Parashas Bo

Parashas Bo begins with Hashem telling Moshe (Shemos 10:1-2):
Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, so that I can present these of Mine in his midst of them, and so that you may relate in the ears of your son, and of your son’s son, about the way I toyed with Egypt and about My signs which I have done among them – so that you may know that I am Hashem.
The Maggid sets out to elaborate on this statement. Moshe might think it was pointless for him to go to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Jews go, since Hashem told him in advance that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and he would refuse to comply. Hashem therefore explained the actual purpose behind the events He was orchestrating. His purpose in sending Moshe to Pharaoh was not to induce him to let the Jews go, and His purpose in sending the plagues was not to take revenge against Pharaoh for his disobedience. Rather, the purpose of the plagues was to instill the Jews with a recognition of His power and infuse their hearts with fear of Him, so that they would be prepared to receive the Torah.
In recounting the plagues, Moshe said (Devarim 6:22): “And Hashem cast signs and wonders, great and terrible, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon his entire house, before our eyes.” And elsewhere, speaking of the uniqueness of the Jewish People’s experience, Moshe said (ibid. 4:34): “Or has any god ever come miraculously to take for himself a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome acts, in the manner of all that Hashem your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” The phrase before our eyes in these two statements indicates that Hashem brought about all the awesome signs and wonders so that the Jews would behold them and understand clearly that Hashem is Master of the Universe – that the entire universe is His, and He rules over every element of it. This lesson was drilled into the Jews when they saw with their own eyes, time after time, how Hashem overrode the laws of nature with the plagues. Accordingly, Hashem began the Ten Commandments with the declaration (Shemos 20:2): “I am Hashem your God, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The wonders the Jews beheld in Egypt gave them knowledge of Hashem.
After relating the drowning of the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, the Torah reports (Shemos 14:31): “Yisrael 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.” This declaration is a summing-up of the onslaught against the Egyptians, just in the way that a merchant who has finished a business venture makes an accounting of his profits. The onslaught achieved its intended purpose – instilling fear of Hashem in the hearts of the Jewish People.
Based on the principle we just discussed, we can understand why Hashem gave Pharaoh a public warning before most of the plagues. The Maggid brings out the point with a parable. A man who committed some offense was tried before a judge. He realized that he was going to be convicted, and the judge would issue an order for some of his property to be confiscated. So he approached the judge secretly and said: “I’ll give you over in secret whatever you demand from me. But please don’t cause me public embarrassment by convicting me in court.” The judge replied: “Am I really interested in the property itself? The only reason I’m going to order that the property be confiscated is so that people will see and will be deterred from doing what you did. The more embarrassment you suffer, the stronger the deterrent effect will be.” The parallel is clear from what we discussed before.
The way we understand the reason behind the plagues makes a crucial difference. If the plagues were meant only to take revenge against Pharaoh, we would have no reason to remember the plagues and pass the story of the plagues down from generation to generation. Our redemption from Egypt and the revenge against Pharaoh would be over and done, and there would be no need to remember these events. But since, as we explained, the true purpose of the plagues was to instill within us faith in Hashem and fear of Hashem, we can see that recounting the story yields great benefit. As a person contemplates the miracles carefully, his faith in Hashem and fear of Hashem will be strengthened. Accordingly, the Torah mentions the Exodus from Egypt innumerable times, for every time we review the events their message is more deeply instilled within us.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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