Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com.
Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
It was the ultimate moment of redemption. Hashem Himself came down and smote the Egyptian firstborn. The Torah says, “I shall go through Egypt…, I shall strike every firstborn…, I shall mete out punishment, I am Hashem” (Shemot 12:12). The Haggadah drives this point home: “I and not a malach/angel, I and not a seraph/fiery angel, I and not hashaliach/the messenger – it is I and no other.” Nevertheless, in Egypt we were commanded not to go out of our houses until morning, for Hashem will not permit “the destroyer” to enter your homes (Shemot 12:23).
Several interrelated questions arise when we juxtapose these verses. First, why was it necessary for Hashem Himself to come down and “personally” administer this plague? Then, if it was Hashem Himself, why do we hear of a Destroyer in the form of a plague? Finally, why was it then necessary to later repeat that Hashem saved our homes? (Shemot 12:27)
Rabbi Goldwicht offers an interesting explanation to our first question. We understand that the world functions through the laws Hashem has placed into nature. What we generally fail to realize is that Hashem has set laws into place to control what we would perceive as miracles. For example, the laws of punishment and reward are often in play when a “miracle” occurs. Yet a miraculous recovery may be no more than the “natural” reward earned. Reward and punishment follow their own heavenly laws. But sometimes the miracles defy even the laws of the heavenly world. [Our rabbi, Rabbi Yehudah Kelemer, B”H has made a “miraculous” recovery and returned to his pulpit for the first time this past Shabbos since being hit by a truck in December. I do not know if our community is worthy of his presence, but Rabbi Kelemer himself is a tzadik, certainly meriting this miracle. May Hashem continue to heal him. CKS]
In Egypt, the Jews had already descended to the 49th level of depravity. They were not deserving of redemption according to the laws of reward and punishment. Therefore it was necessary for Hashem Himself to break through these supernal laws and intervene. It is with this in mind that our Sages interpret the Biblical phrase that Hashem “took for Himself a nation from within a nation” as if Hashem were taking a fetus out of its mother’s body, as if Hashem were personally birthing us. This “birth” became the defining point of the Nation of Israel.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz elaborates on this idea. Since how a thing begins establishes a pattern that will follow it throughout its existence, whether the formation of a physical object or the beginning of an activity, it was necessary that our Nation be formed in a totally spiritual fashion. Had the redemption taken longer, it would have been perceived as a natural progression of events, rather than as a miraculous, spiritual occurrence. It is because of our transcendent beginning that our Nation has always existed on the “edge of the physical universe, at that edge which interfaces with the transcendence of the Divine.”
Birth is one of the “keys” that only Hashem holds and does not entrust to another human being (along with rain, sustenance, and the related resurrection of the dead). When Hashem took us out of Egypt, writes Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, He raised us to a higher realm of existence, as a baby emerging from its mother’s womb enters into a higher realm of existence. When Hashem took us out of Egypt, He brought us to a higher level of existence as His people. Therefore it was necessary that Hashem Himself redeem us and birth us to this higher spiritual plane of life.
Just as it was Hashem Who took us out of Egypt, so it is Hashem Who controls every aspect of our lives. That’s one of the main reasons why the retelling of the story of our exodus focuses on the passage that a farmer recite when he brings the first fruits to the Beit Hamikdosh. It is at the harvest, when the work is complete and the farmer views his crop that he can easily be filled with pride and consider all this his personal accomplishment. Therefore, writes the Sifsei Chaim, at that moment when he is so vulnerable to an inflated ego, the farmer gives thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. But that gratitude is linked to our history, from Terach, Avraham’s father, to our descent into Egypt, to our redemption with great riches. It was all Hashem’s plan and Hashem’s doing. Therefore, continues the Sifsei Chaim, Hashem’s name is prominent in the Haggadah and Moshe’s name is non existent (except in reference to Israel’s faith in Moshe as Hashem’s servant at the splitting of the Sea). That it was all Hashem’s doing and not Moshe’s doing can be alluded to in the anagram of the first letters of those through which Hashem did not redeem us: not through a Malach/angel, not through a Seraph/fiery angel, not through Hashaliach/the messenger = MoS(h)eH. It was Hashem Himself Who created this night and, in so doing, created the special relationship between Hashem and ourselves. We should be sensitive to this extra love, for Hashem, in His love for us, descended to the most impure, decadent pit on earth to save us, adds the Netivot Shalom. When we do our Pesach cleaning, just as Hashem took us out of the impurity of Egypt, we must clean and remove the impurities within ourselves, not just from outside ourselves, from our homes and from within us. We must remove the chametz, the puffed up ego, from within ourselves. (This ego is not a healthy sense of self. After all, we are children of the King. It is the removal of self as the center and its replacement with knowledge of Hashem as the Giver of all we are.)
