Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

by Daneal Weiner

Based on the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson

Very often we get into the first verse of the parsha and never get any further so for the sake of peace, harmony and political correctness we’ll go right to the end. The last plague we read about in

Parshas Va’ayrah

is plague #7, Barad- Hail. Hashem tells Moshe to tell Pharaoh in His name (9:14), “This time I shall send all My plagues against your heart.” Rashi explains, “We learn from here that Makas Bechoros- the plague of the First Born [#10] packed a wallop the likes of all the plagues!” [‘Wallop’ is old French]. This does seem a tad presumptuous of Rashi, no? G-d says “#7 is going to the biggie!” and Rashi says, “We learn from here the biggie was #10”?!?

The Agrah D’kala says a typographical error made it’s way into our Rashi text. Rashi wrote, using the acronym M.B., that “M.B.- Makas Barad- was equivalent to all 10 plagues” and over time the M.B. accidentally turned into Makas Bechoros. So Rashi does jives with the verse but it still begs explanation. Makas Barad was as bad as all 10 together plagues together?

Turning to the text, let’s get a better understand of Makas Barad. Moshe gave the Egyptians warning to bring all employees and livestock in the house. Any living being or creature outdoors when the hail fell would be killed. Verse 9:20 says, “The G-d fearing of Pharaoh’s servants brought their servants and livestock indoors.” This presents no problems in and of itself. But during the previous plague, #6, the Boils, the Torah said the boils were “on every man and beast.” There Rashi asks, “Where did the animals come from. Didn’t the 5th plague, Dever, end saying ‘All the livestock of Egypt died’?” He answers saying the 5th plague opened with, “Behold, the hand of Hashem is on the livestock that is in the field.” All the dead livestock referred only to that left out in the field. That was the first time anyone who feared the word of G-d had brought their livestock indoors. So why didn’t the Torah give those Egyptians credit by Dever like it gave them by Barad?

Actually, an even stronger question can be raised! By Barad the Torah distinguishes between the G-d fearing who brought in their animals and the non-G-d fearing who left them out. But if they were non-G-d fearing, they are exactly those people who lost all their animals by Dever!?  So what animals is the Torah referring to that will die by Barad upon which such a noble distinction was made of their owners?

For the those of you who are two weeks ahead of the rest of us, in Beshalach, Pharaoh is going to be told the Jews are wandering aimlessly in the desert and are trapped at the edge of the sea and Pharaoh’s heart will harden one more time and he’ll round up 600 chariots and pursue Israel. Where in the Nile did he find animals to pull those chariots? From the   G-d fearing people! These people get credit for their fear of G-d?

When Pharaoh asks Moshe to stop the Barad Moshe says (9:29), “When I leave the city I shall spread out my hands to Hashem.” The Ramban says to end the first 6 plagues Moshe prayed from his house. This time he wanted to spread out his hands to Hashem so he went out of the city. Why suddenly such a dramatic change in praying to Hashem?

To begin to understand the answers to all these questions we need to understand a remarkable Midrash on the words (9:33), “The thunder ceased and the hail and rain did not reach the earth.” The Midrash says the hail is yet suspended mid air and will fall on Gog and Magog in the days of the Mashiach. In other words, the hail and rain did not stop by its heavenly production ceasing and what was already produced fell to the ground. Every hailstone ceased to exist [from our physical realm] in its place. The Midrash is telling us that when the time is right every single stone will reappear and undoubtedly pummel Gog and Magog as were pummeled the people and livestock of Egypt 3313 years ago. That’s gotta hurt.

The 38th and 39th chapters of Yechezkel foretell the inevitable battle between Gog, of the land of Magog, alongside a multitude of other nations, and Israel. A war that will be fought in the land of Israel and whose conclusion will be the end of all the enemies of Israel and a heralding of the Messianic era.

Holy writings of recent Sages say the battle will be over Jerusalem. However the verses will be physically manifest, there exists a deeper meaning to the words. If the conclusion of the war will be the world’s awareness of Hashem and the onset of the Messianic era, then the war is regarding just that. Not only is it a war of swords and arrows, it is also a war of words. Words of denial and heresy against Hashem and against His anointed one. Enemies of Israel don’t only raise their fists against Israel. They also raise doubts in the minds and hearts of Israel. As it is written in Psalms 2:1-2 (which Rashi says alludes to the war to end all wars), “Why do nations gather and regimes talk in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly against Hashem and against His anointed one.”

