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קח את מטך והשלך לפני פרעה

Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh. (7:9)

What “merit” did the mateh, staff, have that it was used as the medium for carrying out some of the plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people? Rabbi Go’el Alkarif suggests a powerful mussar, ethical lesson, to be derived from here. Prior to Horav Yisrael Salanter’s public emergence as the preeminent founder of the mussar movement, he lived quietly in Memel, Germany, with an idea, an idea that would transform the Jewish world. His innovation was to focus on mussar also. In addition to studying Gemorah, Jews should also work on their middos, character traits, refining and honing them, so…

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אמר אל אהרן נטה את מטך והך את עפר הארץ והיה לכנים

Say to Aharon, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land; it shall become lice. (8:12)

Rashi explains that Moshe Rabbeinu could not bring the plague of lice on Egypt, because it meant striking the ground, something Moshe could not bring himself to do. The dust of the earth protected him from being discovered when he used it to conceal the corpse of the Egyptian whom he had killed. For Moshe to have struck the land would have been a blemish on his attribute of hakoras hatov, gratitude. Chazal teach that whoever denies the favor he benefitted from his fellowman will not stop there. He will also one day deny Hashem’s favor as well. One whose…

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ולא יכלו החרטמים לעמד לפני משה מפני השחין ... ויחזק ד' את לב פרעה

The necromancers could not stand before Moshe because of the boils … Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh. (9:11,12)

Concerning the previous plagues, the Torah writes that Pharaoh personally strengthened/hardened his heart. Regarding makkas shechin, boils, the Torah attests, Va’yichazek Hashem es lev Pharaoh, “Hashem strengthened Pharaoh’s heart.” What had transpired to catalyze this change? Ramban explains that as long as he was surrounded by his magicians, Pharaoh was ashamed to concede the truth: he had lost control. Hashem was stronger. The Jewish people should be permitted to leave. Pharaoh the rasha, wicked, would never allow anyone to observe him in a moment of weakness. It might denigrate their perception of him as a deity. When Egypt was stricken…

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ויהי ברד בכל ארץ מצרים על האדם ועל הבהמה ועל כל עשב השדה

And there will be hail in the entire land of Egypt, on man and beast, and on all the grass in the land of Egypt. (9:22)

The Torah could have simply stated that hail would rain down throughout the land of Egypt. Recording the detail – man, beast, grass – begs elucidation. The Brisker Rav, zl, derives from the excess verbiage of the pasuk that the barad, hail, descended only on those places wherein man or animal were to be found. In those areas uninhabited by man or animal and where grass did not grow, no hail came down. Furthermore, earlier, when Pharaoh was warned to quickly gather the animals to safety, it was not meant specifically to bring the animals inside, so that they be…

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הבה נתחכמה לו פן ירבה

Come, let us outsmart it lest it become numerous. (1:10)

Pharaoh no longer remembered how Yosef had brilliantly led the nation through a major economic crisis. He looked around and saw that the immigrant family of seventy Jews that had originally come from Canaan had now become a nation of thousands, growing exponentially. They had become too numerous and too strong. Something had to be done about them. He foolishly thought that he could contend with Hashem and control the destiny of Klal Yisrael. He was clearly wrong. When our nation received the Torah at Har Sinai, the Torah records the event. Va’yehi kol ha’shofar holeich v’chazeik me’od, “The sound…

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כי לא כנשים כמצריות העבריות ... בטרם תבוא אליהן המילדת וילדו

Because the Hebrew women are unlike the Egyptian women … before the midwife comes to them, they have given birth. (1:19)

Pharaoh had instructed Shifrah and Puah, the Jewish midwives, to murder the male infants. They, of course, did not listen to the evil despot, claiming that by the time they arrived at the homes of the Jewish women, the children had been born. Horav Shabsi Frankel, zl, quotes an original thought from his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Nechemiah Kornitzer, zl, which presents us with a deeper meaning to the dialogue that ensued between Pharaoh and the me’yaldos, midwives. Understandably, these holy women were not prepared to commit the unthinkable. Their task was to bring on life, not to shorten it. They…

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וימת מלך מצרים ויאנחו בני ישראל מן העבודה ויזעקו

It happened that the king of Egypt died, and Bnei Yisrael groaned because of the work, and they cried out. (2:23)

What about the Egyptian king’s death provoked Bnei Yisrael’s pain and initiated their crying out? Horav Yitzchak, zl, m’Volozhin explains that as long as Pharaoh was alive, the Jews attributed all of their tzaros, troubles, to his wicked leadership. They hoped that when he would hopefully leave this world, the evil decrees would end. When he died, however, and the evil continued unabated, they realized that they could only turn to Hashem. The nature of man is to attribute everything that occurs in his life to natural causes and place their hopes on its positive conclusion. The believing Jew, however,…

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ויאמר ד' ראה ראיתי את עני עמי אשר במצרים

Hashem said, “I have, indeed, seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt.” (3:7)

Chazal (Midrash Rabbah Shemos 3:2) note the double usage of the word ra’oh, see (ra’oh ra’isi). They explain that Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, “Moshe, you see a re’iyah achas, one sight, but I see two reiyos, two sights. You see the nation coming to Har Sinai and receiving the Torah. I, too, see them coming to Sinai and receiving My Torah. (This is the meaning of the first ra’oh.) However, I also see the sight of the incident of the eigel, Golden Calf.” Hashem’s message to Moshe is intriguing and surely laden with profound meaning. Simply, Hashem intimated to Moshe…

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ועתה הנה צעקת בני ישראל באה אלי

And now, behold! The outcry of Bnei Yisrael has come to Me. (3:9)

There is tefillah, prayer, and there is tze’akah, crying out, yelling or effusive prayer laden with emotion and expression. Tze’akah is the prayer one offers when he is literally up against the wall with nowhere to go. He sees no way out, no form of salvation. Imagine one is walking in a forest when he suddenly chances upon a bear. He screams. Will the scream make a difference? Bears are really not moved by the screams of a human being. Nonetheless, when one realizes that this is it, he has no way out – he screams. Klal Yisrael was in…

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ויאמר קחם נא אלי ואברכם

Bring them to me, if you please, and I will bless them. (48:9)

Yosef brought his two sons to his father, Yaakov Avinu, for a blessing, as the Patriarch had instructed him. Is this not why Yosef brought them? He did not want a long-distance blessing. What was Yaakov intimating when he said, “Bring them to me”? Yaakov was alluding that not only was his blessing of great significance, but it was also important for his grandsons to see him up close, to sear into their minds his visage and bearing. When Yerushalayim was under siege by the Roman army, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai met with Vespasian, the Roman commander and chief. He…

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