Va’eira: Plagues to Soften the Heart




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    Va’eira: Plagues to Soften the Heart

    This week’s reading features the face to face between Moshe (Moses), the leader of the Jews, and Pharaoh the king of Egypt. But before the meeting G-d tells Moshe, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so I can multiply my miracles and signs. But he won’t listen and I will smite Egypt and take my people, the Jews, from Egypt with great miracles. (7:3,4)”… Read the full Dvar Torah by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article


    By Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

    This week’s reading features the face to face between Moshe (Moses), the leader of the Jews, and Pharaoh the king of Egypt.

    But before the meeting G-d tells Moshe, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so I can multiply my miracles and signs. But he won’t listen and I will smite Egypt and take my people, the Jews, from Egypt with great miracles. (7:3,4)”

    So from the beginning we see the game is fixed; Pharaoh doesn’t stand a chance; He will resist and lose.

    At first glance this is unfair and cruel. Why harden Pharaoh’s heart with false confidence in order to add plagues?

    Indeed, why did G-d need plagues? If He wanted the Jews out of Egypt He could have just miraculously flown them out.?

    And if the plagues were to punish Egypt then why play with them like a cat with a doomed mouse? Make one plague and get it over!

    But even more: The word ‘Torah’ means ‘instruction’. Its every word and idea teaches us how to make our lives meaningful. What is the instruction and teaching here?

    In order to understand this here is a story. (Shmuot V’Sipurim from Rabbi R.N. HaCohen vol 1, pg. 250).

    About one hundred and fifty years ago in the city of Shpala, in the heart of the Ukraine, lived a simple Chassid (follower) of the great Tzadik called the Shpaler Zaide (the Grandfather from Shpaleh: Rav Yehuda Aria Leib Grondi)

    This poor Chassid, who we will call Avraham, made his meek living by selling small trinkets in the marketplace; needles, buttons and anything that he thought might sell and that didn’t cost him too much to buy.

    One day a large company of a few hundred soldiers came into town on leave and spread out through the marketplace. One of them approached Avraham’s stand, began looking at his trinkets, casually reached behind the counter, took the cashbox, emptied its meager contents into his pocket, and walked away.

    It was only a few seconds until Avraham realized what had happened but by then the soldier was gone into the crowd.

    He didn’t know what to do. He had heard that such things occurred but never dreamed it would happen to him, now that it did, he was confused.

    When his friend in the stall next to his saw what had happened, he told poor Avraham that in his opinion he had two choices: either pray to HaShem for the money back and wait for a miracle or complain to the commander of the soldiers – and then pray for a miracle.

    Avhaham decided on the second option; It was all the money he had for the next month! He had to get it back!

    He asked the friend to watch his counter and went looking for the commander; asking people for directions. Meanwhile he learned that this commander was as cruel as they come and a rabid anti-Semite to boot.

    After several minutes, Avraham was just considering forgetting the whole thing when suddenly he heard a booming voice behind him. “You! Jew! I hear you look for me?!” the commander came out of a restaurant. Someone must have told him.

    He looked at Avraham as he would a rotten piece of meat and scornfully sneered “Talk, Jew!”

    Avraham was really scared now but he blurted out, “One of your soldiers took my money. I sell here in the market. It’s all I have for the next month. Food, rent, wood for the oven, I have children to feed. Please I need my money back.” Avraham was trembling.

    “One of my men? Ha! Stole from you? A measly Jew? Heh! Feh!! Who would even touch your filthy few coins!? Not my men! That’s for sure!! My men are soldiers!! Listen Jew! If you are so sure….. then tell me which of my men did it! What’s your name anyway, where do you live?”

    Avraham showed him his identification papers and the commander had someone write everything down.

    “Okay Jew. Tomorrow morning at six all the soldiers will be here. if you point to the thief and if he really is the thief, I’ll return your money. But if not, then I’ll have you beaten!” He took out a cigar, bit off a piece from the end and spit it on the ground. And as he was putting it in his mouth and preparing to light it said menacingly, “And if you don’t come tomorrow ….. I have here your address! I burn your house!”

    Now Avraham was really in trouble. He would never recognize the soldier, all of them looked the same and he really hadn’t taken notice. He would be beaten to death! What would be with his wife and children?! His only recourse was the Rebbe; the Holy Shpaler Zaide.

    Avraham wasted no time and in just moments he was standing before the holy man catching his breath, explaining the frightening series of events.

    “It’s nothing to be worried about.” explained the Tzadik calmly. “Go back there in the morning when all the men line up for roll call, then go down each line and look each soldier in the face. The soldier that looks back at you and grits his teeth is the thief.”

    Avraham thanked the Rebbe and backed out of the door. But he was still very scared.

    The next morning when all the soldiers were standing at attention, Avraham did as the Rebbe said, walked carefully down the rows looking at each soldier. All of them stared ahead like statues …… until …. one looked at him and began gritting his teeth menacingly.