Getting back to the parsha, commentaries discuss how the 10 plagues correlate to the 10 sfiros- spiritual spheres or realms which envelope the world. In one sense the sfiros are like veils masking Hashems awesome presence, which allows us and the universe to exist. The first utterance of creation created the first, outermost veil. The second utterance created the next veil in. By the 10th utterance the world and all its contents were in place and we were in position to make a choice. Is the world a cosmic glitch or is their a Stage Designer behind the scenes waiting to reveal Himself?

Egypt produced such spiritual filth in the world that it dirtied all 10 sfiros! Whatever that means, the 10 plagues came to clean the 10 sfiros. The question is, did it clean them from the outside in, like their order in creation, or were they cleansed from the inside out? The Arizal, someone who did have an idea what this means, says from the inside out. The first plague, Blood, correlates to the 10th of the sfiros, Malchus- Kinghood, and so on down the line (or is it up the line?).

So plagues:sfiros we have the 1:1 thru 10:10 approach or the 1:10 thru 10:1. Remembering our question on Plague #7, Hashem said it is the biggie. Rashi said #7 was like all 10. Is there a way to get a ‘middle plague’ associated with outer of the sfirah (i.e. 7:1 or 7:10)?

As we saw by the sons of Yaakov and will see by the Tribes of Israel, some times they’re listed chronologically, sometimes otherwise. They are all correct. It just depends which aspect of their makeup is being referred to. The same thing goes for the plagues. We have an order here. Then there is possibly a reverse order if were talking about their cleansing effect. The Shla’h (Shnei Luchos Habris) has, yet another order to the plagues. And they are all correct.

Now it ‘just so happens’ that past Shabbos a friend, who enjoys reading the Shla’h, told me the following in his holy, albeit acronymed, name. [As best I remember,] Adam, before he was separated into two, was given a wife, of sorts. Similar to the story of the second sun who said to Hashem, “Do You need two suns for such a small earth? Make HIM small.” to which Hashem responded, “Good idea, YOU be small!” and was henceforth referred to as the moon, so too did this wife say to Hashem, “Do you need to masters for such a small garden? Make HIM small.” To which Hashem responded, “Great idea, YOU be small!” But she became the kind of ‘small’ which made her fitting to become the wife of the Evil Inclination. Adam now gets spilt into two and Chava is…made. The snake, another manifestation of the Evil Inclination takes a liking to Chava. The snake tricks Chava into taking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge so she’ll feed it to Adam, Adam will die and the snake gets Chava. Adam only knows from truth and falsehood till he eats of the fruit and the shades of good and evil blur his vision.

A couple thousand years go by and Yaakov is born, an incarnation of Adam. The forefather who epitomizes truth. Eisav, his brother is the evil inclination incarnate. This time Eisav has a wife destined for him, Leah. Leah prays not to get stuck with Eisav and she goes to Yaakov. Yaakov also marries Rachel. After Adam lost his first wife and almost lost his second wife to evil, Yaakov now takes back his first wife and secures his marriage with the second.

Also in the name of the Shla’h, tradition says Kein and Hevel were both born with twin sisters whom they married. Kein was jealous of Hevel's wife and killed him. G-d asks Kein, Ay Hevel- where is Hevel? Kein responded, “Am I my brothers keeper?”- Am I responsible for his actions? Am I responsible for my own actions for that matter?

A couple thousand years later the nefesh, the lowest animalistic aspect of Kein’s soul shows up in an Egyptian. Kein’s neshama, the highest spiritual aspect shows up as Yisro. Moshe is Hevel. Kein, the Egyptian, again is jealous of another mans wife. In the dark of night he pretends to be her husband, who was sent off to work. When the husband finds out what happened the Egyptian begins beating the husband. Moshe/Hevel comes along and kills the Egyptian/Kein. Moshe flees Egypt and ends up at a well by Yisro and saves Yisro’s daughters from other shepherds. The daughters tell Yisro the story. Yisro asks, “v’Ayo?- And where is he? [Same root as G-d’s “Ay Hevel”] Call him and let him take bread.” Bread, the euphemism for a wife [as we saw by Yoseph; Potifar left everything in his custody, except the bread he ate.]

