By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
January 18, 2003
After the punishing plagues and the expulsion from Egypt, the
"house of slavery," it seemed that the Israelites would never have to face
their brutal oppressors again. Yet, Pharaoh hardened his heart and aroused the
Egyptians to follow him:
And Pharaoh approached; and the Children of Israel lifted their
eyes, and behold, Egypt was traveling after them! And they were very frightened,
and the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem (Shemot 14:10).
Imagine the trauma! The Sea of Reeds is before them, and what seems like the
entire Egyptian nation is surging toward them, from behind. All appears lost.
But Moshe assures the people that “Hashem will fight for you, while you will
remain silent” (verse 14). Moshe will raise his staff, the sea will split, and
the people will proceed through the sea on dry land.
And the angel of G-d, that went before the camp of Israel, traveled and went
from behind them; and the pillar of cloud traveled from before them and it stood
from behind them. And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel.
And there was the cloud and the darkness, and it lit up the night, and the one
did not approach the other all the night (vs.19-20).
And there was the cloud and the darkness “for Egypt. and the pillar of fire
lit up the night for Israel, and it went before them as was its way to go
all the night, and the darkness of fog was on the Egyptian side.”
The Maharal (R. Yehudah Loew ben Betzalel, c. 1525-1609), in his commentary to
Rashi, Gur Aryeh, says that the darkness described here is not the natural
darkness of night, but a particular "darkness of fog." Perhaps this "fog" is a
manifestation of the Egyptians’ irrational, dark purposes. They hurtle forward
despite the darkness, so blinded are they by their own rage.
The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 14:3; Tanchuma Bo 3; Yalkut Shimoni 186) notes that
the Torah describes
the cloud and the darkness,
as if they were both known to us from before. In fact, this "darkness of fog"
was an extension of the plague of darkness.
Elsewhere (Shemot Rabbah 9:12), it is established that each of the plagues in
Egypt lasted for seven days. However, regarding darkness, it says, ...and there
was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. And no man saw his
brother, and no man arose from his place for three days, while for all of the
Children of Israel there was light in their dwelling places (Shemot 10:22-23).
The Midrash explains:
“There were seven days of darkness. How? For the first three days, whoever was
sitting and wanted to stand could stand, and one who was standing and wanted to
sit was able to sit. About these days it is said and there was thick darkness in
all the land of Egypt for three days. And no man saw his brother. For the other
three days, one who was sitting was not able to stand, and one who was standing
was not able to sit, and one who was bent over was not able to straighten up.
And regarding them it is said, and no man arose from his place for three days.
And during the three days of thick darkness, Hashem granted the grace of the
people in the eyes of Egypt and they lent to them. For Israel would enter the
Egyptians’ houses and they would see silver and gold vessels and clothing in
them. If [afterwards] the [Egyptians] were to say, ‘We have nothing to lend
you,’ then and Israel would say to them, ‘But it is in such-and-such a place.’
Then the Egyptians would say, ‘If they wanted to take advantage of us, they
would have taken them during the days of darkness and we would not have noticed,
for they saw them already. Since they did not touch them without our permission,
so will they not keep them.’ So they lent to them. . . . These are the six days
that were in Egypt. And the seventh [day] of darkness was the day of darkness at
the sea, as it says, ‘And there was the cloud and the darkness, and it lit up
the night.’ So did the Holy One Blessed be He dispatch a cloud and darkness to
darken for Egypt while illuminating for Israel, just as He did for them in
The plague of darkness proceeded in three stages. First, there were three days
of confusion. This was followed by three days of paralysis, when it was
demonstrated, not only that Hashem protects His people while punishing the
Egyptians, but also that the Israelites were not behaving like slaves any
longer: They displayed responsible, even noble, characteristics. Thirdly, there
was the one day of darkness at the Sea.
Why was this seventh day needed? What does it signify?
The number seven connotes completion within the natural realm. Witness Shabbat,
the seventh day; Tishrei, the seventh month of festivals; the seven weeks
leading up to the Revelation; and the seven-year Shemittah cycle. Likewise, the
plague of darkness was not complete until the seventh day of darkness at the
Maharal points out (Gevurot Hashem, Ch. 37) that darkness is not existence, but
rather its absence. When Hashem, Who created the universe out of non-existence,
produces darkness, He does not do so all at once. In Egypt, the darkness
increased, until it came to its fullest manifestation at the Sea.
In Egypt, the Egyptians and the Israelites could look directly at each other,
but the Egyptians were powerless. At the Sea, the Egyptians were not paralyzed;
to the contrary, they sped forward, unhindered. They gazed upon the Israelites
as one who sits in a darkened theater watches the actors in the spotlight: The
Egyptians, finally needed to see that they were no longer the central players in
history, but merely spectators.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The exodus and the splitting of the sea mark the first
time in Jewish history that, as a nation, we were redeemed from bondage
and embarked on our way to the Holy Land. We can draw an analogy between
our experience in Egypt and the other galuyot - exiles - which we have
experienced throughout the ages.
While at times we enjoyed a general calm, we endured other times which far
surpassed the hardships of Egypt. Yet, in all situations, only a minority
of the Jews made Aliyah. Our Parshah, (13: 18) says: "...vachamushim alu
Bnei Yisrael." Literally it means they went up armed. However, our
scholars explain that "Echad M'Chamishah alu," only one out of five went
up from Egypt, and others say only one out of every fifty. Apparently,
whether we are slaves or masters, poor or rich, psychological factors
won't let us move.
With regard to the eating of the Afikomen, there is a well-known dispute
between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah. Rabbi Eliezer says we
must finish by the mid point of the night, and Rabbi Akiva says we can eat
it until morning. The Gemara, (Brachot, 9:1), says that the dispute is
based on the term "chipazon" - haste. Rabbi Eliezer says this means the
haste of Egypt to get us out immediately, whereas Rabbi Akiva says this
means the haste of Israel who postponed until the morning.
This has been our problem throughout the ages. Still today, when, thank
God, there is an Eretz Yisrael to which we can go, even among the Aliyah
oriented Jews Aliyah is usually broached in terms of "not now, sometime
later." Postponement is a psychological stance no matter where we are.
However the Halachah is like Rabbi Eliezer: we must finish the Afikomen by
mid-night - we should not postpone.
For the sake of the Jewish people and for the sake of Israel, do not
Rabbi Charles Weinberg
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320