Parshat Va'era/Bo-Some nuances of the language of the plagues
- Rabbi Ian Shaffer
- Jan 11, 2019
Parshat Va’era/Bo- A closer look at some nuances of the plagues
a) Hailstones: Shemot ch.9
כג וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מַטֵּהוּ, עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיהוָה נָתַן קֹלֹת וּבָרָד, וַתִּהֲלַךְ אֵשׁ אָרְצָה; וַיַּמְטֵר יְהוָה בָּרָד, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
23 And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven; and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down unto the earth; and the LORD caused to hail upon the land of Egypt.
לג וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה מֵעִם פַּרְעֹה, אֶת-הָעִיר, וַיִּפְרֹשׂ כַּפָּיו, אֶל-יְהוָה; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ הַקֹּלוֹת וְהַבָּרָד, וּמָטָר לֹא-נִתַּךְ אָרְצָה.
33 And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread forth his hands unto the LORD; and the thunders and hail ceased, and the rain was not poured upon the earth.
34 And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.
In the plague of hailstones, there is not only the description of the hailstones themselves (fire and ice etc) but also an additional element- ‘קֹלֹת-loud noise of the hail’. R’ Ovadiah Yosef zal explains that the plague became even more frightening due to the sounds of the ‘explosions’ when the hail landed. In the palace of Pharo however, he did not feel the effect of the actual hailstones but he heard the sounds only. When Moshe is called to Pharo, he agrees to pray that the hail is removed. For the average Egyptian this was a respite from the heavy barrage upon them. But for Pharo he only was affected by the ‘sounds’ and when the promise was made to remove the plague, he expected the sounds to go first. In fact, in verse 34, the sounds were removed after the hailstones, and Pharo used this as an excuse to say that Moshe did not keep his side of the agreement as fixed between him and Pharo. He refuses to let the people go and the next plague is guaranteed to come.
One may ask why Pharo set so much store in the order of removal of the plague? Surely he realized the main focus of the plague was removed,which was the hailstones. So why be so stubborn? R’Ovadiah explains that there is a rule that God allows the evil person to follow his desires and conversely the person who wishes to increase in spirituality will also be helped by God in countless ways, over and above the evil person and his desires. Pharo represents the evil man who does not desire to recognize the truth and he finds any excuse to reject the truth , such as ‘nitpicking’ about the way the plague was removed. From the negative we can learn the positive and when we recognize the truth we should acknowledge it in our actions and behavior.
כא וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, נְטֵה יָדְךָ עַל-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וִיהִי חֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וְיָמֵשׁ, חֹשֶׁךְ.
21 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Stretch out thy hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.'
The commentaries are perplexed by the word וְיָמֵש – ‘the darkness had substance’. In a famous explanation of the Midrash which states that the darkness had the thickness of a ‘dinar’ coin, the Torah Temimah (R.Boruch Epstein.d.1942; Russia) claims that the plague was one of cataracts, which were the ‘thickness’ of a coin. Others explain that the idea of the coin is to stress that Egyptian society was so self-centered that they begrudged each other even to give a coin (Tzedaka) to help each other. In contrast, when the Jews left Egypt they were told to ask for the valuables of Egypt and the verse says:
וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ מֵאֵת רֵעֵהוּ-‘and each man shall ask of his friend.’. How can the Egyptians be called ‘friends’ in this context? The Vilna Gaon answers by saying that during the plague of darkness the Egyptians were immobilized and were unable to see to their basic needs (to go to the bathroom etc.).The Jews took pity on them and moved them to the places they needed to be, regardless of the situation. Therefore the Torah points out that for this period of time the Egyptians became ‘friends/neighbors/ of the Jews. How this contrasted with Egyptian society is obvious, and is a great lesson in life. Sometimes when we have a disconnect with a neighbor or colleague, in order to overcome this situation we need to give or help them ,in order to reestablish the relationship as best we can.
From these two plagues and the nuances in the text we can gain true insights into how to conduct our lives as Jews , caring both for our own people and for the world at large, to the best of our ability.
This Dvar Torah is dedicated in honor of the 21st anniversary of marriage of our children, Elisheva and Aaron Levitt.These concepts are truly the attributes which our children are blessed with and they are known as the 'goto' couple wherever they have lived, for any help and advice. Also our granddaughter ,Shira, is celebrating her 20th birthday and may she follow in the footsteps of her wonderful parents.May Hashem grant them many more years of blessings in all they do for Klal Yisrael.
Shabbat Shalom CherryHill/SCW Jan 2019