Indeed it is incredible that an insight regarding a topic with which many feel familiar, can be so enlightening. This topic is none other than the plagues in .
Charged with the task of negotiating with Pharo, Moshe is told by Hashem:
…See I have made you an “elohim” over Pharo, and Aharon your brother will be your spokesman. (Shmot 7:1)
Rashi explains that Moshe’s task as an “elohim” means that he was placed as a “judge and punisher, to punish [Pharo] with the plagues and afflictions.”
The Griz provides the following explanation. Unlike that which many may have assumed, the purpose of the plagues was not to free Am Yisrael. Instead their role was to judge and punish the Egyptians. This was indeed a vital component of the Brit Bein Ha’Btarim. Part of the promise to Avraham that Bnei Yisrael would be redeemed from was “also the nation they will serve, I shall judge” (Bereshit ).
One of the Griz’s proofs is our Mishnah (Eduyot ) that explains: “The judgment of occurred over twelve months”. This twelve month period, referring to the time when the plagues occurred, is specifically referred to as the “judgment of ”.
One can therefore understand why in each of the plagues, Pharo, his servants and the nation are mentioned separately. Since each of these groups had different accountabilities it is only appropriate that they be judged separately and punished in different manners.
The Griz also explains that because each of the plagues acted as punishments, Moshe in engaging Pharo served another important role – warning Pharo. This is because we have a principle that one cannot be punished without receiving prior warning.
The Griz continues to explain that the exception to this explanation is makat bechorot – the Plague of the First Born. This plague also served the purpose of liberating Am Yisrael. This explains why in Moshe’s first meeting with Pharo, before there was any discussion of plagues, Moshe is command to warn Pharo with this specific plague: “…but if you refuse to send [Am Yisrael] out; behold I shall kill your firstborn son.”
The Griz uses this explanation to explain a number of difficulties in the text and tefillot. When Moshe is debating against his nomination as leader and representative he says, “…who am I that I should go up to Pharo and to take Bnei Yisrael out of ” (Shmot ). Here the “and” appear superfluous. This is, of course, unless you understand that Moshe was indeed being charged with two missions: taking Am Yisrael out of and acting as judge and punisher of the Egyptians.
This also explains a difficulty in Dayeinu that we read on Seder night. There is reference to the “judgments” having been enough, then later a reference to makat bechorot. Ordinarily, one would wonder why the final plague is being singled out. Yet, having understood that the plague served as “judgments” and makat bechorot having played the extra role of freeing Am Yisrael, we can understand its reference in isolation.
One can also now understand why only makat bechorot is mentioned in Hallel Ha’Gadol (“Hodu le’Hashem ki tov…”). This Hallel is focused solely on the actual Exodus. Consequently only the plague that functioned for this purpose is mentioned, to the exclusion of the others that functioned as judgments.
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