The Purpose of the Onslaught Against Egypt, Part 2

In the preceding post, I presented the Maggid’s explanation that the main purpose of Hashem’s onslaught against the Egyptians was not to punish them, but rather to instill fear of Hashem in the hearts of the Jewish People. We were left with a question: Why did Hashem use the Egyptians as a tool for this purpose? I will now present the Maggid’s answer to this question.
The Maggid brings out the idea with a parable. A widower hired a woman to nurse his infant child. The baby got sick, and a doctor was called in. The doctor prescribed certain medications for the wet-nurse to take, so that when the baby nursed he would take in the medications and be cured. The wet-nurse asked: “Why do I have to take medications to cure this baby?” The doctor answered: “The main cause of illness is bad food. Now this child did not ingest anything except your milk. How, then, did he get sick? It must be that you ate bad foods, and these bad foods harmed the baby. It thus makes perfect sense that, just as you caused the baby to get sick by eating bad foods, you should now cause the baby to get well by taking the medications that will heal him.
It is the same, the Maggid says, with Pharaoh and the Jewish People. Hashem sent the Jewish People into Egypt in order that they become purified and acquire a firm awareness of Him. And indeed, the process initially had the intended effect. Thus, when Moshe first approached the Jewish People and told them that Hashem was going to take them out, the Torah testifies (Shemos 4:31): “The people believed, and they heard that Hashem had remembered the Children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.”
Then Moshe went to Pharaoh and told him, in Hashem’s name, to let the people go out. Pharaoh became furious and made the people’s servitude harder, as the Torah records. In so doing, he diminished the people’s level of faith. Thus, when the people met Moshe and Aharon again, they declared (Shemos 5:21): “May Hashem look upon you and judge, for you have put us in bad odor in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants, placing a sword in their hands to kill us.” And, as the Torah reports (Shemos 6:9), the people no longer listened to Moshe.
Shemos Rabbah 23:2 recounts the sequence of events. Initially, the Jewish People believed. Later, they stopped believing. Then, when they saw the miraculous downfall of the Egyptians at the Yam Suf, their faith returned reports (Shemos 14:31): “Israel saw the great hand that Hashem had inflicted upon Egypt, and the people feared Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe.”
The Egyptians had to absorb Divine blows in order to bring the Jewish People a spiritual cure, and bring them back to their original level of faith. The Egyptians deserved be used as Hashem’s instrument in this process, because they were the ones who caused the people’s fall in faith.
Thus, it is written (Nechemiah 9:10, a verse we recite daily in Pesukei D’Zimrah): “You cast signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and all his servants, and all the people of his land, for You knew that they did wickedly (heizidu) against them [the Jewish People],” The Maggid points out that the verb heizidu is not in the usual pa’al form of a simple active verb (the pa’al form is zadu), but rather in the causative hif’il form. This, says the Maggid, is a hint that Egyptians caused the Jewish People to become wicked – and hence Hashem used the Egyptians as the instrument to undo this damage and restore the Jewish People’s righteousness and faith.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.