Chanukas Hatorah - Parshas Bo

Why did Hashem bring upon the Egyptians the plague of darkness?

(10,21) “And Hashem said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand towards the heavens, and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt.”

It says in the Midrash that Hashem said to the angels that it was fitting to smite the Egyptians with the plague of darkness, and the angels agreed with Him. And why did He bring upon them the plague of darkness? For two reasons: so that Yisrael could search for the Egyptians’ hidden valuables, and so that the Egyptians would not see Yisrael burying the wicked ones of Yisrael who died at that time. The obvious difficulty with this Midrash is why it asked the reason for bringing the plague of darkness only after it mentioned that Hashem had spoken to the angels about it, rather than ask this question at the very beginning.

But we can explain it according to the halachah that if all the judges declare the defendant to be guilty, he is exempt from punishment. But the poskim write that this is only if all of them do so for the same reason. However, if they give different reasons for their decision, then it is considered as if the majority are declaring him guilty, and therefore he is guilty.

Now we understand the words of the Midrash. Since in the beginning it says that everyone agreed that they should be smitten with darkness, the Midrash asked: Why did He bring upon them darkness? Surely the law says that they are exempt since all of them declared them guilty? To this it answers that they did not all agree for the same reason, and therefore they were guilty.

Why did Yisrael deserve to be paid their wages even though they left in the middle of their years of servitude?

(11,1) “…when he sends you out, he will completely drive you out from here. Please speak into the ears of the people, and let them borrow each man from his neighbour and each women from her neighbour, silver vessels and golden vessels.”

What is the connection between the fact that he will drive them out completely and the command to borrow the silver and gold?

But behold, the law is that if a worker stops working in the middle of a job, he has the lower hand with regard to his wages, but if it is the employer who decides that the worker should not continue in the middle of a job, then he has the lower hand. And it says in the gemora that when the Egyptians claimed before Alexander Macedon that Yisrael should return to them the spoils that they took from them, Yisrael replied that they should pay them the wages of the 600,000 that they had enslaved, and the Egyptians fled.

Now, if Hashem had wanted, He could have forced Pharaoh to send out Yisrael even against his will. However, if they went out against his will, since they had only completed 190 years of their 400 years of servitude, they would be leaving in the middle of their work, and so they would not deserve the Egyptians' property by law. But now that Pharaoh drove them out of his land, and so it is the employer who is backing out in the middle, he has the lower hand, and therefore they deserve the property by law. Now the connection between the two posukim is clear.

Did Moshe Rabbeinu know the exact moment of midnight?

(11,4) “And Moshe said: Thus said Hashem "At about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt".”

It is brought in the gemora Berachos 3b, that Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim 119:62 “At midnight I will arise to give thanks to You”. The gemora asks: Did Dovid know when midnight was? If Moshe Rabbeinu was not sure when midnight was, how could Dovid know? Because Moshe said “at about midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt”. Why does it say “at about midnight”? If we say that Hashem said to him "at about midnight" - could it be that Hashem is uncertain?! Rather, Hashem said to Moshe "at midnight", but Moshe said "at about midnight". So we see that he did not know.

The question is asked why the gemora wrote these extra words “if we say that Hashem said to him at about midnight - could it be that Hashem is uncertain”? It should simply have said that behold we see that Moshe Rabbeinu said “at about midnight”, so we see that he did not know.

But we can answer that when a person says that he is going to do something at about midnight, he could mean one of two things. Either he does not know the exact moment of midnight and so he says vaguely at about midnight, or really he does know when midnight is, but he has not yet decided when he will do this, maybe a little before or a little after midnight, and therefore he says at about midnight.

Now, if we say like the second explanation, then the gemora would have had no question. Therefore, the gemora first had to demonstrate that this was not the case here, by asking “if we say that Hashem said to him "at about midnight" - because He had not decided yet when to do it - could it be that Hashem is uncertain?!” That is, if a person is speaking to his friend it might be appropriate to say that he has not yet decided on the time, but Hashem already knows when He will go out in Egypt, so why did He not specify the time? Rather ,Hashem said to him "at midnight", but Moshe came and said "at about midnight", so we see that he did not know.

How many years were Yisrael in Egypt?

(12,40) “And the dwelling of the children of Yisrael, which they dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.”

But in fact, from the time of their coming to Egypt until they went out, was only two hundred and ten years, and so one hundred and ninety years were missing from the four hundred years that had originally been decreed. The Midrash teaches that the nights completed the missing number of years, and we can find an allusion to this in this posuk in Iyov 28:3 “An end (קץ - which has a gematria of 190) he put to the darkness (the nights)”.

How did the Midrash know that the night when Yisrael went out of Egypyt was as bright as day?

(12,42) “It is a night of watching for Hashem.”

The Zohar on this posuk teaches that from here we learn that for them that night was as bright as a day in the middle of the summer. This is astonishing - how is this alluded to in this posuk?

But the Midrash teaches on the posuk in Bereishis 1:4 “and G-d called the light day, and the darkness He called night” - why is the name of G-d written in connection with the day, but with the night it writes only “and the darkness He called night”, and does not write the name of G-d? Because the night is bad, and it is a time of judgements. Therefore, the name of G-d is not written in connection with it, because Hashem does not associate His name with evil.

With this we can understand the Midrash that we started with, because here it says “it is a night of watching for Hashem”, which is a problem, because Hashem does not associate His name with the night. Therefore, the Zohar answers that for them that night was as bright as day, and therefore the name of Hashem was written in connection with it.

Another reason why that night needed to be as bright as day was because Pharaoh owned Yisrael, and now, when they were leaving Egypt, he had to free them and transfer ownership to Hashem. This requires an act of acquisition, and we hold that this cannot be done at night. Therefore, that night had to be as bright as day, since the poskim teach that even at night one can make an acquisition if one lights candles so that it is like day.

How can the gemora in Pesachim 21b challenge R. Abahu from a posuk which may be talking about an animal which is still twitching after being slaughtered

(13,3) “…no leavened bread shall be eaten.”

In the gemora Pesachim 21b, R. Abahu said that whenever it says in the Torah "it shall not be eaten", it implies that it is both forbidden to eat and to have benefit from. The gemora asks: But what about a limb from a live animal, where it says “the soul shall not be eaten with the meat”, and yet it was taught in a Baraisa that R. Noson said: From where do we know that one should not give a limb from a live animal to a non-Jew (who are also forbidden to eat a limb from a live animal)? From the posuk “do not put a stumbling block before the blind”. This implies that it is forbidden to benefit from it by giving it to a non-Jew because it would cause him to sin, but it would be permitted to benefit from it by giving it to a dog.

However, this gemora is difficult, because perhaps the posuk that the gemora is asking its question from is talking about an animal which, although it has been slaughtered, is still moving its limbs, and such an animal is permitted for Jews but forbidden for non-Jews. The reason for the difference is because for a Jew everything depends on the slaughtering, and behold, it is slaughtered. But for a non-Jew everything depends on its having life, and behold, it is still alive.

Therefore, it would be forbidden for a Jew to give a limb from such an animal to a non-Jew because it is a limb from live animal, but certainly the Jew himself could benefit from it. The matter requires investigation.

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