Imrei Shefer - Parshas Va’eira

How were Klal Yisrael more beloved to Hashem than the forefathers?

(6,2) “And I appeared to Avrohom, to Yitzchok, and to Ya’akov with the name G-d Almighty, but My name Hashem (My four-letter name) I did not make known to them…And also I heard the moans of the children of Yisrael whom the Egyptians are keeping in bondage.”

Chazal teach that when Yisrael suffers, Hashem suffers together with them.

Now, the name G-d Almighty signifies the attribute of justice, as is implied by the Midrash on our posuk which teaches that Hashem said: It is a shame about those we have lost and who can no longer be found. Many times I revealed Myself to Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya’akov with the name G-d Almighty, and they never questioned My actions. The Midrash implies that they received what they deserved, measure for measure, and so never questioned Hashem's actions, and thus implies that the name G-d Almighty signifies the attribute of justice.

With this we can explain that Hashem wanted to demonstrate here how Klal Yisrael were more beloved to Him than the forefathers, saying: “I appeared to Avrohom, to Yitzchok, and to Ya’akov with the name Almighty G-d” - with the attribute of justice and many troubles happened to them, and nevertheless, “my name Hashem I did not make known to them”to be with them in their troubles.

But with Yisrael it says “I heard (שמעתי) the moans of the children of Yisrael, whom the Egyptians are keeping in bondage”. Now, the word שמע can also mean feeling or understanding, and this must be the meaning here since the expression ‘hearing’ is not really relevant to Hashem since He already knows everything. Thus the meaning of this posuk is that, unlike with the forefathers, Hashem felt and understood the moans of the children of Yisrael by joining them in their distress. Chazal also taught that the reason why Moshe Rabbeinu saw the Shechinah in the burning bush was because of the posuk “with him I am in distress”.

In connection with topic the sefer HaNosein Imrei Shefer by the Ra’anach (Rabbeinu Eliyohu ben Chaim) on this parsha brings the gemora in Taanis 16a which writes that there is a dispute concerning why we place ashes on the Holy Ark after it is brought out to the street on certain fast days: R. Yehudah ben Pazi taught that it is as if to say “in all their troubles there is to Him distress” (Yeshayohu 63:9), and Reish Lakish taught that it is as if to say “with him I am in distress” (Tehillim 91:15). He asks that since these posukim seem to be nearly identical, what is their disagreement about? See there for his answer.

But it seems to me that whenever the expression ‘with him’ is used, it implies that the one who is 'him' initiated the matter, and the other one followed afterwards. Hence we can explain that the one who quoted the posuk “in all their troubles there is to Him distress”, holds that when Yisrael has to go into exile, G-d forbid, the Shechinah (Divine presence) precedes them and He accepts upon Himself the suffering first, and thus he brings the posuk in Yeshayohu which means “in all their troubles, there is to Him distress” already. But the other opinion holds the opposite, that only after Yisrael are already in distress does the Shechinah join them, and thus he brings the posuk in Tehillim “with him I am in distress”, meaning that they started, and I am with them.

And maybe the two opinions in the gemora Taanis represent the difference between before and after the giving of the Torah. Before the giving of the Torah, Yisrael first went into exile and then Hashem joined them in their distress. But after the giving of the Torah, the Shechinah preceded Yisrael into exile.

And therefore this is what the prophet was saying in Yeshayohu 52:4 “My people first went down to Egypt to dwell there, but Assyria oppressed them for nothing. And now, why am I here, says Hashem, for my people have been taken for nothing” - "My people first went down to Egypt", and I went afterwards. Therefore they went “to dwell there”, meaning that the Egyptians had a tight hold on them, because at the time that they went down there they were liable to go into exile and they had not yet been released from their punishment.

But in Assyria, Hashem went down first into exile. And since by the Shechinah going into exile Klal Yisrael were absolved from their sins, there was no need for them to go into exile, and thus Assyria oppressed Yisrael for nothing. Thus the posuk concludes: “and now, why am I here, says Hashem” - if "my people were taken for nothing" and thus My going into exile which I did for their sake did not help, what am I doing in exile?

Explaining the four expressions of redemption.

(6,6) “Therefore, say to the children of Yisrael: I am Hashem and I will take you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will save you from their labour, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements. And I will take you to Me as a people…”

We need to understand the various repetitions in this posuk - take you out, save you, redeem you. It seems to me that we can explain them according to that which is written in the sefer Maaseh Hashem on the Haggadah - "we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem took us out, and if Hashem had not taken out our forefathers…we would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt". He explained that Hashem could certainly have taken us out of Egypt without a strong hand, by instead inspiring Pharaoh to send us out through his own good will. But had that happened, then we would at the very least been beholden to Pharaoh, to be indebted to him for having sent us out to freedom, just like anyone becomes indebted to one who does him a favor.

However, this requires further explanation, because Hashem does not make miracles more than is absolutely necessary, so why should it matter if Hashem would inspire Pharaoh to send us away and thereby not need to make more miracles, and we would indeed be indebted to Pharaoh - what of it. But we find that the Torah tells us that a Jewish slave is forbidden to sell himself into servitude for more than six years, and Chazal explained that the reason is because Hashem said “they are my servants”, and not servants to servants - since we are servants of Hashem, it is not fitting that we should servants to others. So too here, if Pharaoh had sent us away through his own good will, we would have enslaved at least to the extent that we would have been indebted to him, and would have been required to serve him at some time in return for what he did for us, and in truth it is not fitting that we should still be enslaved to anyone, if we are servants of Hashem.

This would appear to be the explanation of the posuk 3:12 when Hashem said to Moshe at the burning bush, “and this is the sign for you that it was I that sent you - when you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship G-d on this mountain”. The logic of this posuk is very hard to understand - how would this be a sign that Hashem sent him. But according to the above it is clear - this will be a sign that Hashem is sending Moshe to bring out the children of Yisrael, and is not doing the alternative, which is to inspire Pharaoh to send them away through his own good will. And logically it must be because Yisrael is going to receive the Torah and serve Hashem, and it is not fitting that they should also be serving Pharaoh. Therefore, it is a good sign.

Now we can explain the repetitions in our posuk. The word ‘sevel’ (burden) means hard labour, day and night, as it says in Tehillim 81:7 “I removed his shoulder from burdens”, but ‘avodah’ (labour) can even mean work which is done only once. This is the explanation of the posuk - “and I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt”, and don’t think that the going out will be by inspiring Pharaoh to send you out, and consequently you will, at the very least, be obligated to serve him at some time, even if only once, rather “I will save you from their labour” - the word ‘hitzalti’ means that he will separate them completely, like in Bereishis 31:9 “And G-d separated (vayotzel) your father’s livestock”. Here too, the explanation is that I will separate you completely from their service, and that is, I will not place in the heart of Pharaoh to send you away through his own free will, rather “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm”. And don’t say why does Hashem care about this, and why do we need all these miracles for nothing. For this it says “and I will take you to Me as a people”, and therefore it is not fitting that you serve also others. Therefore, I am forced to redeem you with an outstretched arm.

What did Hashem command Moshe and Aaron concerning Pharaoh?

(6,13) “And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, and He commanded them concerning the children of Yisrael and concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to let the children of Yisrael out of Egypt.”

R. Levi says in the Midrash on our posuk: Just as the praise of Hashem rises up from the tzaddikim, so too it rises up from the wicked. At first glance this Midrash is hard to understand - how is this learned from “and He commanded them…concerning Pharaoh”?

But we see that later on Hashem said to Pharaoh through Moshe: (9:15) “For if now I had stretched forth My hand, and smitten you and your people with pestilence, you would have been annihilated from the earth. But for this reason I have allowed you to stand…in order to tell about My name all over the earth”. From this we see that Hashem only left Pharaoh alive in order that he could tell to the world about His name.

Now, Moshe and Aaron certainly had the ability to punish Pharaoh with their mouths, just like we find that Moshe killed the Egyptian, of his own accord, with his mouth, using the ineffable name of G-d. So too, Moshe and Aaron could have killed Pharaoh if he started up against them, as he did later, like it says “and he drove them away from before Pharaoh”, and like it says “you shall no longer see my face”. But Hashem commanded them “concerning Pharaoh, the king of Egypt” - He commanded that they should be very careful not to kill him, rather they should guard his life. And why did Hashem command this? This is what R. Levi came to explain, that just as praise of Hashem rises up from the tzaddikim, so to it rises up from the wicked. (It is important that the wicked should also praise Hashem) Therefore He commanded Moshe to guard Pharaoh, as Hashem said explicitly afterwards, “But for this reason I have allowed you to stand…and in order to tell about My name all over the earth”, and thus sanctify Hashem’s name.

Did Hashem Himself actually harden Pharaoh’s heart?

(7,1) “And Hashem said to Moshe: See, I have made you a judge and a chastiser to Pharaoh, and Aharon, your brother, shall be your speaker.”

The Midrash teaches that Moshe said to Hashem: How will I bring upon him ten plagues. Hashem replied: Take this staff in your hand. Said R. Yehudah: The ten plagues were engraved on the staff by their initial letters דצ"ך עד"ש באח"ב. Hashem said to him: With this strategy bring upon him the ten plagues.

The meaning of this Midrash not clear, in particular, how could Moshe be questioning how Hashem was going to bring upon Pharaoh ten plagues? And what is the meaning of Hashem’s response ‘with this strategy bring upon him the ten plagues’?

But the Midrash can be understood very well according to the way the sefer Ma'asei Hashem explained what is meant when the Torah writes that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he continued to refuse to send out the children of Yisrael even after suffering one plague after another. He explained that the Torah means that Hashem caused Pharaoh to harden his heart himself by varying the proximity of the plagues to Pharaoh, sometimes bringing a plague far from his body and sometimes close to his body.

That is, the first plague of blood affected the river, far from the Egyptians, causing Pharaoh to think that Hashem did not have the ability to harm them physically. The second plague of frogs was closer, even entering their houses, but Pharaoh was still not bothered by this. But the third plague of lice was actually on their bodies, and he now started to be a little bit afraid.

However, when the fourth plague of noxious beasts came along which was further from their bodies than the lice, he again hardened his heart, thinking that Hashem's could not harm a person's body. And although the fifth plague of pestilence actually caused the death of the animals, Pharaoh still thought that Hashem was not able to harm people. But when the sixth plague of boils actually attacked their bodies, Pharaoh started to be even more afraid than after the plague of lice. But he still thought that Hashem was unable to kill them, because if He could he would have done so already, since any King of flesh and blood would have immediately killed anyone who refused to obey him.

The eighth plague of hail was again far from their bodies, strengthening Pharaoh's belief that Hashem was not able to kill them. Then came along the plague of locusts which was closer than the plague of hail, because the hail affected the plants of the field, whereas the locusts completely covered the land and darkened the sky. Then came the plague of darkness which was much closer to their bodies, causing them to not be able to move. Until finally came the last plague of the smiting of the firstborn, making them think that all of them were going to die.

And this is the reason why R. Yehudah divided the ten plagues into three groups, because each group followed this same order - first far from their bodies, then closer, then closer still.

According to this we can explain that Moshe was asking how it was possible to bring upon Pharaoh ten plagues - is he such an idiot that he would allow ten plagues to be brought against him? Without a doubt, as soon as one or two plagues are brought he will immediately repent and send them out! And Moshe refused to consider that Hashem would harden Pharaoh's heart, because he could not accept that Hashem would do such a thing. Hashem responded that he should take the staff that is in his hand, and according to the order engraved upon it he should bring the plagues. Then Pharaoh himself will err and harden his heart himself, and thus he will be able to bring all the ten plagues.

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