by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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PARSHAS BO 5760 BS"D
10:22 "Va'y'hi choshech" - The M.R. 14:1 relates that Hashem asked for the agreement of the angels to punish the Egyptians with the plague of darkness and they unanimously agreed. Further on (14:3) the M.R. asks why Hashem sent specifically darkness. The medrash answers that this allowed for the bnei Yisroel to freely roam the Egyptians homes and see what items were there. Prior to their exiting Egypt they would then ask for (borrow) these items. A second reason is also given. Hashem planned to kill those of the bnei Yisroel who refused to leave Egypt. He did not want the Egyptians to find out about this severe punishment to the bnei Yisroel and therefore brought darkness. Rebbe Reb Heshel asks that the order of these two statements in the M.R. is most difficult. Shouldn't the M.R. first ask why Hashem decided upon a punishment of darkness before mentioning that Hashem asked the angels if they agreed that the Egyptians deserved it?
He answers that we have a rule that if a court decides unanimously that one is liable for capital punishment, the defendant is acquitted. Since the M.R. stated that the celestial court unanimously decided that the Egyptians should be punished with the plague of darkness, the medrash therefore goes on to ask why indeed did Hashem visit the plague of darkness upon the Egyptians since it was by unanimous decision, and in such a case the defendant is not punished. The medrash answers that there were two reasons for bringing darkness. This means to say that although the angels of the court all agreed that the plague of darkness should be sent, they had different reasons for arriving at the same conclusion.
The rule of a unanimous decision resulting in the defendant going free only applies if the judges come to their decision for the same reason. If however they have differing reasons this rule does not apply.
Perhaps another explanation can be given for the order of the above two statements in the M.R. We know that the plague of darkness was unique among the plagues in that it had two levels of intensity. The first group of three days had a heavy darkness, while the second group of three days was of such intensity that the Egyptians could not physically move. Possibly the earlier statement in the medrash refers to the first three days. (As far as the problem raised about a unanimous decision, this only applies to capital punishment that was relevant in the last three days only, when no Egyptian could even move an organ of his body. This likely resulted in some deaths. Not so the plague of the first three days which was only intense darkness.) The medrash then goes on to ask why Hashem brought darkness, meaning why did He bring a second level of darkness of a more severe nature. The medrash answers because this allowed the bnei Yisroel to roam freely in the Egyptian homes, as mentioned above. This activity might have met with resistance on the part of the Egyptians had they been able to move, albeit in the dark.
A second answer the medrash gives is so that the Egyptians should not be aware of the death of many of the bnei Yisroel. Again, had they been able to move about, some of the Egyptians would have no doubt gone to the bnei Yisroel's homes in an attempt to seek relief from the lengthy blackout by asking the bnei Yisroel for help since for the bnei Yisroel it was light. They would have stumbled upon many dead of the bnei Yisroel upon entering their homes.
By the way, what was accomplished by the bnei Yisroel seeking out the possessions of the Egyptians at this early stage during the plague of darkness? Why didn't Hashem allow the bnei Yisroel to see the Egyptians hidden items just prior to their departure? The M.R. 14:3 answers that once the bnei Yisroel found the possessions of the Egyptians while they were immobile, and yet did not take advantage of the situation to steal their possessions, the Egyptians trusted them and willingly lent them their objects later. Perhaps this is the meaning of 12:36, "VaHashem nosan es CHEIN ho'om b'einei Mitzrayim va'yashilum."
Ch. 10, v. 22,23 - "Shloshes yomim, shloshes yomim" - Commentators (Baalei Tosfos) ask that the total of three days of one level of darkness of verse 22 and three days of another level of darkness of verse 23 only add up to six days, and the minimum time that the plagues lasted was for seven days, save the smiting of the firstborn. They answer that the seventh day of darkness took place at the splitting of the sea, as the verse says "Va'y'hi he'onon v'haCHOSHECH" (14:20). They seem to say this of their own volition. It is actually a M.R. in our parsha, 14:3.
