You Will Know That I Am The L-RD
It is written, “Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was a thick darkness throughout the land of Egypt for a three-day period” (Exodus 10:22).
The Midrash comments as follows: “Blessed be the Name of the Alm-ghty, Who is completely impartial and probes all hearts. Seeing sinners in the midst of the Children of Israel benefiting from the plague and in no way wanting to abandon riches and honors by leaving Egypt, He said, ‘If I strike them in public, the Egyptians will say, “They suffered as we did.” ’ This is why He plunged Egypt into darkness for three days. The Children of Israel could thus bury their dead without being seen by their enemies, and they could praise G-d” (Shemot Rabba 14:3). It was during these three days that four fifths of the Children of Israel died.
The plague of darkness aimed primarily at punishing those among the Children of Israel who did not want to leave Egypt. The plague also allowed them to see where the Egyptians hid their treasures (Shemot Rabba 14:3), so that they would be unable to conceal anything when the Children of Israel went to ask them for their possessions. Finally, the plague aimed at bringing the Children of Israel to repentance, for they had witnessed the death of their wicked brothers. The plague therefore did not seek to affect Pharaoh or Egypt, as we have already seen. (The Baal HaTurim writes, however, that the plague of the firstborn is not included among the signs that G-d said He would display to Pharaoh in Exodus 10:1, since the verse “You have not heeded up to now” [Exodus 7:16] already alludes to the plague of the firstborn).
Nevertheless, other questions remain unresolved:
1. How can we imagine that the Children of Israel, greatly enslaved with work, could have continued to trust the Egyptians who spoke to them with a peh rach (“soft mouth,” i.e., pleasant words), to the point of wanting to lengthen their stay with them? Since it was because of them that the Egyptians had ceased to be a world power, did they not fear that the Egyptians would take revenge on them?
2. Was it not a Divine commandment to leave Egypt in order to receive the Torah and travel to the Holy Land? How could some of the Children of Israel, who in addition witnessed so many miracles that Hashem had performed for them – who saw His awesome power and His mighty hand – dare not carry out such a commandment?
3. The Children of Israel seem to contradict themselves. In the beginning they implored G-d to free them from slavery: “The Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out. Their outcry because of the work went up to G-d” (Exodus 2:23), and even their babies were slaughtered so that Pharaoh could bathe in their blood (Shemot Rabba 1:34). Yet even after all this suffering, when after having heard their cries G-d sent His deliverance in the person of Moses, how can we imagine that despite all their gratitude, there still remained among them some who wanted to stay in that land of slavery? Let us recall the passage: “And the people believed, and they heard that the L-RD had remembered the Children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves” (Exodus 4:31).
4. After having seen that the Egyptians had remained frozen in place during the plague of darkness (Shemot Rabba 14:3), whereas “for all the Children of Israel there was light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:23), and after having seen that four fifths of their brothers had died before them, how could the Children of Israel not have desired to immediately do Teshuvah? Did they want to breach the fiftieth gate of impurity?
5. The Midrash relates the following: “Rabbi Yossi said that the plague of locusts gave the Egyptians great hope, for they said to themselves, ‘Let us fill up our pots and bowls with them.’ The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, ‘Evildoers! Is the plague that I inflicted upon you not enough?’ Then ‘The L-RD turned back a very powerful west wind, and it carried the locust swarm and hurled it toward the Sea of Reeds. Not a single locust remained within the entire border of Egypt’ [Exodus 10:19], and even the locusts they had salted disappeared” (Shemot Rabba 13:6). How can we imagine, asks the author of Nachalat Eliezer, that the Egyptians – suffering through the eighth plague – did not comprehend that the locusts could only be harmful to them? Is such a mistaken belief possible? Furthermore, knowing that the Egyptians wanted to salt the locusts and benefit from them, why did G-d inflict this plague on them?
6. Before the plague of locusts, Pharaoh said to Moses and Aaron: “So be the L-RD with you as I will send you forth with your children! Look – the evil intent is opposite your faces” (Exodus 10:10). Was Pharaoh a prophet that he could say such things to Moses and Aaron, and why did Moses keep quiet? Did he agree with Pharaoh concerning what he said? Another question: Why did Pharaoh say this precisely before the plague of locusts? Did anything bad happen to the Children of Israel following this warning of Pharaoh?
