Volume 31, No. 14
1 Shevat 5777
January 28, 2017
Martin and Michelle Swartz
on the yahrzeit of Martin’s grandmother
Elise Hofmann a”h
The Torah teaches that the purpose of the Plagues in Egypt was not only to punish the Egyptians, but also to teach both the Egyptians and Bnei Yisrael about Hashem’s existence and His power. R’ Moshe Chagiz z”l (1671-1750; Yerushalayim and Amsterdam) notes that many articles of faith can be learned from the Parashot dealing with our slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. These include:
- Hashem exists, as is written (6:2), “I am Hashem.”
- Hashem is Echad / unique, as is written (9:14), “So that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world.”
- Hashgachah, i.e., that Hashem pays attention to individual beings, as is written (8:18), “I am Hashem in the midst of the land.”
- Hashem rewards and punishes [as each person deserves], as is written (11:7), “So that you shall know that Hashem will have differentiated between Egypt and Yisrael.”
- Hashem speaks to mankind through prophets that He sends as His messengers, as is written (3:10), “Now, go and I shall dispatch you to Pharaoh.”
- The prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu was on a higher level than that of other prophets, as is written (7:1), “Aharon your brother shall be your spokesman.”
- Hashem brings about miracles and wonders as He pleases, which is absolute proof that He created the world. All of the plagues demonstrate this, for He changed every aspect of nature – land and sea and everything in them — at will. From this it follows, as well, that He preceded everything, which means He always existed.
- Hashem knows the future and what is in people’s hearts, as is written (3:19), “I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go.” (As an aside, R’ Chagiz writes that this verse addresses the much-discussed apparent paradox between “Yediah” / Hashem’s knowledge of the future and “Bechirah”/ man’s free will. The verse states, “I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, im lo [usually translated, ‘except through’] a strong hand,” i.e., Hashem’s strong arm. However, the verse may be translated, “I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, but there is no strong hand,” i.e., even though I know what choice Pharaoh will make, that does not compel his choice.)
- Every person has the free will to be righteous like Moshe or wicked like Pharaoh, as is written (7:13), “The heart of Pharaoh was strong.” Even though Pharaoh saw clear evidence that Hashem had sent Moshe, he still was able to choose wickedness.
- Hashem hears the cries of the poor and oppressed, as is written (6:5), “Also, I have heard the groan of Bnei Yisrael.”
- Hashem will redeem us in the future at the hand of a prophet as He did in Egypt, as is written (3:14), “I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” [As I am with them in this exile and will redeem them, so I will be with them in future exiles and will redeem them.] In addition, the entire account of the Exodus gives us hope and confidence.
- A person should not attribute events to chance; rather, when things happen to him, he should repent, as even Pharaoh eventually did, confessing (9:27), “Hashem is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones.”
- All creations do His bidding, and He can use even the smallest of them as His agent, as is evident from the Plagues.
- One must give his life in Hashem’s service [as the frogs did].
- Hashem does not desire the death of the wicked, but rather that they repent, as is evident from the repeated warnings Pharaoh was given.
- Hashem takes away life and gives it back, as happened to the snake which turned into a stick and back into a snake.
- The Torah is of Divine origin, as is written (3:12), “You will serve Elokim on this mountain,” i.e., Har Sinai.
- Hashem despises evil, as is written (3:7), “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt, and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters.”
R’ Chagiz concludes: Because of all of these lessons, it is Hashem’s desire that we remember all of the wonders that He did in Egypt, and it is our duty to do so every day. (Eileh Ha’mitzvot No.21)
“Behold, I shall strike your entire boundary with frogs.” (7:27)
Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 1255-1340) writes: This plague settled border disputes between Egypt and its neighbors. Wherever the frogs went was Egypt, and where they didn’t go was not Egypt.
