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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 exact time?

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.


 

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