Parashas Vaeira

This week’s parashah presents the first seven of the ten plagues that Hashem brought upon Egypt. In telling Moshe to warn Pharaoh about the initial plague of blood, Hashem said (Shemos 7:14-18):
Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning … and say to him: “Hashem, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness,’ and, behold, you have not listened up to now (ad coh). Thus (coh) says Hashem: ‘Through this you shall know that I am Hashem – behold, with the staff that is in my hand I shall strike the waters that are in the river, and they shall turn into blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, and the river shall become foul, and the Egyptians shall be repelled from drinking water from the river.’”
Commenting on this passage, the Maggid analyzes the difference between the expression “Thus says Hashem” that appears here and the expression “This is the word that Hashem commanded” that appears in Bamidbar 30:2. The Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, Sec. 784 notes that other prophets, just like Moshe, conveyed prophecies using the expression “Thus says Hashem,” but only Moshe conveyed prophecies using the expression “This is the word that Hashem commanded.” Both expressions serve to introduce a directive to perform or refrain from some action. The Maggid explains the difference between the two expressions as follows. The expression “Thus says Hashem” prefaces a substantive description of the nature and consequences of the action in question. By way of analogy, suppose Reuven wants to get Shimon to do something, but Shimon has no obligation to comply with what Reuven says. Shimon will first insist on knowing what the action entails, and Reuven will tell him: “Thus-and-so.” The expression “This is the word,” on the other hand, characterizes the directive as a order which must be obeyed no matter what it entails.
The fact that Moshe alone used the expression “This is the word,” whereas all other prophets used only the expression “Thus says Hashem,” reflects Moshe’s unique status as the premier prophet. Through the revelation at Sinai, Moshe was authenticated among the Jewish People as a consummately trustworthy agent of communication from Hashem to them – an agent whose reliability is beyond all doubt. Hence, whenever Moshe told the people what Hashem had said to him, the people accepted the message unquestioningly. Moshe could say “This is the word that Hashem commanded,” and the people would be prepared to accept the command without any analysis of its content. The messages of other prophets were not accorded this blanket acceptance; rather, the people first examined whether the message comported with the Torah tradition handed down from Sinai, and if they identified any conflict, they would reject the message. The person who related the message would be declared a false prophet, and would be put to death as the Torah prescribes (Devarim 13:2-6). Accordingly, all other prophets aside from Moshe introduced their prophecies with the expression “Thus says Hashem,” an expression that puts emphasis on the content of the message, because the people had to analyze the content to determine whether the message was reliable.
With this background, the Maggid turns to the statement Hashem told Moshe to make to Pharaoh. The statement begins: “Hashem, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.’” The fact that Hashem, the Master of the Universe, had issued this order should have been enough for Pharaoh to comply with fearful alacrity. But Pharaoh refused, saying (Shemos 5:2): “Who is Hashem, that I should heed His voice to send out Yisrael? I do not know Hashem, and I will not send Yisrael out!” Pharaoh’s words suggested that once he came to “know” Hashem and was firmly convinced of His existence, He would obey Hashem’s orders. In response, Hashem told Moshe to show Pharaoh a miracle – converting his staff to a snake and then converting it back again. Hashem’s intent was that these supernatural effects would make Pharaoh convinced of His existence and thus prepared to accept His orders regardless of their content. But, even after being shown the miracle, Pharaoh maintained a hard heart and refused to listen to what Moshe and Aharon told him in Hashem’s Name. From that point on, it became necessary to spell out to Pharaoh the consequences he would suffer if he failed to obey Hashem’s command to release the Jewish People – he had to be warned of the fearsome plagues Hashem would cast upon him for his disobedience. A simple statement that Hashem had ordered him to do something was not enough.
Accordingly, the quote from Hashem continues: “Behold, you have not listened “ad coh.” Hashem was saying: “I see that you will not listen until you receive a message of the type prefaced by coh – a substantive description of the consequences of refusing to comply.” And Hashem told Moshe to follow up with a detailed message of precisely this form: “Thus (coh) says Hashem: ‘Through this you shall know that I am Hashem – behold, with the staff that is in my hand I shall strike the waters that are in the river, and they shall turn into blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, and the river shall become foul, and the Egyptians shall be repelled from drinking water from the river.’”
In his Yerios HaOhel footnote on the Maggid’s commentary here, Rav Flamm expands on the concept of accepting Hashem’s decree for the simple reason that Hashem decreed it. He notes that the Jewish People’s pledge at Sinai – “we will do and we will listen” – was along these lines: When presented with the Torah, they were prepared to comply first and receive explanations later. Rav Flamm also calls attention to the Midrashic teaching (Bereishis Rabbah 39:9) that when Hashem gives a righteous person a mission, He initially conceals the details of what the mission entails and only afterward discloses them. A righteous person is prepared to accept Hashem’s decrees without knowing in advance exactly what they entail. Similarly, in one of the discussions between Moshe and Pharaoh about the Jewish People’s journey to the wilderness to serve Hashem, Moshe said (Shemos 10:26): “We will not know in what way we will serve Hashem until we arrive there.” An essential element of the Jewish People’s mode of serving Hashem is not knowing exactly what they will be called upon to do until the time comes for them to do it.
As we go through life, we face situations that may lead us to wonder: “What exactly is it that Hashem is asking from me now?” (I personally have found myself thinking this way many times ….) We must strive to press ahead with the missions Hashem gives us, even when we do not know exactly where they will lead to, and maintain faith in Hashem’s plans.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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