Witnessing Creation – Va’eira


In parshat Va’eira we read about seven of the Ten Plagues that HKB”H unleashed on Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

Anyone who studies the Ten Plagues cannot help but ask themselves these questions - “Why Ten Plagues (and not Three for example)?” and “Why these specific plagues?”

Hashem, the Creator of the universe is all-powerful. If He wanted to take us out of Egypt, why didn’t He simply wreak one cataclysmic event, like an earthquake, shut Egypt down and let Am Yisrael walk out free? Or even better, put all the Egyptians into a coma for a month or two and by the time they had woken up, we would have already received the Torah and been long on our way to our land of milk and honey? And, if Hashem is already concocting different plagues, why turn water into blood and not into mud or lava? why frogs and not rats or …. penguins? Everyone knew there were frogs in Egypt. How much more impressive would it have been if suddenly millions of penguins started coming out of everywhere?

Some mefarshim say that the Ten Plagues wereמדה כנגד מדה  for all the wrongs the Egyptians did to Am Yisrael and they bring examples. However, did the Egyptians only do ten things to us? They did a lot more! What about when they demanded we make our own bricks and when we couldn’t fill the quota, (according to the midrash) they took children and used them as bricks and cemented them into the walls of the building! Where is the plague that was מדה כנגד מדה for that?

So obviously there is something deeper behind this……

In last week’s parsha (Shmot) we read about Hashem revealing Himself to Moshe at the burning bush and giving him different signs to show Am Yisrael so they would believe he was the redeemer. One of these signs was to take his staff and throw it on the ground and have it turn into a snake (some say crocodile). Moshe’s staff also features prominently in this parsha, being used repeatedly to initiate and terminate the plagues. What is this staff and what makes it so special?

The midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) says that this staff, מטה, was one of the things HKB”H created during the Creation on ערב שבת בין השמשות. It was not a cylindrical staff, but had four straight sides and was made from sapphire. Hashem gave this special staff to Adam Harishon. It was then passed on successively to Shet, Metushelach, Chanoch, Noach, Shem, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and Yosef. When Yosef died, his estate/palace was turned into a monument and this staff remained in it. Yitro, one of Pharaoh’s advisors חרטומים, took this staff back with him to Midyan. He kept it in his garden where it miraculously became embedded in the ground and could not be moved. Every suitor seeking to marry Yitro’s daughters was challenged to extricate this staff from the rock - unsuccessfully (reminds you of king Arthur and Excalibur? they “stole” this legend from us). Along comes Moshe who manages to remove the staff and marries Tzipporah. This is the staff mentioned in last and this week’s parshiyot.

Why am I telling you all this? The Yalkut Shimoni says there was an engraving on the staff, ten letters, can you guess which? דצ"ך עד"ש באח"ב the ראשי תיבות of the Ten Plagues that we have in the Haggadah (Rebi Yehuda’s simanim). This was the staff Moshe used to initiate the plagues and …… it was already created during the Creation! Long before Mitzrayim (the grandson of Noach) was even born and even longer before Am Yisrael went down to Mitzrayim!

This means that when Hashem created the world He already ordained that there would be Ten Plagues. The Ten Plagues were therefore not simply a response מדה כנגד מדה to evils committed by the Egyptians (actually they also were, but this fact was secondary). The primary purpose of the Ten Plagues and specifically these ten, was much deeper.

Harav Baruch Rosenblum shlita, quoting the ספר תורת המנחה and the ספר מלאך רזיאל, explains that Hashem created the world with עשרה מאמרות, ten utterances (Avot 5,1). The תורת המנחה goes into detail how the ten correlate with the text in the first chapter of Breishit (which I will skip here as it is lengthy). When Adam was created, he entered a world that was complete, ready laid out for him. This means that there were no human witnesses to the Creation of the world! Moshe received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and it tells about the Creation, but nobody actually witnessed the lions being created, the seas, stars, etc. Hashem told Moshe how it happened and today we see lions roaming the savannah and the stars in the sky, so we take Hashem’s word for it, but nobody actually saw it happen.

The מלאך רזיאל says that there are three sets of “Ten” that are intertwined, symbolized by the words היה, הווה ויהיה. These refer to -

 היה – עשרה מאמרות

הווה – עשר המכות

יהיה – עשרת הדברות.

It was not incidental that there were exactly Ten Plagues in Egypt and they were exactly those specific ones, blood, frogs, etc. The תורת המנחה goes into great detail and shows how each of the plagues corresponds with each of the עשרה מאמרות of the Creation

דם היה בכח מאמר יקוו המים וגו

צפרדע היה בכח מאמר ישרצו המים שרץ וגו

כינים היו בכח מאמר תדשא הארץ דשא וגו

ערוב היה בכח מאמר תוצא הארץ נפש חיה וגו

דבר היה בכח מאמר יהי מאורות וגו

שחין היה בכח מאמר ויאמר להם א-לקים פרו ורבו וגו

ברד היה בכח מאמר יהי רקיע בתוך המים וגו

ארבה היה בכח מאמר בראשית (כי בראשית מאמר הוא) וגו

חשך היה בכח מאמר יהי אור ויהי אור ויבדל אלקים בין האור ובין החשך וגו

מכת בכורות היתה בכח מאמר ויאמר א-לקים נעשה אדם וגו

(Some are self-explanatory and some require further explanation and you are encouraged to read further -תורת המנחה, חלק ראשון – בראשית שמות, פרשת בא, דרשה כב).