R’ Moshe Leib Shachor z”l (Yerushalayim; 1894-1964) asks: We read later (10:4), “If you refuse to send forth My people, behold, tomorrow I shall bring a locust-swarm into your border,” on which Midrash Rabbah comments that the plague of locust settled border disputes. Wherever the locust went was Egypt, and where they didn’t go was not Egypt. What border disputes were there if the plague of frogs had already resolved them?
He explains: One way of marking boundaries is by planting trees. Perhaps, after the frogs settled Egypt’s border disputes, Egypt planted trees to mark its borders. But, we read (9:25), “The hail struck in the entire land of Egypt, everything that was in the field from man to animal; all the grass of the field the hail struck and every tree of the field it smashed.” Thus, after the plague of hail, there again were boundary disputes, until the locust swarm settled them once again.
R’ Shachor notes that establishing Egypt’s borders serves the needs of the Jewish People, for there is a Mitzvah (Devarim 17:16), “[The king] shall not have too many horses for himself, so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses, for Hashem has said to you, ‘You shall no longer return on this road again’.” In order to know where not to go, we need to know the boundaries of Egypt. (Avnei Shoham)
“Behold, the hand of Hashem is on your livestock that are in the field . . .” (9:3)
Why is the plague described as coming from the hand of Hashem? Likewise, what is meant by the “hand” in the verses (Shmot 14:31), “Yisrael saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt,” and (Devarim 2:15), “Even the hand of Hashem was upon them”?
R’ Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich z”l Hy”d (1863-1944; rabbi of Simleu, Romania) writes: The Gemara (Berachot 4b) asks, “Why is there no verse beginning with the letter ‘nun’ in Ashrei?” Because it alludes to the downfall of the “enemies of Yisrael” [a euphemism the Gemara uses to avoid saying “the downfall of Yisrael”], as we read (Amos 5:2), “Naflah / She has fallen and will no longer rise – maiden of Yisrael.” Thus, writes R’ Ehrenreich, the letter “nun” alludes to downfall. “Nun” is the 14th letter of the Aleph-Bet. Fourteen is represented by the letters yud-dalet, which also spell the Hebrew word “Yad” / “hand,” specifically, the “hand” of Hashem which cause the downfall of Egypt. (Tiyul Ba’pardes: Chelek Ha’remez, ot zayin)
A Torah Tour of the Holy Land
“Whoever never saw Herod’s building [i.e., the Bet Hamikdash] has never seen a beautiful building in his life. How was it built? Rabbah says, ‘With green marble and white marble.’ Some say, ‘With blue, green and white marble.’ Herod wanted to coat the surfaces with gold, but the Sages told him, ‘This way is nicer, for it is reminiscent of the waves of the sea’.” (Bava Batra 4a)
What is the significance of the fact that the patterns on the stones of the Bet Hamikdash looked like the waves of the sea?
R’ Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z”l (Maharsha; 1555-1631) explains: The Gemara (Chullin 89a) teaches that the reason for wearing Techeilet / strings dyed a certain shade of blue in our Tzitzit, rather than some other color, is that Techeilet is reminiscent of the color of the sea, which is reminiscent of the color of the heavens, which reminds a person of the Heavenly “throne.” This, writes Maharsha, reminds us of the unity of all of Creation–the lower worlds (represented by the sea), the upper worlds (represented by the heavens), and the spiritual worlds (represented by Hashem’s throne). Sinning breaks the connection between the physical and spiritual worlds, but wearing Tzitzit reminds us not to sin, as the Torah states (Bemidbar 15:39), “It shall constitute Tzitzit for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes, after which you stray.”
Perhaps, writes Maharsha, the Sages in Herod’s time saw the wave pattern on the Temple’s walls as serving the same purpose. (Chiddushei Aggadot: Bava Batra 4a and Chullin 89a)
R’ Avigdor Miller z”l (1908-2001) offers another explanation: Just as waves seem to want to rise higher, so the Jewish People, when they visit the Bet Hamikdash, aspire to rise higher. (Quoted in Lekket Perushei Aggadah: B.B. 4a)