From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l. written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a
translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK
Examining the Significance of Certain Phrases Used Regarding the Plagues, and the Difference Between the Exodus from Egypt and the Future and Final Redemption
It states in this week’s Parashah, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Go to Paro. I have made him and his advisors stubborn, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs among them’” (Shemot 10:1). Many times we have seen that prior to Hashem smiting Egypt, he sent Moshe before Paro. But here we see something unique, that Hashem, so to speak, explains to Moshe why he must go to Paro and as if He is placating Moshe by saying, “I have made him stubborn, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs among them,” for what reason is this added?
This was required here because now there was a specific need to do so. During the plague of hailstones Moshe Rabbeinu’s honour was damaged. Why? Because when the hail smote Egypt there was lightening flashing among the hailstones (ibid. 9:24) and when they fell a colossal explosion was heard like exploding bombs. Someone who was in the field died because of the hail. However, even someone who hid in his home, like Paro, was shaking at the sound of these powerful sounds. Paro, who was a cruel king, called Moshe and said to him: “This time I am guilty! Hashem is just! It is I and my people who are in the wrong! Pray to Hashem. There has been enough of this supernatural thunder and hail. I will let you leave. You will not be delayed again” (ibid. 9:27-28). This means that Paro remained wicked, he didn’t admit his mistake, rather he said, Hashem is the tzaddik and me too, and it is only my people that are wicked. Despite this, he requested that the hail cease. However, he first requested that the noise of the explosions stop, because these specifically distressed him and only then for the hail to cease. As the passuk clearly states, “There has been enough of this supernatural thunder and hail”. Moshe Rabbeinu responded to Paro, that he will fulfil his request. First the noise will stop and then after that the hail, as it states, “When I go out of the city, I will spread my hands [in prayer] to Hashem. The thunder will then stop, and there will be no more hail” (ibid. 9:29).
However, Hashem knew that if He will fulfil Paro’s request, then Paro will be obligated to set Am Yisrael free, after all this is what Paro promised Moshe. As the Arabic saying goes “kilam-sh’raf”, meaning keeping one’s word is the person’s honour. Therefore Hashem changed the order as it states, “But when Paro saw that there was no longer any rain, hail or thunder” (ibid 9:34). First the hail stopped and only afterwards did the thunder cease. So Paro didn’t keep his word and set Am Yisrael free. This dented Moshe’s honour because Hashem didn’t fulfil his request. Therefore Hashem explained to Moshe why he changed the order, “…so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs among them,” because I have a further three plagues to smite Egypt with, therefore I gave Paro an opening so that he won’t necessarily feel obligated to keep his word.
After the plague of locusts, Paro admitted and said, “I have sinned against Hashem and you” (ibid. 10:16), and then the plague stopped as it states, “Hashem turned the wind around, [transforming it into] a very strong wind. It carried away the locust and plunged them into the Red Sea. Not a single locust remained within all of Egypt’s borders” (ibid. 10:19). But why does it state, “Not a single locust remained within all of Egypt’s borders”? Because the Egyptians had an idea. They began catching large amounts of locusts and preserved them in salt or through pickling, like pickled cucumbers. They filled barrel after barrel and were thrilled with this. So what did Hashem do? When the plague of locusts ceased he brough back to life the locusts that had died “techiyat ha’meitim” (resurrection of the dead) and they all escaped from the barrels and fled Egypt, until not a single locust remained within all of Egypt’s borders!
Prior to the plague of the killing of the firstborn, “Moshe said [to Paro] in Hashem’s Name, ‘Around midnight, I will go out in the midst of Egypt’” (ibid. 11:4). Why did he say, “Around midnight”? When in the following verses it states, “It was midnight. Hashem killed every firstborn in Egypt” (ibid. 12:29). Our chachamim picked up on this change of language in Talmud Berachot [4a]. They explained that of course Hashem knew exactly when midnight was but the Egyptians could make a mistake. So as not to give them an opening and accuse Moshe of being untruthful, and then say, look midnight passed and nothing happened! Therefore from the outset Moshe said, “Around midnight”, meaning approximately at midnight.
However, there is an additional explanation. When Avraham Avinu fought against the four kings it states, “He divided [his forces] against them [and attacked] that night - he and his servants” (Bereishit 14:15). The phrase “He divided [his forces] against them” means that the night was divided in two. In the first half of the night Avraham fought the kings until midnight. Hashem then said to him, Avraham, half of the night is for you and half for your children, cease fighting! For in the second half of the night I will in the future fight for your children! And so at that time, of midnight until morning, was designated for the killing of the firstborn and for all the miracles that happened on that night.
However, Avraham’s battle was around Eretz Yisrael and there are different times between Israel and Egypt. Even between Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak there are a few minutes difference between sunrise, sunset and midnight.
In Heaven, they follow the times of Eretz Yisrael. So it transpires that Hashem came down and smote the Egyptian firstborns exactly when it was midnight, however, it wasn’t yet midnight in Egypt, rather only according to the times in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore Moshe said, “Around midnight”, because in truth it was already midnight in Eretz Yisrael.
When all of the Egyptian firstborn heard what Moshe Rabbeinu was saying, that Hashem will smite every Egyptian firstborn, they forcefully rose up and demonstrated opposite Paro’s palace, demanding that Am Yisrael be set free. For they exclaimed, we have witnessed that all of Moshe’s words have been fulfilled until now and if so, we are now in mortal danger! Then a great commotion erupted. On the one hand, many Egyptians who supported Paro opposed the release of Am Yisrael, and on the other side were the firstborns. And they were hitting each other. Therefore it doesn’t state, “To Him who smote the Egyptian firstborns, His kindness endures forever” but rather “To Him who smote Egypt through their firstborn” (Tehillim 136:10), because Egypt was hit by its very own firstborns.