In other words, the Ten Plagues in Egypt were a re-enactment of the Creation of the world on a similar, apocalyptic scale, only this time - we were there to witness it with our own eyes!

This is why the מטה was created at the dawn of time with those initials engraved on it and why it finally found its way to Moshe who initiated the Ten Plagues with that very staff, the same Moshe who later went up to Har Sinai to receive the עשרת הדברות (which also correlate with the above plagues and מאמרות – but that is for another shiur). Hashem planned it that way when He created the world!

It is a profound, mind blowing principle and is also echoed in Kiddush on Friday night –

זכרון למעשה בראשית כי הוא יום תחילה למקראי קדש זכר ליציאת מצרים

The Ten Plagues in Egypt were a repetition of the Creation – for all to witness.

Just imagine what it would have been like to be a spectator in the bleachers at the Ten Plagues, or at the actual Creation of the world? Imagine the cost of front-row seats for that! Actually the truth is that the Creation is not something that only took place way-back-when, at the beginning of time and re-enacted in ancient Egypt with the Ten Plagues. The Creation is actually being re-enacted now, live! at this very moment, every second, every mili-second –

המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית

Harav David Grossman shlita gives a vivid parable to illustrate this. Picture a candle burning. The flame you are seeing at any given point in time is not the same flame from five minutes ago or even 30 seconds ago. Each mili (nano/pico/…) second, the flame is being renewed, recreated and fueled by the energy source - the wax/oil.

Every mili-second HKB”H is recreating the world and constantly injecting energy into it, exactly as He did 5781 years ago and we see it (in our nails and hair growing, in the rain falling, the wind blowing, etc.) but we don’t pay attention to it, because we take it for granted. It is not on an apocalyptic scale as it was 5781 years ago and 3333 years ago in Egypt, but - it is no less spectacular or wondrous, we just have to recognize and appreciate it. Witnessing the birth of your child is a wondrous sight and makes a big impression on us, but the miracle of your nails growing is not any less miraculous or impressive!

In our “modern” world it takes a lot to jolt us. Hollywood has to increasingly ramp up the “reality” factor to command our attention. If you watch a movie from the 1950’s or 60’s it seems “cheesy” compared with today’s movies. We are becoming increasingly numbed by ever increasing ultra-violence, ultra-decibel volume, ultra-closer close-ups, ultra-repetition, ultraeverything” - with the aim of trying to make reality “more real”. Compare that with watching your nails grow – when last did you spend an evening doing that?

Sometimes we do get an apocalyptic scale jolt, like a hurricane or tornado, or ….. COVID-19 - that’s a jolt that commands our attention. Perhaps we get the above because we need something to remind us what REAL is and who the REAL Boss is. Maybe if we came to the realization ourselves we wouldn’t need the wakeup calls.

That is what waking up in the morning and saying מודה אני is all about, it is the very foundation and basis on which the entire Torah rests – הכרת הטוב for our very existence, every second of every day!

If Adam Harishon would have paid closer attention to this, we would not be where we are now. That is why we needed גלות in Egypt - to cleanse us from the sin of the עץ הדעת. This is why when Hashem told Avraham –

גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם .... ארבע מאות שנה

Avraham just accepted it and did not try negotiate with Hashem – “How about 350 years, 200?” like he did with Sdom, because that is what Hashem required to fix that fault in our makeup. Why davka 400 years? (Chazal say that the 400 years began when Yitzchak was born). We don’t know. When you take your pants to the dry cleaners it takes 45 minutes to launder them. Why 45 minutes? That’s the requirement. If you do it for less, it does not come out clean.

Which finally brings us to the “bread connection” (there has to be some bread connection right? my shiurim all have one or more). Here it is. The Gematria of היה, הווה ויהיה is 78, the same Gematria as לחם. This is also not incidental since the Lechem Hapanim is (amongst other things) a כפרה for חטא אדם הראשון (I go into greater detail about this in my new book about the Lechem Hapanim which will be published soon בסעייתא דשמיא).

Now when we daven Shacharit every day we can really understand what it means –

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ. עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא אֶת הַכֹּל.

הַמֵּאִיר לָאָרֶץ וְלַדָּרִים עָלֶיהָ בְּרַחֲמִים. וּבְטוּבוֹ מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׁה בְרֵאשִׁית.

מָה רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ יְהוָה כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ.

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