by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
This week, the straw finally comes that breaks Pharaoh - he releases the
children of Israel from Egypt, so that they can go out to worship G-d. As
we all know, this came only after 10 terrible plagues were released upon his
entire country... and the 10th is described by Moshe in an unusual way.
In Shemos [Exodus] 11:4 Moshe tells Pharaoh, "So says G-d: at just about
midnight, I will go though Egypt...and every firstborn will die..." At
"just about" midnight - KAchatzos Halailah? We see later (12:29) that G-d
actually went out BAchatzi Halailah, at precisely midnight - and isn't it
obvious that G-d is more accurate than Timex? Why would He not specify the
In the Talmud (Brachos 4a), the Rabbis explain that G-d did indeed say that
the plague would come at midnight, and Moshe was responsible for the change
- for fear that Pharaoh's advisors would err in their calculation. Were they
to make a mistake, thought Moshe, they would conclude that he was a liar.
Now think about this for a moment - is that not hard to believe? Moshe says
that ten plagues are coming (one at a time, specifying each one), and lo and
behold each one comes - very unnatural disasters - all of which indicates
that Moshe knows what he's talking about. So we come to the last one, the
Grand Finale, the Plague to beat all Plagues... and according to the
advisors' miscalculation it comes at 12:00:30. And Moshe is a liar?
That is exactly what our Parsha says. When we are in the middle of an
argument, we can easily reach the point that no new evidence can change our
minds. It's a part of human nature that is difficult to fight, even when
reality is literally staring us in the face - just like Pharaoh's advisors.
Moshe felt that they were liable to overlook the obvious conclusion - that
they miscalculated - in favor of the comfortable one - Moshe was lying, and
G-d has no control after all.
The proof comes later in the Parsha, when the plague of the firstborn
actually takes place. In 12:29-30, we read that G-d went through Egypt at
midnight, "and Pharaoh arose that night..." - and Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki
explains that Pharaoh "arose" from his bed. It's the same thing all over
again - after 9 plagues were accurately described, Moshe announces that the
10th will involve the death of every firstborn - including Pharaoh's own
son. So does Pharaoh release Israel? No - he goes to sleep!
Not only does Pharaoh refuse to accept reality... he's not even worried
about it. It is our duty, often, to avoid the same trap. Perhaps if we step
back and look at a situation objectively, we will realize that we are making
a mistake. And we might even see this before it's too late.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.