Moses said, "So said the Lord, At about midnight [kachatzos halayla], I will go out into the midst of Egypt.
Rashi (among many others) wonders why Moshe uses the ka and not the ba prefix; the former is approximate time while the latter connotes precision; certainly in God’s world – everything runs on time. Rashi presents two approaches. First his p’shat approach:
At the dividing point of the night: כַּחִצֹת הַלַיְלָה, means when the night is divided. כַּחִצֹת is like “when the meal offering was offered up This is its simple meaning, … context that חִצֹת is not a noun denoting a half.
In other words, the prefix ka implies approximation [or similarity] only when it precedes a noun. Consider:
Kadevarim haeileh asah li avdecha – like these things did your servant do [Mrs. Potiphar complains about Yosef]
In a verb context however, the word ka implies when or at honing in on the moment of action. Consider:
Keshalcho kalah – Hashem said to Moshe, "I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh … When he sends you out, he will completely drive you out of here.
In his p’shat approach, Rashi teaches that chatzos is a verb, i.e. Moshe is saying that precisely at  the breaking of the night into two, at that transitional moment - shall the first-born plague come. We must certainly wonder the significance on the midnight breaking point!
Rashi and the midrash are unsatisfied with this approach as a standalone – for the word chatzos usually implies midnight (the noun). Rashi therefore also cites the midrashic approach:
Our Rabbis, however, interpreted it like כַּחִצִי הַלַיְלָה, at about midnight [lit., half the night], and they said that Moses said כַּחִצֹת, about midnight, meaning near it [midnight], either before it or after it, but he did not say בַּחִצֹת, at midnight, lest Pharaoh’s astrologers err and [then] say, “Moses is a liar,”
What bolsters the midrashic approach is this contrasting pasuk: [Shemos, 11:29]
And it came to pass, that at midnight [bachatzi halayla] Hashem smote all the firstborn of Egypt…
Note the bachatzi halayla …Which connotes an exact time. Wherein the difference?
but the Holy One, blessed be He, Who knows His times and His seconds, בַּחִצוֹת, at midnight. [Berachos 4a]
Our first verse is the intended dialogue of faithful man to cynical man (Moshe to Paroh) and the 2nd pasuk is the voice of the Divine Narrator – it thus reflects the essential truth. In the first verse, Moshe uses the ka approximate formulation in order not to bolster the diehards who are looking to criticize. Moshe must be ever so guarded in his formulation - he must be precisely imprecise!
And yet here, the cynic must cringe. Even if the Egyptian scoffer managed to tuck away the last year of plagues in the dark recesses of their consciousness, for how long did his pyrrhic victory last? A minute or two after his imprecise EST (Egyptian Standard Time), the monumental plague came and rocked the Egyptian world forever – revealing the awesome hand of God in a deep and irreversible manner! Whither then, the kah emphasis?
A classic mussar approach, so beautifully explicated by Rav Nissan Kaplan, responds with a startlingly simple insight. Every moment counts – and if for a moment Hashem’s name was profaned, then it must be avoided at all costs (in spite of the retroactive clarification). Moments, then are momentous.
It works in the reverse as well. Our parsha’s opening verse explains why Hashem hardened Paroh’s heart and plays out all of the ten plagues - even as Paroh would surely have let our people go:
And Hashem said to Moshe, Go to Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show my signs before him … And so you can tell your and your son's son what I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs … that you may know how that I am Hashem.
Three motifs emerge:
1. To establish God’s wonders within Egypt/Paroh 2. To teach Bnei Yisrael who Hashem is 3. To be the cornerstone of bnei yisrael’s chinuch transmission
The latter two are wholly understandable; to learn and to teach. Bnei Yisrael must indelibly etch Divine reality upon their hearts. Only then can they teach the next generation. It is the first motif, that waxes remarkable in light of the fact that only days later not one Egyptian remained in the world.
So what’s the point of their knowing God if only to die but a few moments later?  But that is precisely the point! The momentary God consciousness that the Egyptian experienced as he left the world was a massive Kiddush Hashem. Indeed, moments are momentous.
Comforting words: The incredible kiddush Hashem of the Israeli response to the Haitan tragedy has been met with pride - and with a sad knowing that the world’s admiration for the Jews’ chesed will be incredibly short-lived, a momentary blip before the next UN condemnation. Right but wrong – for it is the momentary Kiddush Hashem that we seek.
Words of Caution: We live in two worlds – amongst a world community that responsibly plans for the future and with Jews – most of whom always want to keep their options open (think triple major and double minor) and stash away - just in case, In a future focused world, we must capture the power of now, and again now, and again now – for every moment is pregnant with incredible potential. Our lives then are an accrual of the moments lived properly or less so.
A remarkable Piazetsner Rebbe prescription for growth frames it so beautifully: [Tzav V’zirus – page 1]
If you [Reuven] want to serve Hashem and raise yourself up and not stand at the age of 70 in your life like you were at bar mitzvah – every year make a goal … what type of Reuven do you want to be next year – what will be his accomplishments, service, character and essence and this imaginary Reuven shall be the measure for you to evaluate yourself … how much are you still missing to be that Reuven, is your daily service and correction of your deeds enough to reach the Reuven of the next year… and if the next year arrives and you did not reach the ankles of that new Reuven, God Forbid …then it is the Reuven of last year or of ten years earlier that is living, not the Reuven of this year … “And Avraham was old coming up in days”, i.e. the Avraham of today was the Avraham of today - and not the Avraham of yesterday
May Hashem give us the ability to live inspired lives – moment after glorious moment.
1. The notion that it always runs on time runs throughout Tanach and midrash. Consider the angelic visit to Avraham and Sarah, the writing on the wall in the book of Daniel, the anointment of Shaul.
2. The kaph prefix being the adverbial at
3. The point becomes sharper as the Egyptians see Hashem’s presence in the yam suf – only to die seconds later.This is explicitly stated in the text immediately preceding the splitting of the sea: 14:4 v’chizakti es leiv paroh v’radaf achareihem b’paroh uv’chol v’yadu mitzrayim ki ani Hashem – that Hashem will harden/strengthen Paroh’s heart in order to glorify via Paroh and so that Mitzrayim shall know that I am Hashem – but didn’t they all die? Ibn Ezra remarkable words : those that remained and those that drowned [shallknow] before their death. Cf Ibn ezra, 14:25. Cf also Rashi on Shemos, 15:12 – tivlaeimo aretz.