A ma’amar from HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, Maran’s zt”l grandson
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Exploring Why the Egyptians Struggled to Accept Hashem’s Divine Providence when Smitten with the Plagues and What Efforts we may Make to Bring the Current War to an End
In this week’s Parashah we learn about 7 of the 10 plagues that Hashem Yitbarach smote the Egyptians with. It is explained in the pessukim and as our chachamim expounded that in Egypt of those days, there were many wizards, who were expert in the behaviour of demons and witchcraft, as it states, “Moshe and Aron came to Paro. They did exactly as Hashem had said. Aron threw his staff down before Paro, and it became a viper. Paro summoned his scholars and magicians. The master symbolists were able to do the same thing with their magic tricks. When each one threw down his staff, [the staffs] all turned into vipers. Aron’s staff then swallowed up their staffs” (Shemot 7:10-12).
Likewise for example, it states after the plague of frogs, “The master symbolists were able to produce the same affect with their hidden arts, making frogs emerge on Egyptian land” (ibid. 8:3).
Our chachamim explain (Sanhedrin 67b), wherever it states “their hidden arts”, the intention is to witchcraft, and wherever it states “their hidden arts”, the intention is to acts of demons, which Egypt knew how to affect actions through the power of witchcraft and likewise they knew how to make demons perform various actions, which would appear as miracles and wonders.
Therefore the Egyptians weren’t provoked from the plagues that they were smitten with in the beginning. So it was with the plague of blood and the plague of frogs, and only with the plague of lice it states, “Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Tell Aron to hold out his staff and strike the dust of the earth. It will turn into lice all over Egypt.’ They did this. Aron held out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth. The lice appeared, attacking man and beast. Throughout all Egypt, the dust had turned into lice. The master symbolists tried to produce lice with their hidden arts, but they could not. [Meanwhile], the lice were attacking man and beast alike. ‘It is the finger of G-d,’ said the master symbolists to Paro” (ibid. 8:12-14).
Our chachamim explain, what changed in the plague of lice, that the Egyptians said, “It is the finger of G-d,”? The answer is that the Egyptians could affect through witchcraft, to make animals act according to their will. However, with very small creatures, less than the size of a barley grain, like lice, it is impossible to control them through the medium of witchcraft. Therefore the Egyptians understood that this wasn’t about elaborate witchcraft, but rather “It is the finger of G-d!”
However, we must understand, why did the Egyptians use the expression “It is the finger of G-d”? They should have simply said, “This was from Hashem”, why did they specifically use the expression “finger”?
The answer is that the Egyptians were great philosophers. They understood that there is in the world a greater strength above all other strengths. But they understood that this strength too, doesn’t function under the literal observation of Hashem, but that there are other forces in the world associated with the supreme power (akin to the Greek ideology). Therefore they said, “It is the finger of G-d”, a certain random force, which may be called just a “finger”, but in no way literally the hand of Hashem!
If so, the wizards said, we must deal with the finger! This doesn’t mean that we must release Am Yisrael, but rather to find whatever solution to fight against this power, against this finger!
Rabbeinu HaRamban z”l further explains that Paro and the Egyptians didn’t actually deny the existence of Hashem, rather they wanted to reduce the intensity of the meaning of the plague, therefore they said, “It is the finger of G-d”, and not “It is the hand of G-d”. This was essentially a form of mockery because the Egyptians were punished a great punishment overtly and in a very clear way, literally a “Heavenly plague”, yet despite this, they continued on their evil path, giving a “rational” explanation for everything, rather than comprehending the root of the problem.
We must learn from this a moral lesson. In Hashem Yitbarach’s running of the world, many times “He speaks” to us. For example, a person has a problem, it is possible that they are punishing them from Heaven, or awaiting their prayers, or the troubles are coming to atone for their sins. A person must consider, why are they in this situation? What am I responsible to do? What does Hashem expect from me?
Seventy years ago, when the State was established, the Gaon HaRav of Brisk zt”l [Rav Yitzchok Zev Halevi Soloveitchik, also known as Velvel Soloveitchik (1886-1959)] said, the authorities, heads of the State think that they will smite the Arabs a great blow and then the Arabs will be afraid and make peace with them. But the verse says, “The Amorites who lived in the highlands came out to confront you, and chased you like bees. They struck you down in Seir as far as Chormah” (Devarim 1:44). Rashi z”l writes, just as when the bee stings a person it immediately dies, so too when they touch you, they immediately die.
Let us consider! The Torah compares Yisrael’s enemies to the bee, just as when she stings, she immediately dies, so too them. When Heaven decrees and chas veshalom the protection is removed before Yisrael’s enemies to sabotage and harm, then they literally become crazy and are prepared even to die, if only to harm the Jews!
A person who doesn’t understand the ways of Hashem’s providence, thinks that only with a painful blow to him, and with this it suffices. The Arabs strike? It appears as if the Arabs are the sole problem! But someone who has a Torah perspective understands that if all of Yisrael will be tzaddikim and united together, then the enemies will be unable to prevail against Yisrael! Only when there is division and there are sins, the enemies are able to harm Yisrael, and then no “ideas” will help that we hear daily on the news, “to improve their economic situation, and so they will make peace with us”, the political arrangements won’t help and no talks of peace, nothing will help!
The Egyptians thought that Hashem’s finger smote them. They didn’t think, to what hand is this finger attached? And who in truth is smiting them? Therefore they remained in their folly that brought them in the end to destruction!
If Bnei Yisrael are holy, we must understand that what happens in world events, aren’t just a thing, but rather “everything is from Hashem, from Heaven”, there is a reason and a controller. Torah must be increased in Yisrael, to increase prayers for Yisrael, to increase unconditional love, tzedakah and chessed, only this way will we merit that Hashem will remove from us all the decrees! (Understandably not detracting from the significant role of Tzahal’s soldiers, may Hashem guard their going and coming to good life and peace.)
May we merit that Hashem should pour a spirit from above, and sprinkle on His people pure waters and purify us, returned and rested, may He turn back [to Him] the hearts of fathers with [their] sons and the hearts of sons with [their] fathers [see Malachi 3:24].