Torah thought forFriday 5 Shevat 5783 January 27 2023

Parashat Bo

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l. translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

How Moshe Rabbeinu Ensured that Paro Freeing Am Yisrael had Halachic Validity

It states in the Parashah concerning the plague of Smiting the Firstborns,  “Paro stayed up that night [lit. got up that night (see further on)], along with all his officials and all the rest of Egypt. There was a great outcry, since there was no house where there were no dead” (Shemot 12:30). At the time that Hashem smote the Egyptians with Smiting the Firstborns every house had a death. Even the homes where there was no firstborn, the elder of the home was considered a firstborn, as it states, “I, too, will make him a firstborn” (Tehillim 89:28). Therefore there was no house without a dead person.

Paro the wicked one was himself a firstborn, yet despite this, due to his unparalleled evil, even on the night when Moshe prophesised that Hashem would kill every firstborn, and even after Paro had witnessed all the other plagues that Hashem had performed, nevertheless, he went to sleep as normal! He was afraid of nothing! Everything that he saw didn’t disrupt his “ideology”.

Therefore it states, “Paro got up”. Rashi explains that Paro had gone to sleep and that only after he heard from the neighbours and all the Egyptians screams and shrieks, did he get out of bed. For now he had become petrified from the death that was hovering above him, for he too was a firstborn. Indeed Paro had already said to Moshe, “Don’t dare see my face again! The day you appear before me, you will die!” (Shemot 10:28). Therefore Paro knew that now Moshe won’t come before him, therefore he had no choice, he got up and went himself to Goshen, in order to meet Moshe there, face to face.

Paro arrived at Goshen and when the children saw him, the king of Egypt walking around on his own whilst shaking with fear, they began laughing at him. Paro asked them, “Where is Moshe?” They told him, “Go there, go east, go for yourself”, and Paro went and saw that Moshe wasn’t there and asked again where he is. They replied to him, “Go west, Moshe is there”. He went, and began shouting and shrieking, “Moshe! Moshe!”.

Chazal explain that when Paro cried out, Moshe Rabbeinu went out to see him and asked him, “What do you want?  Why are you panicking so much?” Paro replied, “I am a firstborn!” Moshe said to him, “You are afraid that you will die?” Paro responded, “Yes, I am afraid! Therefore I request that you go from here, you and all the Jews.” “Get out from among my people - you and the Bnei Yisrael! Go! Worship Hashem just as you demanded! Take your sheep and cattle, just as you said! Go! Bless me too!” (Shemot 12:31).

Moshe Rabbeinu replied to Paro, “You are afraid in case you die? Know that now you won’t die. HaKadosh Baruch Hu has no interest in you, now you won’t die, don’t be afraid.” And Paro replied that he was still afraid in case he die, so he repeatedly pressed Moshe Rabbeinu that Am Yisrael immediately leave Egypt.

We must ask, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that Paro was a firstborn, and he understood on his own why Paro was so afraid, if so, why did he repeatedly ask and push Paro to verbalise that he was afraid lest he die?

The answer is that according to halachah, if a person has a slave, for example a Hebrew slave, and that slave did something unique for his master that gave him joy, to the extent that the master said to his slave, “You are now a free man! You are free”, however the next day the master regretted it, both the salve and master go to the Bet Din. How will the Bet Din rule? The halachah is that in such a case the slave isn’t yet freed. Because until the master writes a document of release his words have no validity. Therefore the slave would have to return to his master’s dominion.

Therefore Moshe Rabbeinu asked Paro over and over again, from what are you afraid? Because Paro’s words, “Go from here” “Get out from among my people”, had no halachic validity. And should Paro later regret (as indeed transpired), his claim would be correct to some extent, that their release had no validity, for everything was verbal.

However the Talmud (Gittin 66a) explains that someone who is going out to be executed or was sick and about to die, and just prior to their death gave some instructions as to what should be done on their death, then all his words are considered “as if written and handed over”, meaning that instructions that are given due to the fear of death, are considered as a document. Therefore Moshe Rabbeinu sought to extract from Paro the reason for his words, that he was concerned that death was hovering over him. If so, when he now frees Am Yisrael, he is doing it due to death, therefore it is as if the words are written in a document, and they have halachic validity!

Everything that HaKadosh Baruch Hu Yishtabach Shmo does is all for Am Yisrael’s benefit, as it states, “I have eliminated nations, their towers have become desolate” (Tzephanyah 3:6). Everything is done for Am Yisrael’s benefit, in all the generations, even if initially it appears as if the nations are strengthening. For Paro hardened his heart enormously not to free Am Yisrael, but everything was for the best, to show Am Yisrael more and more miracles and wonders and to bring Paro to a situation that he free Am Yisrael a valid freedom, that he will never be able to renege from.

Shabat Shalom!

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