/ preacher's fragmentary writings, and it was he,
together with the Maggid's son, R' Yitzchak Kranz, who edited
these and prepared them for publication.
R' Flamm was himself a popular maggid, and he held that post in
several Polish and Lithuanian cities. (Until recent times,
rabbis did not deliver weekly sermons. The rabbi's role was to
rule on halachic questions and deliver two derashot a year, on
Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Shuvah, and it fell to the maggid to
deliver lectures on ethics on a regular basis.) Also, besides
publishing the Dubno Maggid's Ohel Yaakov and Sefer Hamiddot, R'
Flamm wrote several works of his own. His Yeriot Ha'ohel and
Sefat Ha'yeriah were printed together with Ohel Yaakov, while his
Shemen Ha'mor is a free-standing work. All of these works are
intended to teach ethics and belief in the fundamentals of
R' Flamm was born in Mezeritch, where the Dubno Maggid also
lived part of his life. (This is not the Ukranian Mezeritch
which is famous in chassidic history). He was a descendant of
scholars including R' Avraham Abish Lissa of Frankfurt and
Maharam of Padua. (Sources: Otzar Harabbanim No. 1017; the
introductions to R' Flamm's works)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
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