While on the subject of how long each plague lasted, we are well acquainted with the opinions in the M.R. 9:12 that either the plagues each lasted for a week and warnings for the rest of the month, or that the plagues each lasted for the majority of a month and the warnings for a week, or that the plagues lasted for thirty days and the warning simply lasted as long as it took to say it. However, the Ibn Ezra on 9:10 says that barring a verbal tradition to the contrary, we have no knowledge of how long the plagues lasted, save the ones that the verses specify. He then lists them. The plague of blood lasted for seven days, but there is no reason to assume that any others lasted the same period of time, as we know the plague of pestilence lasted but an hour and the plague of darkness lasted three days.
Ch. 10, v. 21: "V'yomeish choshech" - Rashi says in the name of Targum Onkeles that "v'yomeish" means "and it should be removed." How are we to understand this? Quite to the contrary, the darkness did not leave, but rather it intensified.
The Ibn Ezra translates this word the same as the Targum Onkeles and says in the name of Yefes that the standard darkness was required to leave to make room for a different entity, a more intense darkness.
The Holy Admor of Schatz shlit"a in his Hagodoh shel Pesach "Hiska'deish Chag" answers this question with the words of Rabbeinu Bachyei. He says that the darkness was actually such an intense light that it blinded the Egyptians. This might be similar to staring directly into sunlight, which blinds a person. If so, we now understand the need for the removal of darkness. Standard light is not intense, as there is an element of its being subdued. This can be considered a bit of darkness in the light itself. Hashem sent a plague of such intense light that the element of darkness in light was removed, resulting in a powerfully blinding light.
The Torah T'mimoh, says that the plague of darkness was that the Egyptians contracted cataracts. He bases this on the M.R. 14:1 which says that the darkness was as thick as a dinar. Rest assured that this interpretation is very controversial.
Ch.12, v. 9: "Lo sochlu mimenu NOH U'voshol m'vushol" - What were you taught as the meaning of the word NOH in our verse? I was taught that it means "incompletely roasted," as in medium rare. However the Chizkuni says that the Vov at the beginning of the word "U'voshol" is superfluous and the word NOH means PLEASE. Read "Do not eat from it, PLEASE, cooked. Indeed Rashi (Breishis 36:24) says that there are numerous places that we have superfluous letters Vov.
Perhaps the need to add the request PLEASE when prohibiting cooking the Paschal lamb might be because the Baalei Tosfos and the Chizkuni himself say that the details of preparation of the Paschal lamb are such that it should become abundantly noticeable that the deity of the Egyptians, the lamb, is being prepared. The act of processing the first Paschal lamb required a measure of self sacrifice, as Moshe pointed out when he said regarding slaughtering the lamb in the midst of the Egyptians, "V'lo yis'k'lulnu?" (8:22) - Will the Egyptians not attempt to stone us? This is why it is also required to prepare the Paschal lamb whole with the head intact. As well if roasted rather than cooked it is not hidden by being submerged in water. Also the flavours of roasting are far more powerful and spread much further than when cooking. Shades of the smell of the neighbour's backyard barbecue. Since this brought about considerable risk to the bnei Yisroel, Hashem added the word PLEASE in his request.
Ch. 12, v. 29: "B'chor haSHVI asher b'veis hasohar" - See 11:5 where this same information was related but there was different wording -"B'chor haSHIFCHOH asher achar hareichoyim."
The Rashbam and the Ibn Ezra in the name of Yefes answer this. They say that they are one and the same. Hashem earlier told Moshe what would take place. This was told by day and at that time the son of the maidservant worked by the millstone. Our verse relates the actual killing of the firstborn, which took place at midnight. At that time the son of the maidservant was locked up in a jail, his overnight lodging, hence "b'chor haSHIFCHOH."
I heard a most marvelous answer to this question from R' M.Y.Z. based on the words of the Meshech Chochmoh. In 12:9 we find the prohibition to eat from the Paschal lamb when it is not fully roasted or if it is cooked. The words for the prohibition are "AL tochal." The next verse prohibits leaving over any meat of the Paschal lamb beyond the prescribed time of eating, midnight. In verse 10 the words expressing this prohibition are "V'LO sosiru." Why is the word "AL" used in verse 9, and "V'LO" in verse 10?
