Parashas Bo

In this week’s parashah we read about the last three plagues and the Jewish People’s release from Egypt. In regard to the final plague, the smiting of the firstborn, Moshe announces (Shemos 11:4-5): “Thus says Hashem, ‘About midnight I shall go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die ….’” Later, Moshe announces to the Jewish People in Hashem’s Name (Shemos 12:12): “And I shall pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I shall smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from man to beast, and upon all the gods of Egypt I shall execute judgments, I am Hashem.” The Pesach Haggadah, in a famous passage, elaborates:
And I shall pass through the land of Egypt on that night – I, and not an angel. And I shall smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt – I, and not a seraph. And upon all the gods of Egypt I shall execute judgments – I, and not an agent. I am Hashem – I am the one, and no other.
The Haggadah is stressing that the plague of the firstborn came about through direct action by Hashem. The Maggid notes that this step on Hashem’s part is unusual, for He does not ordinarily bring about calamity by direct action. We are thus faced with a question: Why was the plague of the firstborn different?
The Maggid answers as follows. Fundamentally, Hashem is the sole ruler of the world; there is no rulership aside from His. As Hashem declares (Yeshayah 45:6): “From the place of the sun’s rising to the place of its setting, there is none beside Me; I am Hashem, and there is none else.” The very existence of the world, our Sages teach, is the result of Hashem’s diminishing His presence to make room for it. In particular, any eminence or ascendancy that any man possesses is merely an allocation from Hashem of a portion of His own eminence toward the end of maintaining the world’s existence. As David HaMelech declares (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:14): “For who am I, and what is my people, that we should muster the wherewithal to donate in this manner? For everything is from You, and from Your hand we have given to You.” This idea is reflected in blessing recited upon seeing a Jewish king (Berachos 58a, Siddur): “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has granted a share of His honor to those who fear Him.”
Similarly, the eminence of the firstborn derives from Hashem’s eminence. Now, when any entity comes into the vicinity of its source, it is naturally drawn toward the source. For example, when a small flame is brought near a large fire, it automatically dies out, for the large fire absorbs into itself the energy of the small flame. In precisely the same way, when Hashem passed through Egypt and displayed His great glory, the firstborn automatically died out on the spot—their glory was instantly absorbed by Hashem’s glory. This is what the Haggadah is saying: It was because Hashem Himself passed through Egypt, and not an angel, a seraph, or some other agent, that the firstborn perished in this miraculous way.
We now have an answer to the question we raised above. It was not any action, per se, on Hashem’s part that caused the firstborn to die. Rather, the revelation of Hashem’s presence in itself, without any further action, is what caused their death. The firstborn were specifically the ones who perished, because their eminence was built into them from birth. Pharaoh’s ministers did not perish, for their eminence was acquired. Regarding them, Moshe told Pharaoh (Shemos 11:8): “And all these servants of yours will come down to me and bow down to me.” Although the revelation of Hashem’s presence did not cause the ministers to die, it did cause them to lose their eminence and bow down to Moshe along with the commoners. Overall, the revelation of Hashem’s presence caused all eminence among the Egyptians to evaporate.
A similar phenomenon will take place, on a much larger scale, in the end of days. Hashem will display His glory openly before the eyes of all men, and His sovereignty and dominion will prevail throughout the entire world. Men will see the truth of Hashem’s declaration that “there is none beside Me.” In this vein, Zechariah exhorts (verse 2:17): “Be silent, all flesh, before Hashem, for He is stirring from His holy abode.” Hashem will stir Himself to establish His sovereignty and dominion, and then all mortal rulers will be deposed from their high positions. Hashem alone will rule, in heaven and on earth. Hashem will be one, and His Name will be one.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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