7. Contrary to all the tactics of warfare that the nations used, why did the Egyptians carry all their wealth with them when they pursued the Children of Israel? The result was that the spoils at the Sea of Reeds were greater than that of Egypt (Tanhuma Bo 8).
The reason for this is because at every moment of our lives, we must recall the miracles that Hashem performed for us: “You shall know that I am the L-RD your G-d, Who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (Exodus 6:7). Actually, given all the difficulties that a man endures in life, he is capable of forgetting his role and goal in this world, and he may even forget his Creator. If a man prospers in his business, he may demonstrate his ingratitude by saying, “My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17). He will then no longer acknowledge that everything comes from G-d.
The awareness that everything comes from G-d is not built into man. G-d certainly did not create man so that he could indulge himself in the “delights” of this world. Man was created in order to acknowledge, praise, and serve G-d. Thus before praying that his body be completely imbued with Torah, a man should pray that the desire for these “delights” not invade his mind (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Rabba; Tosaphot Ketubot 104a: Lo neheneti).
The Torah constantly reminds a person of the exodus from Egypt in order to develop the virtue of gratitude in him. The goal of this is to prevent a person from behaving as the Children of Israel did, who after having implored G-d to liberate them from the yoke of slavery, refused in the end to leave the land where they had amassed great wealth. They were not sufficiently aware of the fact that it was Hashem Who was their Redeemer, and that all their possessions came solely from Him.
G-d wanted to enrich the Children of Israel in order for them to realize that everything comes from Him, and in order for them to serve Him in prosperity. That is what Moses said to Pharaoh: “… for from it shall we take to serve the L-RD our G-d, and we will not know with what we are to serve the L-RD until our arrival there” (Exodus 10:26). The goal of all wealth is to serve Hashem, and we should not take anything for ourselves, for we are unaware of what G-d requires of us. Perhaps He will “ask of us more than we have in our possession” (Rashi ad loc.).
The phrase, “And you shall know that I am the L-RD” (Exodus 6:7; 10:2, etc.) constants appears in order to remind the Children of Israel that they benefited from each of the plagues inflicted on Egypt (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayera 182) and that everything comes from G-d, hence they should constantly demonstrate their gratitude to Him. Each of the plagues was to bring about an additional awakening in them and make them aware of His unlimited power. If G-d did not kill the Egyptians in one fell swoop, but rather inflicted ten consecutive plagues on them, it was in order to bring the Children of Israel to a greater level of belief and realization that would enable them to receive the Torah.
However to many of the Children of Israel, all these wonders appeared like a recipe for wealth. Thus blinded by their mercantile gains, they preferred to stay in Egypt rather than to conform to G-d’s will.
If the Egyptians had returned to the right path, the plague of locusts would have turned into a blessing for them, and they would have been able to live from this “plague” for many years. They could have acknowledged Hashem, even though they were so far from Him. G-d awaited their Teshuvah, yet when it did not come “the L-RD turned back a very powerful west wind” (Exodus 10:19).
From that plague, the Children of Israel should have drawn the lesson that everything is for the good, and that every ill has its remedy. The plague of locusts could have been a source of plenty, and it was destined to make the Children of Israel recognize G-d’s sublime Name. Hashem dispersed the Egyptians’ joy and hardened their hearts because they refused to acknowledge His power. He made both the living as well as the salted locusts disappear, the latter of which Pharaoh sought to keep (see Keli Yakar, Exodus 10:17). In the same way, all the wealth of the Children of Israel was in danger of evaporating if they did not do Teshuvah. If they desired to stay in Egypt contrary to G-d’s will, it was because all their wealth had been gained illegally and they did not merit it as much as its original owners. Thus instead of praising Hashem and expressing their gratitude to Him, some of the Children of Israel were blinded by their acquisitions. Instead of marveling at the many miracles that G-d performed for them, they considered them as natural events which they were already used to.