After Moshe dealt with the reparation of the lowest aspect of Kein. Yisro, the higher aspect, expresses concern for Moshe, gives him a wife and finally, in the desert recommends that Moshe sets up a hierarchical system of judges. Moshe alone is not enough. Everyone needs to be their brothers’ keeper! Yisro has completed full atonement for the sins of his soul when under the auspices of Kein. The holy Shla’h leaves no stone unturned. So if he says there is another way to order the plagues and sfiros other than 1:10 or 10:10, he doesn’t need me to tell you you can believe it.

There is an order of the sfiros as they correlate to the seder plate and matsos! Like this and next weeks parshas which split the plagues 7-3, the seder plate corresponds to 7 sfiros and the 3 matzos to the remaing 3 sfiros. This arrangement associates Barad, with Malchus! Finally, our 7:10 hook up! The ‘middle’ plague got matched and an outer sfirah!

The Zohar writes that not only where the plagues a beating for the Egyptians but they were also a healing for Israel. Barad, associated with Malchus- Kingship, was an awakening of the recognition of the King of kings and a fear of Him. This is why during this plague Pharaoh finally breaks down and says, “I have sinned! Hashem is Just! I and my people are wicked!

An already familiar correlation to the #7 is Shabbos. Shabbos is also a time for recognition and fear of Hashem as King. The Zohar says that letters of the 1st word of the Torah, Bereishis, can be rearranged to spell yirah Shabbos- fear Shabbos. Bereishis barah is also known to be the first of the utterances in the creation of the world which, as we said, created the first sfirah. Again we have our ‘middle’ # 7, hooked up with an outer sfirah, #1!

The Jerusalem Talmud discusses whether or not an uneducated Jew can be trusted when he says proper tithings have been taken from his produce. Although it concludes we can’t it says that on Shabbos we can! Because on Shabbos the fear of Hashem is upon him and he would not lie. Similarly, during the 7th plague of Barad Egypt was pummeled with the fear of Hashem and Pharaoh finally spoke the truth, “Hashem is Just. I and my people are wicked!” [I merited discovering that Hashem told Moshe to tell Pharaoh by Barad he and his people will know ki ain kamoni b’chol ha’arets- there is none like Me in all the world. Ki ain kamoni = 211 = yirah- fear.]

The end of days will be days when the whole world will recognize Hashem’s sovereignty. That is exactly where the world was heading during Barad. Barad could have been it! The end of days! It could have pummeled the enemies of Israel and heralded the Messianic era! What happened? Pharaoh asked Moshe to stop the Barad. Hashem told Moshe he had to treat Pharaoh with the respect due a king. If Pharaoh asked to stop the Barad, Moshe had to stop it.

Now we can answer for the appearing-disappearing “G-d fearing” Egyptians. Dever did not have a connection to Malchus or yirah. After being hit by 4 previous plagues some Egyptians figured it might be a good idea to bring the livestock in. But by Barad G-d said the next day the hail will fall and they will know Malchus and Yirah. Hashem commanding it surely began its influence even before the hail fell. There were more sensitive Egyptians who felt that injection of fear. This time it wasn’t playing the odds with Moshe. This time they were G-d fearing Egyptians who brought in their livestock. That is till the Barad stopped. It ended in such a way that they very quickly forgot the yirah which had just touched their hearts. That happens a lot with the wicked. But it also ended in such a way, the Midrash says, that when the time is right and the world is ready it will pick up exactly where it left off. Literally and figuratively. Physically and spiritually.

Our Rabbis say in Gemorah Shabbos that the three meals on Shabbos will save a person from three afflictions. The Friday night meal offers protection against the birth pangs of the Mashiach. The Shabbos day meal, against the judgments of Gehenom. And Shalosh Seudos offers protection against the war of Gog and Magog. [Unfortunately, our Rabbis didn’t mean if we stuff ourselves to the point of disabling all motor skills except for crawling (into the nearest padded piece of furniture) and closing our eyelids we would merit Divine protection. Darn shame.]

Shalosh Seudos correlates to the war of Gog and Magog. We said way back, it’s not just a war of swords and arrows, it’s also a war of words of denial and heresy against Hashem and against His anointed one. Not a war against raised arms but against raised doubts in the minds and hearts of Israel. The third meal has also become a time when many Torah Jews gather together to hear words of rebuke, words of fortification, words to that wake one out of their post-cholent hibernation. That is what protects a person from the war of Gog and Magog.

