The Importance of Observing the Covenant
The servants of Pharaoh said to him, “How long will this be a snare [mokesh] for us? Send out the men that they may serve the L-RD their G-d. Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?” (Exodus 10:7).
Why did Pharaoh’s servants wait until the plague of locusts to speak in such a way to their master? Moreover, what did they mean by asking, “Do you not yet know that Egypt is lost?” Was Pharaoh really unaware of this?
The answer is that the observance of the covenant allows man to conquer the forces of evil where they are found. For the forces of evil, such a man becomes a mokesh (snare). The sparks of holiness that dwell within him serve as weapons that he can use to eliminate them. The land of Egypt was filled with impurity (Shemot Rabba 22) and its inhabitants were sunk in immorality. The righteous Joseph (righteous because he guarded the covenant [Zohar I:59b]) was the first to repair and harvest the sparks of holiness. Later, it was the role of the Children of Israel to do the same when they went down into Egypt. They had to raise the 288 sparks of holiness that had fallen into impurity because of Adam’s sin (Or HaHaim Genesis 49:9).
Even though they were not circumcised in Egypt (Pesikta Zutah, Bo 12:6), the Children of Israel repaired the sparks of holiness thanks to their hard labor and the fraternity that united them. They were helped in this by Moses, who was born circumcised, as our Sages have explained (Sotah 12a) concerning the verse that states, “She saw that he was good [good alluding to the covenant]” (Exodus 2:2). Moses, who was equal to the totality of the Children of Israel (Mechilta Beshalach 10,15a), enlightened them with his majesty and splendor, and together they managed to rectify what remained in order to bring the redemption closer.
This is what is specified by the passage that states, “It will cover the surface of the earth so that no one will be able to see the earth; and it will consume the remaining residue that was left by the hail” (Exodus 10:5). In fact, the Egyptians feared that the forces of evil would be weakened, forces from which they drew their existence. Egypt, struck by these plagues, was henceforth without any protection. Pharaoh and his servants therefore understood that it was dangerous to keep the Children of Israel in Egypt, especially at that time, when the Children of Israel guarded the covenant and drew their strength from Moses, who was considered as equal to the entire Jewish people. The word zeh in the verse that states, “Ad matai yiyeh zeh lanu lemokesh [How long will this be a snare for us]?” (Exodus 10:7) corresponds to the Divine Presence, as it is written, “Zeh, he stands behind our wall” (Song of Songs 2:9). In other words, the Shechinah guards anyone who observes the covenant (see Zohar III:297b, where it is explained that the word zeh alludes to the covenant). The word lanu (“for us”) has a numerical value of 86, the same as milah (85 plus 1 for the kollel). The word lemokesh (“a snare”) is the trap that destroys the Kelipah.
Pharaoh’s servants hoped to be a snare for the Children of Israel, who would be assimilated among them, and therefore they expected to form one large nation governed by the forces of evil. Yet as we have seen, it was the opposite that happened. It did not take the Egyptians long in realizing the fact that the Children of Israel (since they observed the covenant, and Moses – born circumcised – supported them) were in fact a trap for them. Providence protected them, and they were able to diminish the influences of the forces of evil that operated in Egypt. This is why Pharaoh’s servants told him, “Do you not yet know that Egypt is avedah [lost, ruined]?” It was the Eternal’s 12 tribes that caused their ruin (avedah has a numerical value of 12, which alludes to the 12 tribes). Moses, who also carries the name of zeh in the verses, “For zeh [this] man Moses” (Exodus 32:1,23), helped them to triumph over the Kelipah (negative forces, the other side). The Egyptians were thrown off balance. It was with regards to them that Jethro said, “For in the very matter in which [the Egyptians] had conspired, [punishment was brought] upon them” (Exodus 18:11). “It was the in the pot that they had prepared that they were cooked” (Sotah 11a).
We can therefore understand why the Egyptian magicians feared Moses even before he was born (Tanhuma Vayakhel 7). It was not his ability to eventually liberate the Children of Israel that frightened them, but his ability to eliminate the forces of evil in Egypt. Thanks to the covenant that they observed on the same day as Passover, the blood of their Passover sacrifice mingled with that of their circumcision (Shemot Rabba 17:3). They “emptied Egypt” and were in a position to vanquish the forces of evil. The Egyptians could thus no longer defend themselves.
Looking at this a little more closely, we note that the plague of locusts aimed at eliminating everything on the surface of the ground so that the forces of evil could no longer have any hold. It was this that the Egyptians feared the most – being cut off from their strength. In truth, it is said that Pharaoh was so frightened of this plague that he called it mavet (“death”), as it is written, “Entreat the L-RD your G-d, that He remove from me only this death” (Exodus 10:17). Pharaoh saw that his servants were right. Deprived of Sitra Achra (the other side, the forces of evil), Egypt was in fact ruined. Pharaoh finished by giving up and deciding to free the Children of Israel from their servitude. However, the Eternal continued to harden Pharaoh’s heart and inflicted three more plagues on him so that he could realize His Divine grandeur, as well as corrective work of the Children of Israel.
This shows us the importance of observing the Covenant, since it brings the Final Redemption closer. This is what our orphaned generation should especially be careful about. Seeing that the advent of the Final Redemption approaches, the evil inclination, aware of our efforts to observe the mitzvot and correct our sins – particularly those that caused the destruction of the Temple (such as baseless hatred) – inflicts a plague on us that we do not even think about, namely sexual immorality. This is so prevalent in our day because of our many sins (may G-d help us), even though until recently the nations have guarded themselves against it, at least in public.
Let us therefore emulate the Children of Israel, who for 49 days following their departure from Egypt (corresponding to the 49 gates of impurity ([Zohar Chadash Yitro 39a]) put great effort into eliminating the forces of evil so as to be worthy of receiving the Torah. If they attained such a sublime level (particularly the level at which they witnessed the splitting of the Red Sea), it was because they continually worked at eliminating their wicked traits and sanctifying themselves. The Children of Israel, who observed the foundations of Judaism, nevertheless complained to Moses: “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge” (Numbers 11:5), meaning to say that it required neither the study of Torah nor the observance of mitzvot (Sifri 11:5). Why, therefore, did they revolt after so much self-denial? It was because, following their long sojourn in Egypt, they had not entirely erased burning desires, greed, and lust from their character. Finally, all depends on the elimination of these faults, as well as the observance of the covenant in purity and holiness.