The Meshech Chochmoh answers that "AL" is a term used when REQUESTING that something not be done. "LO" is used as a COMMAND that something not be done. We find this in the story of the two women who appeared in front of King Shlomo with the question of who was the true mother of a child (M'lochim 1:15:26). Shlomo said that the child be physically split. The true mother responded that the child not be split, expressed, "AL t'misuhu." King Shlomo responded with (v. 27), "LO s'misuhu." The woman could only REQUEST of King Shlomo not to kill the child. The king, however, COMMANDED that the child not be killed.
The crucial point of differentiation between the bnei Yisroel and the Egyptians took place at the moment when Hashem killed the Egyptian firstborn and saved the firstborn of the bnei Yisroel. This created a new relationship between Hashem and the bnei Yisroel. He was NOW their king, "Ki li bnei Yisroel avodim, v'lo avodim l'avodim." On the night of Pesach before "makas b'choros," Hashem only REQUESTED that they prepare the Korban Pesach as per His requirements, "AL," while still not having a firm relationship with the bnei Yisroel as their King, hence a request only. Not leaving over the meat of the Korban Pesach takes place after midnight, when the slaying of the firstborn had already taken place. At this point Hashem had become their KING. He therefore COMMANDED, "V'LO," that they not leave over the meat of the Korban Pesach until the morning.
R' M.Y.Z. told me that this concept of the Meshech Chochmoh answers the above-mentioned question. The Egyptians had a mind set that the lowest human creature was a slave, namely because they had enslaved the bnei Yisroel for so many years. The verse in 11:5 discusses the future plague of the smiting of the firstborn. At that moment the description of the complete gamut of human beings as per the perception of the Egyptians, ran from the top, the heir apparent to Paroh, to the lowest, the child of a maidSERVANT.
However in our verse which is the description of the plague in action at the stroke of midnight, there was a total change. The mindset of a slave being the lowest had changed. The Jewish slaves now had Heavenly power interceding on their behalf, wielding the decisive blow to the Egyptians. The slaves were no longer the lowest on the rung of society, hence the child of a prisoner of war now occupied that position.
Ch. 12, v. 35: "Va'yishalu miMitzrayim" - If the translation of "va'yishalu" is "and they BORROWED," how were the bnei Yisroel allowed to keep the Egyptian's possessions? This can be answered by raising another question and answering it. We see in 3:18 and 8:23 that Moshe told Paroh that the bnei Yisroel wanted only a three-day hiatus into the desert to serve Hashem. Why did Hashem tell Moshe that they would leave permanently (3:17) and how were they allowed to leave permanently?
Regarding the verse in 12:31 "Kumu tz'u mitoch ami" the Yerushalmi P'sochim 5:5 says that Paroh said to Moshe, "Until now your people were my slaves. Now they are the servants of your Hashem." Upon hearing this, the bnei Yisroel said, "Hallelu avdei Hashem (T'hilim 113:1)."
If Paroh had allowed all of the bnei Yisroel, including women and children, to travel for three days into the desert to sacrifice to Hashem, they would have done so and returned. Possibly this would have brought a great spiritual uplifting which might have elevated them from the morass of the 49 levels of impurity into which they had sunk. They would then would have been able to remain in Egypt for a longer period of time, possibly even until the completion of the 400 years of exile.
However, as stated in the above Yerushalmi, Paroh freed them from bondage by saying that they were now servants of Hashem. They were now free to do as they wished. Hashem knew that this would happen, and therefore told Moshe that they would leave permanently.
We can now answer our original question regarding the borrowing of the Egyptians' property. Since all the people of Egypt were slaves of Paroh as recorded in the end of parshas Vayigash (47:23,25), their possessions were also his. His open aggression of pursuing the totally freed bnei Yisroel was not justified and constituted an open act of war. When Paroh and his army were defeated through Hashem's intervention at the time of the splitting of the sea, the bnei Yisroel had the right to keep all private and governmental property as spoils of war.
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