That’s why for all the previous other plagues Moshe only prayed but by the plague of Barad he went outside the city and spread his hands out to Hashem. Because the plagues weren’t just a beating for Egypt, they were also a healing for Israel. This was the healing most critical for Israel. This was the healing which would be necessary 3313 years later when heresy would be rampant and when doubts would be raised. When self-proclaimed leaders under a banner of Orthodox Jewry would be permitting non-divorced women to re-marry and allow non-committed gentiles to call themselves Jews. When such Jews write as ‘words of Torah’ the crookedness of Yaakov or the haplessness of his sons. When at the Shabbos table is discussed the wantonness of King David. And in non-Orthodox circles… r’l.

Moshe knew crying out to Hashem wasn’t going to be enough. Entreating Hashem wasn’t going to help. He went out from the city, because, as Rashi says, the city was filled with non-Jewish practices. He spread out his hands, perhaps like he will spread out his hands against the battle of Amaliek, another battle against heresy and doubt. Vayifrosh- and he spread out = 596 = al Hashem v’al Mashicho- against Hashem and against His anointed one. And 596 = Jerusalem because over it will the battle be fought. Not who controls the Temple Mount but over what represents the Temple Mount.

If Barad portends to our time then Barad portends to the 5Oth level of impurity, which we are in. And if it does that then it, indeed, is just what Hashem said, “This time I shall send all My plagues against your heart.” This would explain why Rashi had indeed said “Makas Barad was equivalent to all the plagues.” But there is a bright side. There always is. G-d said Kol magaifosai- all My plagues. The Zohar said Egypt’s Magaifosai is Israel’s Refu’osai- all My healings. Refu’osai = 697 = Nun Sha’arei Bina- The 50th level of Understanding, the other end of the spectrum from the 5Oth level of impurity.

The Rabaynu Bechaya writes how Barad appears 14 times in our parsha. It appears three more times in the next. That’s….17. In the Gemorah Sanhedrin is a dispute whether to expound upon the first time a word appears in the text. It’s argued that the first time is the necessary, initial description and only the repetition of that word gets expounded. The other side says expound them all. The Gemorah then says maybe both sides really agree NOT to expound the first and the point of contention is something else. It seems, then, that the Gemorah leaves it as a rule not to expound on the first appearance. So of the 17 times Barad appears, only 16 are expounded. Barad = 206. Barad x 16 = 3296 = Dom, Tsfardaia, Kinim, Arove, Dever, Shechin, Barad, Arbeh, Choshech, Makas Bechoros. Again Rashi seems to have said it right when he said Makas Barad was equivalent to all the plagues.

We tied Barad into yirah and yirah into Shabbos. Just as Moshe prayed differently for Barad, so too do we pray differently for Shabbos. The Ramban says the Sin Offering is not offered on Shabbos because on Shabbos our sins get covered over with love. The Midrash on Parshas Va’eschanan lists the 10 expressions for prayer. The 7th is Kriyah- Calling. The Book of Viykra opens with “Vayikra el Moshe”- And He [Hashem] called to Moshe and we learn there that Kriyah is an expression of love.

After surviving Teves, a month of Din- Judgment, when the days are coldest and nights are longest, the love of Shabbos Parshas Va’ayrah and the Refu’osai of Makas Barad welcomes in the month of Shevat. Mid-Shevat is the new year for trees. Although the trees are stripped bare from the winter cold and seem lifeless, in truth, during this month of Shevat the sap begins to rise. The trees are far from dead. They are resurging with life. So too does the Jewish people, the shevatim- limbs of the tree of Yaakov seem to be at an irrecoupable low. Hanging on for dear life. But, in truth, we know there is already a  resurgence. As slow as rising sap, when compared to the gale winds of assimilation and intermarriage, the Ba’al Teshuva movement is bringing life back into the Jewish people.

Every Shalosh Seudos time, Shabbos seems to be waning and yet it is the pinnacle of Shabbos. In the face of its end is when it’s most alive. How much more so this first Shabbos in Shevat with Parshas Va’ayrah and Makas Barad on our side. The sap is rising. Tap into it. And may we merit a sweet and redemptive Shabbat Shalom.

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues