Rabbi Label Lam
And HASHEM brought us out from Egypt- not through an angel and not through
a seraph and not through a messenger, but it was The Holy One Blessed Be
He, Himself in all His glory, as it says, (Shemos 12:12) "And I will pass
through the land of Egypt on this night and I will smite every first born
in the land of Egypt, from man to beast, and against all the gods of Egypt
I will execute judgment, I, HASHEM!" (Pesach Haggadah)
We don't have to wait till Seder Night to ask the question of the
Maharal, "Why is this plague different from all the other plagues?" In all
the other plagues there was also a clear differentiation of impact between
the Jewish People and the Egyptians. So why is this one singled out as the
defining moment of the exodus? Is it only because it was the final blow to
Pharaoh's empire? Why was there so much extra preparation required prior
to executing this 10th plague? Each household had to bring a sheep and
slaughter it according to specification and the entire memory of the day
centers forever upon this activity! Why?
For some non-mystical reason, about 80% of the entering freshman class had
their sights on medical school when I arrived on campus so many decades
ago. I was not part of that pack but it seemed everyone around me was.
Obviously not all were going to make it so they had these impossibly hard
and competitive pre-med bio-chem classes to weed out the weak willed and
under-qualified. People stayed up nights at a time and one by one, dreams
were dashed as grades were posted.
Everyone was graded "on a curve". If everyone did poorly then even a low
grade could still earn an "A". Nobody despaired when tests were handed back
because as long as others had failed as miserably, they might still salvage
a high mark. After a particularly tough test everyone looked madly to see
where in the curve they lie. The great upset was when some genius of a
fellow actually scored "99". Now everyone else's "40" automatically spelled
failure and many a tense and teary phone call was made to disappointed
At the risk of oversimplifying, the Maharal explains that the Jewish
People, who had remained distinct in Egypt, were spared from the fury of
the first nine plagues on a relative scale. The Jew who had retained even a
part of his heritage stood out amongst the decrepit culture around him.
Therefore the Jewish People dodged the waves of misfortune that fell upon
The 10th plague, however, was different. This one was to be delivered by
HASHEM and no other agency. To survive it wasn't enough to be a little
better than the low society about them. It became necessary not just to
abandon everything Egyptian but to adopt everything HASHEM. The crucial
test was to determine a willingness to approach the light of The Infinite
and to bear forever the standard of The Absolute.
Rabbi Yaakov Emden noted almost three hundred years ago: "Many have tried
to injure us or wipe us out. While all the great ancient civilizations have
disappeared and been forgotten-The Nation of Israel who clings to HASHEM is
alive today! What will the wise historian answer when he examines this
phenomenon without prejudice? Was this all purely by chance? By my soul,
when I contemplated these great wonders of our continued existence, they
took on greater significance than all the miracles and wonders that HASHEM,
Blessed Be He, performed for our fathers in Egypt, in the desert, and when
they entered the Land of Israel. And the longer this exile extends, the
miracle of Jewish existence becomes more obvious to make known G-d's
mastery and supervision over nature and history.
The operative words in his compelling observation and the enduring lesson
of that final night in exile are in the haunting phrase, "The Nation of
Israel who clings to HASHEM is alive today!"
Text Copyright © 2004 Rabbi Label Lam and