Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 20   No. 14

This issue is sponsored
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Parshas Va'eira

The Plague of Pestilence

"Behold the Hand of Hashem (Yad Hashem) will be (hoiyoh) on your livestock that are in the field, on your horses, your donkeys, your camels, your cattle and your sheep, a very severe pestilence" (9:3).

This is the fifth plague, and it struck the five species of animals listed in the Pasuk, Rabeinu Bachye observes. This is hardly surprising, he explains, seeing as "Yad Hashem" always hints at the second 'Hey' in G-d's Holy Name (and 'Hey' of course, equals five). Also, he points out, the word "hoiyoh" (which contains the four letters of that Name) refers to the Shechinah (a manifestation of G-d Himself) - bear in mind that the plague of pestilence is attributed to Hashem alone. Although the Torah refers specifically to the animals that were in the field, the plague encompassed all their animals, and the Torah mentioned 'those that were in the field' because that was where they usually were, R. Bachye explains. And he bases this explanation on the fact that the Torah specifically writes that 'all the Egyptian animals died'!

He cites the Ramban, who is also the author of the previous explanation, who suggests alternatively, that the Torah mentions 'the animals in the field' because they left them outside in the field permanently, since, due to the Egyptians' reverence of the sheep, they refused to have them in their houses.

(It is unclear however, how this explanation extends to the other four species of animals listed above.)

As a matter of fact, the Ramban adds, they sent their animals to be shepherded in Goshen, far away from their own cities, where they intermingled with the sheep belonging to Yisrael. Hence the Torah comments in the very next Pasuk that Hashem will differentiate between the livestock of Yisrael and that of the Egyptians, stressing the amazing miracle that took place here.

Interestingly, Rashi, in Pasuk 10, taking the Pasuk literally, maintains that the animals that were not in the fields were spared. Otherwise, he says, from where did they obtain the animals that later died in the plague of hail?

According to the Ramban, we will have to answer that they must have purchased them from other nations, or perhaps even from Yisrael, as some explain with regard to the water during the plague of blood (See first article in 'Parshah Pearls').

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Elaborating on the Ramban's latter explanation, the footnote in R. Bachye uses it to explain why, unlike by Makas Bechoros, where the Torah writes that "G-d will draw a distinction between Egypt and Yisrael", here it inverts the order and states that He will draw a distinction "between the livestock of Yisrael and that of the Egyptians". This is because, here, where the two sets of animals shared the same air, the fact was that the contaminated air that killed the Egyptians animals, did not affect those of Yisrael. Consequently, the division, the miracle, was on Yisrael, when the contamination did not affect them.

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Parshah Pearls

From Where Did the Magicians Obtain Water?

"And the Egyptian magicians did the same thing (they turned blood into water) with their sorcery " (6:22).

The question arises that, seeing as all the water in Egypt (except that of the Jews) had turned into blood, from where did they obtain the water to do likewise?

See main article, volume 16.

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The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos suggests that perhaps they brought water from another country, though considering the size of Egypt ,it would have taken several days to travel from the centre of the country to any other country. It is also interesting that the magicians would have gone to so much trouble - merely to prove that they could do it too!

They also suggest that they may have obtained the water by digging for it (whereas the plague was confined to water above ground) - as the Torah itself writes.

The Or ha'Chayim too, gives this answer to the above question. However, the Da'as Zekeinim goes on to reject it, since the Torah only refers to it two Pesukim later (and the principle that 'The Torah does not necessarily follow the chronological order does not generally apply in one Parshah).

A popular answer to the question is that of Targum Yonasan, who explains that they obtained the water from Goshen, from the water belonging to the Jews, or, as others explain from the water which they purchased from the Jews, which did not turn into blood. Indeed, the Medrash comments, although B'nei Yisrael left Egypt extremely wealthy, their first taste of wealth was the result of the sale of water to the Egyptians during the seven days where none was otherwise available to them.

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Moshe's Fervent Prayer

" Moshe cried out to G-d, on account of the frogs that He had landed Par'oh with" (8:8).

This is the only plague, comments the Rosh, where Moshe had to "cry out"?

Some commentaries attribute this to the ruling that Tefilos need to be verbalized, in order to be heard by the person uttering them.

This was impossible however, at this time, due to the on-going croaking of the frogs, which must have been deafening. Consequently, Moshe had no option but to cry out so as to be heard.

The Rosh explains that Moshe needed to pray more fervently than usual, because it was by the plague of frogs that he challenged Par'oh to prove him wrong. That is why he put more effort into his request, to ensure that here, more than on any other occasion, G-d would answer his prayer.

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The Finger of G-d

"And the magicians said to Par'oh 'It is the finger of G-d' (8:15)

Note, says Rabeinu Bachye, that the first two plagues did not involve any new creation. G-d first transformed water into blood and brought up frogs from the river, as is evident from the expression "and the frogs came up ".

Not so the lice, he explains, which He created out of nothing, since, as the Ramban explains, dust does not automatically turn into lice.

This is why the Torah relates how the magicians attempted to 'produce lice' but were unable to do so, the same expression used at the creation, when G-d issued the command "Let the earth produce living creatures!"

(R. Bachye himself cites Chazal - see Rashi on the previous Pasuk - who give a different explanation, but as Rishonim often tend to do, he explains the Pasuk in his own way.)

Indeed, he adds, no power on earth is able to create the smallest creature "other than G-d Himself".

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And this, the author explains, is why the magicians used the words "the finger of G-d" (Etzba Elokim), an expression that refers exclusively to wondrous creation, as the Torah uses in connection with the stars (" the work of Your Fingers" [Tehilim 8:5]), because creating the stars is no more difficult for G-d than creating a flea.

He then cites R. Gaon, who points out that on only three occasions does the Torah use the word "Etzba", on the two mentioned above and in connection with the Luchos in Parshas Ki Sissa (31:18). The stars, he explains, because they are the largest of G-d's creations, lice, because they are the smallest, and the Luchos, because of their spiritual supremacy.

The Torah uses the same expression, to teach that in G-d's eyes, there is no difference, that creating the one is as easy as creating the other.

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