That night the wicked Paro should have been petrified because he too was a firstborn but despite this, due to his excessive heresy, he went to sleep. Only when the firstborns began to die, then it states, “Paro got up that night, along with all his officials and the rest of Egypt. There was a great outcry, since there was no house where there were no dead” (Shemot 12:30). Paro left his palace and was crying out and seeking Moshe and Aron. He asked the Jewish children, where is Moshe? They laughed at him and they said to him, go in this direction for Moshe is there. He went there and couldn’t find him. No! We meant go to the other side! Until Paro cried out a great and bitter cry. Moshe went to him, he said to him, what do you want? Paro said to him, “Get out from among my people - you and Am Yisrael!” (ibid. 12:31). Moshe said to him, and shall we leave in the middle of the night? But Hashem said to us that we will not leave our home front doors until morning. And furthermore, we do not want to leave like thieves at night, but we will go out in the morning with a high hand! If so, what can Paro do now so that we not die? Moshe said to him, repeat with a loud voice after me, and your life will be saved as a spoil of war. Say: You are free people! You are your own masters! And why do you want to release us, say: “We are all dead men” (ibid. 12:33). A miracle occurred and Paro’s voice was heard throughout Egypt that he frees Am Yisrael.
Why was it necessary for Paro to enunciate these clear words, both the freedom and the reason for it? The Talmud Kiddushin explains that a Jewish slave’s body is owned by his master. As such he cannot be freed by the master unless through a document, called a bill of freedom and on it two witnesses sign. However, if the owner will simply say to his slave you are free but not give him a bill of freedom, then the next day the owner can renege and reclaim the slave.
But there is another halachah, that if a person is going to be killed and he commands at that time that his property be given to a specific person, then his words are considered written and delivered. This is explained in the Talmud Gittin (66a). There was man called Geneiva who was quarrelsome and they brought him out to be killed [for crimes he had committed], when they brought him out he said, that they should give his wines worth 400 gold coins as a gift to Rebbi Abba. They said in the Talmud that Rebbi Abba is entitled to receive the wine because the words of a person who is about to die are considered as if they are legally written.
Now we may say the following explanation, Paro, was the master of Am Yisrael and was therefore required to write them a bill of freedom. But that night was Seder Night and Moshe was unable to write a legal document. Therefore Moshe he said to him, categorically state that you are going to die, “We are all dead men”, and now from an halachic perspective, Paro’s verbal declaration sufficed when he said, “You are free people”, and now Am Yisrael left his ownership!
In the future, when Am Yisrael’s redemption will come, the redemption will not be delayed for even one moment, as it was in Egypt that exactly at midnight they were redeemed. As the passuk states, “I am Hashem, in its time I will hasten it” (Yeshaya 60:22), if Am Yisrael merit “I will hasten it”, He will hasten the redemption for them, and if they won’t merit, but nevertheless the last time [for redemption] has arrived then it will be “in its time”, and the redemption won’t be withheld for even one minute. Whether or not Am Yisrael are tzaddikim, Hashem assures us that He will redeem us.
The redemption in Egypt was not a complete redemption. Why? Because Am Yisrael were required to be enslaved for 400 years. But Hashem saw that if Am Yisrael will remain one more moment in Egypt that they will totally sink into Egypt’s 50 gates of impurity and totally assimilate. Therefore He hastily brought them out. And Moshe said that in the future Am Yisrael will be released from the exile of Nevuchadnetzar and Titus. So it is written in the Zohar HaKadosh.
A parable is said regarding this. There was a merchant who stayed the night in a hotel. The hotel had a kitchen from which they served breakfast and supper. One day the merchant had to leave early to travel to Tel Aviv for his business dealings. So at 11 o’clock he asked the cook, “See I am hurrying to go out, perhaps you can prepare me something to eat?” She replied, “The food isn’t yet fully cooked.” He said to her, “It doesn’t matter, I’ll manage with what there is.” She served him meat and vegetables but he was very disappointed because the food was tasteless and odourless, and the meat was like plastic, very hard. Literally a berachah in vain. Nevertheless he ate and angrily went on his way.
The next day the cook herself had to travel to Netanya for a family simchah. Therefore she fulfilled the passuk “She arises while it is yet night” (Mishlei 31:15), she came to the kitchen early and cooked all the food well. Since she remembered the merchant she called him and said, “Know that if you already want you may eat now even though it is early.” The merchant retorted, “I don’t want anything!” Yesterday I partook of the food and it wasn’t at all pleasant for me!” The cook responded to him, “Yesterday you hurried but today I hurried, therefore rest assured that the dishes are fully cooked and well-seasoned.” The merchant ate and blessed the cook.
So it is here. With the redemption from Egypt we were the reason for the hasty exodus from Egypt because one more moment we would have fully sunk amongst the goyim. Therefore the redemption wasn’t fully cooked [i.e. ready]. Not so in the future, for “I am Hashem, in its time I will hasten it”. Hashem Himself will hasten the redemption and then we will be “cooked” [i.e. ready] and the redemption will be fully “cooked” [i.e. ready] and it will be a permanent redemption, “O, that out of Zion would come Israel’s salvation! When Hashem restores the captivity of His people, Yaakov will exult, Yisrael will rejoice” (Tehillim 14:7).