    “This is the man!” Avraham yelled out to the commander pointing with his finger. “He stole my money!”

    The commander faced the soldier and ordered him point blank to give the money back. He was certain that the soldier would just deny the whole thing and he could give the order to have Avraham beaten. But instead, he answered indignantly.

    “But, General… A filthy Jew! Why should I return the money? He’s only a Jew!”

    The commander became red with anger and ordered the man flogged with no mercy and, of course, Avraham got his money back.

    But now the commander was angry… at Avraham! He had embarrassed him before his soldiers.

    “How did you know this was the man?!” he turned and hissed at Avraham putting his face into his, “How could you possibly recognize a man you only saw for a few seconds? What, are you some sort of a witch or sorcerer? Sorcerers get beaten!!!”

    Poor Avraham became so confused and frightened, especially with the screams of the thief receiving lashes in the background, that instead of just saying it was a lucky guess he just told the truth.

    “It was the Rebbe! The one we call the Shpaler Zeide” he sputtered in fear. “He’s a holy Jew that can see everything! He told me how to recognize the thief.”

    “Aha!” spouted the commander “A holy Jew ehh??” suddenly a sadistic smile spread across his face. “Bring him here! Tomorrow morning! We’ll see how holy he is!! If not, I’ll kill you and him as well. I’ll burn down your houses! Go!!”

    Poor Avraham wanted to slap himself. Why did he have to tell the truth all time?! Now he got the Rebbe in trouble as well. All this was becoming too much for him.

    He again ran to the Rebbe as fast as his legs would carry him and told him what happened and what the commander said. But again, the Rebbe was not at all surprised or even the least bit worried. He calmly told Avraham to return immediately to the commander and tell him two things: First, that the Rebbe refuses to come. And second, that if the commander wants to know what is happening, he should check in his own pocket.

    Avraham left the Rebbe’s house shaking. He thought he was going mad. He was like two people; when he thought of the Rebbe, he was filled with bold confidence but when he thought of the commander, he became petrified with fear.

    He made it back to the commander while the soldiers were still at attention and gave him the Rebbe’s message. As soon as he heard that the Rebbe was not going to come he became red with anger and screaming and shaking with fury he reached for his gun. Soldiers gathered around but Avraham continued,

    “And the Rebbe said if you want to know why, check your pocket.”

    At this point the commander went berserk with rage, screaming, “Rebbe? Who is your Rabbi!? I’ll show you what’s in my pocket, I’ll shoot you and your Rabbi too!! You dirty…” and he began to take out his gun….

    But for some reason he hesitated, thought a moment, stuck his hand in his pocket, pulled out an envelope that was there, looked at it and turned pale. He gave it another quick glance, looked furtively up and down, pulled the gun from its holster, put it to his head and pulled the trigger!!!

    The soldiers looked at horror and confusion reigned as their commander fell to the ground bleeding and convulsing. Soldiers were running in all directions. Avraham found himself alone, it happened so brutally fast that it was like a miracle.

    He slipped out of the crowd and returned to the Shpaler Zadie to tell him the shocking news that just happened. But again, the Rebbe was not surprised. He explained.

    “That commander was a truly evil man. He spilled a lot of innocent blood and was planning to spill more. He was conspiring with a group of others to murder the Czar, usurp the throne and who knows what he would do if he was in power. But he fell in his own trap.

    This morning he had two letters in his pocket; one to the Czar pretending to be his loyal and faithful servant which he sent off early in the day, and a second to his fellow conspirators with the details of their next step in the assassination which he was planning to deliver personally this evening.

    But when he pulled the letter from his pocket just now, he saw the friendly letter intended for the Czar! He realized that that morning he had mistakenly sent the Czar the conspiracy letter! At that point he was already so insane with anger at you that this drove him over the edge and he shot himself!

    This answers our questions about Gd hardening Pharoah’s heart and the plagues.

    The purpose of the exodus from Egypt was to reveal the truth even to the Egyptians: (8:18).

    That is why G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart: because He knew that it would take at least ten steps; ten plagues, to destroy the evil and reveal the fact that the G-d of Israel is King of the Universe.

    Just as in our above story; every step was necessary to reveal that the commander was evil and the G-d of the Jews is boss, in a way that even the soldiers would see.

    And this is very relevant to us today. Indeed, this is the purpose of creation.

    Namely we are here to reveal the truth that there is a Creator; the One Gd, who creates and controls everything and who chose the Jews to teach all mankind to how serve Him.

    This began when G-d took the Jews from Egypt and gave them His Torah.

    But it will be completed and recognized by the entire world only in the days of Moshiach.

    And just as Moshe did in the Torah and the Shpaler Zeide did in our story, so today the Lubavitcher Rebbe has given us the steps necessary to leave the exile (see last paragraph of Moshiach essay

    We are now standing on the merits of thousands of years of Jewish suffering, faith and prayers. Now it could be that just one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring ……

    Moshiach NOW!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimm
    Kfar Chabad, Israel



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