Divrei Torah

PESACH 5777

Moshe is obviously one of the central figures in the story of Pesach. Although in the Haggadah he is only mentioned once in passing, his influence stands out, especially by the Ten Plagues. 

One of the most famous phrases in the Haggada is Rabbi Yehuda’s abbreviation for the Ten Plagues – D’Tzach, Aadash, B’achav; D’Tzach – Dom, Tzfardea, Kinim – blood, frogs, lice – Adash – Arov, Dever, Shchin – wild beats, cattle disease boils – Barad, Arbeh, Choshech, Makas Bechoros  - hail, locusts, darkness, the killing of the first born. Although it is an easy way to remember the 10 plagues, there is more to the abbreviation than just being a mnemonic device. There are several explanations for the abbreviation, one written by Rabbi Shlomo Efraim ben Aharon of Luntshitz – who lived from the mid-16th century through about the 1st quarter of the 17th century. He was a student of the Maharal of Prague and is better known in the Torah world as the Kli Yakar.

The Kli Yakar explains that Moshe and Pharaoh had three disputes. First: Moshe said, ‘G-d is one is one and all-powerful.’ Pharaoh strongly disagreed. So, the first three plagues—DTZACH—were out to prove G-d’s uniqueness. The blood and frogs originated from the Nile River that the Egyptians worshiped, proving that there was a power above any of their gods. After the plague of lice, the Egyptian magicians themselves admitted, “This is the finger of G-d.”At this point, Pharaoh also conceded to the fact of G-d’s existence.

The second philosophical argument: Moshe insisted that there are no such things as coincidences. Once again, the Pharaoh strongly disagreed. So, with the middle three plagues – wild beasts, cattle disease and boils – ADASH – the Torah emphasizes that there are no happenstance occurrences in life. The plagues struck the Egyptians and not the Jews. If life was random, then Goshen – the land of the Jews – would have also been hit with these terrible plagues.

So, now the Pharaoh admitted that G-d does not operate randomly. However, the Pharaoh insisted that G-d cannot control nature. Moshe strongly disagreed. The final four plagues – hail, locusts, darkness and killing of the first born – were all changes of nature – abnormal occurrences. Moshe three; Pharaoh zero; and Moshe pitched a no-hitter. 

Now, all of these ideas – that G-d exists, there He is in charge of all events and occurrences, and that He controls nature – are essential ideas for us to understand and appreciate. 

The Talmud teaches us that if a person was always aware of three things, he would never sin – know that G-d hears everything, sees everything and remembers everything. Or in the words of Kind David, “I always set G-d before me.”

We can relate well to the idea of randomness or chance. Events occur in our everyday lives that seem unrelated to one another. Yet, if we look at all events after a period of time, we can often make sense of everything.  We find G-d’s hand throughout history. At the same time the Jews were being expelled from Spain, Columbus set sail to discover a continent that would serve as a refuge for us five centuries later…Nobody quite understands why the Ottoman Empire entered World War I and allied with Germany. However, that is how England ended up with the Land of Israel – as the conduit for us to have our land back after almost 1900 years…When an Air France airliner was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and taken to a Uganda airport in 1976,  the terrorists  had no idea that Israel had built that airport. Israel had the plans to the airport and was able to stage that daring and miraculous rescue of the Jewish hostages held in Entebbe. 

The Talmud asks, “What does G-d do with his spare time?” The Talmud answers: “He makes Zevugim—matches. G-d is the ultimate matchmaker, arranging the unlikely meeting of people and events to fit in with His plan for the world. So are events truly random? When they first occur, it certainly seems so, but after the fact, if we look properly, we can often see G-d in our lives. 

Finally, G-d controls nature. You need proof? The Cubs won the World Series last year! 

Pesach is about our redemption from slavery and our transformation from a group of slaves to a free nation. But without G-d – His existence, His arrangement of events, and His Control of nature – we would still be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. The ten plagues hit Egypt, but they are eternal lessons for the Jewish people. We cannot expect to flourish as a free nation without appreciating G-d’s Might, and so we ask G-d to once again make His Existence and Power abundantly clear by redeeming His chosen nation with an outstretched hand, as the prophet Isaiah said, “As in the days when you left Egypt, I will once again show you wonders.”