Posted on January 30, 2020 (5780) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

“Not so! Let the men go now. Serve Hashem, for that is what you seek.” He drove them out from the presence of Paroh.[2]

What took him so long? Shouldn’t Paroh have been upset with Moshe’s impudence well before this point? Why were Moshe and Aharon not thrown out of the palace well before? If Paroh was somehow a model of calm and equanimity, what caused him to lose it precisely at this point?

The protocols of war have long called for special protection for messengers sent by enemy leaders. A government could even send stinging insults to an adversary; the bearer of the message would not be harmed. To the contrary, he would be well fed and cared for. This is a necessary and accepted unwritten rule about the relations between countries and the conduct of war.

Paroh regarded Moshe and Aharon as official emissaries of some foreign power or deity. As such, he did not think of harming them, or even blocking their access. At this point, however, Paroh saw them differently. They spoke, in his estimation, not on behalf of the one who sent them, but on their own. The genuine content of their message was the demand to allow the Jewish slaves a few days off as a religious observance. Surely, he thought, Whoever sent the message asked that adults serve Him. Gods had no use for the service of children. When Moshe and his brother insisted that even the children participate, Paroh was certain that they had exceeded their mandate. They must have added that demand on their own.

Since they acted outside of their assignment, they were not protected by the usual diplomatic immunity. They were therefore quickly shown the door of the palace.

Which Makeh Is On First?

Hashem said to Moshe, “Come to Paroh”…Moshe and Aharon came to Paroh and said to him… “tomorrow I will bring a locust swarm.”[3]

Small detail. “Come to Paroh” and what? Before each of the other plagues, the instructions that Moshe and Aharon received included a description of what lay ahead for the Egyptians. They were told what they were going to bring down upon Paroh and his people before they were dispatched to warn the monarch. Here, the first mention of the nature of this plague happens when the Torah recounts their actual encounter with Paroh, but not earlier.

Another anomaly: Rashi offers a rationale for the plague of darkness. He doesn’t do that for the other plagues. Why here?

This is what the Torah may be telling us. Moshe and Aharon were fully aware of the plagues that Hashem planned to visit upon the Egyptians before they began. Almost certainly, they were inscribed on Moshe’s mateh. They did not, however, know the order in which the makos would occur. By the time that seven out of ten had taken place, it became easier to figure out the sequence of the final three. They knew that makas bechoros would be the coup-de-grace. That left only arbeh and choshech to fill positions eight and nine. This is where Rashi comes in, and provides the reasoning for the plague of darkness. Part of the reasoning is that the Bnei Yisrael were able, during the period of darkness, to learn where the Egyptians kept their valuables, so that when they later asked for these riches, the owners would not be able to deny possessing them.

But for that to work, it had to take place very close to the time of the Exodus. Thus, choshech had to have been the penultimate makeh, with arbeh preceding it. Since it was possible to figure all this out, there was no need to tell Moshe and Aharon in advance what the eighth makeh was!

  1. Based on Meshivas Nafesh by R. Yochanan Luria (15th century)
  2. Shemos 10:11
  3. Shemos 10:1,3,4