Hashem is sitting at the head of our Seder table, and we are thanking Him and singing His praises, writes Rabbi Meislish in Sichot Ba’avodat Hashem. This is the time to reinforce our personal connection to Hashem, to tell our own stories of how Hashem helped us, whether to find a parking spot or in the throes of a major crisis. It is the time of Pe Sach, the time when the mouth speaks. The goal of the night according to the Rambam, is to accept the yoke of Heaven. By singing God’s praises throughout the night, we are showing our appreciation to Hashem and accepting Him as our Sovereign. (That’s why the Rabbis at Bnei Brak felt they could stop the Seder itself when the time of Shema, the formal declaration of our acceptance of the yoke of Heaven had arrived and they would declare this tenet of faith openly. Rabbi Dratch shiur 3/25/17. CKS)
We have not yet, however, resolved the conflict between Hashem Himself coming down and the later mention of the “Destroyer”. The Sifsei Chaim, citing the Haamek Davar, presents an argument similar to an explanation of what the plague of darkness was. He writes that firstborns have an affinity for holiness. When Hashem Himself came down, the firstborns could not tolerate such holiness (as they could not tolerate the pure, primal light) and the shock killed them. In these circumstances, the Jews themselves were also in danger, but Hashem intervened and saved them.
Less esoteric is the explanation of Rabbi Kram in Talmudo Beyodo, citing the Beis Halevi. The death of so many firstborn brought additional death as the bodies decayed and more people died. That’s what is meant when we recite, “Hashem smote the Egyptians with their firstborn.” But Hashem saved Bnei Yisroel from this plague as well.
Perhaps we can gain another understanding of the horror of that night from one additional interpretation. Rabbi Sternbach notes that while indeed Hashem descended and smote the Egyptians’ firstborn at midnight of the night of Pesach, they did not die instantly, and their souls remained fluttering within them until morning. In the morning, the Angel of Death came and finished them off. However, in the interim, the Egyptians hoped they could still save their people. Therefore they rushed over to the Hebrews and tried to run them out more quickly. This interpretation, that the firstborn were attacked at night but didn’t die until morning, also explains why the Torah says that the firstborn were Mine “on the day I smote the Egyptian firstborn.”
There were many lessons for the Jews that night. Along with the love Hashem exhibited for them that night and which we are expected and hope to reciprocate, the lesson of awe of Hashem’s presence was also manifest. Hashem Himself was “going about” all of Egypt that night, and Bnei Yisroel were warned to stay indoors. Rabbi Sternbach notes that if Bnei Yisroel had left the confines of their homes and “saw” Hashem, they would have died. Even Moshe could not see Hashem face to face. Hashem permitted Moshe to see only His back, and only while Moshe was hidden and confined in the crevice of a rock.
Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz states it quite clearly. Hashem is in charge, even when we do not see Him. Even when we see someone else manipulating the situation, Hashem is the One pulling the strings. “Ani Hu velo acher“, says Hashem, It is Ani/I when you can see Me clearly, and it is still I when I am Hidden, as a third party in the darkness of night, as Hu/He.
This night was a night of clarity, of seeing and understanding God’s presence as clear as day, writes Rabbi Kluger in My Sole Desire. When we ask “Mah Nishtanah/How is this night different..” we are truly asking about the nature of the night itself, not only about what we do on this night. This night, then and now, is a night of clarity of Hashem’s presence and of our connection to Him. That reality is as bright as daylight itself. Therefore, continues Rabbi Kluger, on this night we recite Hallel, the praises we recite only during the day for all other holidays. At other times, other nights, Hashem’s identity and presence are concealed. On this night every year His presence is revealed. On this night we recognize Hashem as a baby recognized its mother. The child may be playing happily with everyone else, but as soon as it needs something, it runs instinctively to its mother, or cries for her arms only. This connection is instinctive from birth, as is our connection to Hashem Who birthed us out of Egypt.Download PDF