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Posted on June 7, 2002 (5758) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

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.

(Ibid p.54-55)

“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 “maror”).

The Shelah adds: From here a person should learn to always participate in the troubles of the community, even if he is not affected personally.

(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.

(Chanukat Ha’Torah)

“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 victims.


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 Judaism.

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 and Project Genesis, Inc.

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