Parashas Vaeira

This week’s parashah describes the first seven of the ten plagues that Hashem cast upon Egypt because of Pharaoh’s refusal, in his wickedness, to let the Jewish People go. The episode of the ten plagues prompts the Midrash to comment on the role wicked people play on the world scene (Shemos Rabbah 7:4, paraphrased):
It is like a king who had an orchard, and planted there trees that do not bear fruit as well as those that do. His servants asked him: “What do you gain from these nonfruit trees?” The king replied: “Just as I need fruit trees, I need nonfruit trees, for, without them, where would I get wood for the fires in the furnaces and the bathhouses?” … Just as praise of Hashem goes forth from Gan Eden from the mouths of the righteous, so, too, it goes forth from Gehinnom from the mouths of the wicked, for they declare: “Rightly have You judged!”
The Maggid links this Midrash to Dovid HaMelech’s contrast between the righteous and the wicked in the first chapter of Tehillim: “He [the righteous man] will be like a tree planted by brooks of water, which yields its fruit in due season, and whose leaves never wither – and everything he does will succeed. Not so are the wicked; rather, they are like the chaff that the wind drives away. And so, therefore, the wicked will not stand up in judgment.” The Midrash comments (Yalkut Shimoni II:618):
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to the wicked: “I created the world with the word ‘so,’ as it is written, ‘and it was so.’ You say, ‘not so,’ as it is written, ‘it is not so with the heart of fools.’ (Mishlei 15:7). … Regarding when I said, ‘and it was so,’ you say, ‘not so.’ And regarding when I said, ‘not so,’ you say, ‘so.’ By your lives, not so! ‘And so, therefore, the wicked will not stand up in judgment.’”
The Maggid explains as follows. The righteous and the wicked each teach us a lesson, and both contribute to the manifestation of Hashem’s glory. The righteous teach us how to act: “so shall you do.” And the wicked teach us how not to act: “not so shall you do.” The righteous teach us their lesson through the splendid fruit of good deeds that they bear during their lives. The wicked, by contrast, teach us their lesson not through noble accomplishments, but rather through the retribution Hashem exacts from them. When the wicked prevent the righteous from serving Hashem and exploit them for their own gain, it is as if they are embezzling the tribute Hashem is due. But ultimately, when Hashem exacts retribution, He recoups this “loss.” The wicked are cut down and consumed in fire like the wood of nonfruit trees, or removed and cast to the wind like chaff. They then proclaim Hashem’s righteousness: “Rightly have You judged!”
Thus it was with Pharaoh. His initial stance was total denial of Hashem: “Who is Hashem, that I should heed His voice, and send the Jewish People out?” But, through the retribution Hashem exacted from Egypt, he was led to a stance of total submission to Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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