Lachein emor livnei Yisrael ani Hashem v’hotzeisi eschem mi’tachas sivlos Mitzrayim (Shemos 6:6)
Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the Jewish people that He will take them out from under the burdens of their suffering. Although the verse literally refers to Hashem taking the Jews out from under the burdens placed upon them by Pharaoh and their Egyptian taskmasters, the Chiddushei Harim suggests an alternate reading which teaches a powerful lesson.
The same words which mean “the suffering caused by the Egyptians” can also mean “the patience to tolerate life in Egypt.” As difficult as their life was in Egypt, the Jews had grown accustomed to it and learned to cope. It represented the only stability they had ever known, and they didn’t even feel an intense desire to be redeemed and go free into the unknown. Hashem told Moshe to hint to the Jews that the first prerequisite to their salvation was the creation of a desire and willingness to be saved.
The Midrash emphasizes the magnitude of the miracle involved in redeeming an entire nation from slavery in Egypt by recording that prior to the Exodus, not a single slave ever successfully escaped from Egypt. While the simple understanding is that this was due to an effective system of policing the borders, Harav Gedaliah Schorr suggests that it was due less to physical control than to mind control. He suggests that the reason no slave ever escaped was because none of them ever tried! Egypt had such an effective system of brainwashing the slaves and convincing them that life beyond the border offered nothing they were currently lacking that they grew complacent and content with their existence.
The following anecdote presents a modern application of this idea. When the town of Brisk needed a Rav, they offered the position to the Beis Halevi, who refused. Undeterred, the community sent back messengers to inform the Beis Halevi that 25,000 Jews were anxiously awaiting his arrival at the train station in Brisk. This message caused him to reconsider and accept the position.
Upon hearing this story, the Chofetz Chaim burst into tears. He explained, “If the Beis Halevi couldn’t refuse 25,000 Jews eagerly anticipating his arrival, surely Moshiach can’t do so either. His delay in coming can only be due to the fact that we’ve grown so accustomed to our comfortable lives in galus (exile) that we don’t feel lacking and aren’t yearning for the final Redemption,” a message we can sadly relate to all too well amidst the abundant creature comforts we enjoy in 21st-century America.
Q: In last week’s parashah, Moshe expressed his reluctance to serve as Hashem’s agent to free the Jewish people due to his speech impediment, to which Hashem replied that his brother Aharon would assist him as his spokesman (4:15–16). Why did Moshe repeat the exact same worry in this week’s parashah (6:12)?
Q: The first plague was that all the water in Egypt turned to blood. Did it literally turn into blood, or did it only take on the appearance of blood, and if the latter, why weren’t the Egyptians able to drink it?
A: Harav Yosef Sorotzkin, zt”l, explains that Moshe had two different concerns regarding his speech impediment. On a practical level, he was worried that people would not be able to understand him and he would be an ineffective agent to convey Hashem’s messages. Additionally, the Rambam writes (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:1) that in order to receive prophecy, a person must be physically complete and whole, without any blemishes. Moshe was afraid that people would be skeptical about accepting him as a legitimate prophet, as they would mistakenly believe that his speech impediment invalidated him from receiving prophecy. In Parashas Shemos, after Hashem told Moshe to go tell the Jewish people that he had been sent by Hashem to redeem them, Moshe expressed his practical fear (4:10) that “I am not a man of words … for I am heavy of speech,” meaning that they wouldn’t be able to understand him. Hashem responded by appointing Aharon to serve as Moshe’s interpreter to help him communicate. The second concern, about the people questioning Moshe’s fitness to receive prophecy, wasn’t an issue because Hashem had already given Moshe clear signs to perform for them to demonstrate his authenticity. In Parashas Va’eira, Hashem told Moshe to go speak to Pharaoh, to which Moshe responded, “I have sealed lips,” meaning that I have a physical blemish and Aharon’s clear speech won’t help, since Pharaoh won’t even accept me as a prophet. Hashem responded (6:13) by addressing a prophecy to both Moshe and Aharon, indicating that He would convey the prophecies to both of them, and since Aharon had no physical blemish, the legitimacy of their messages wouldn’t be questioned or challenged by Pharaoh.
A: The Seforno writes that the water literally turned into blood, and as a result the fish died since they were unable to survive in blood. The Daas Zekeinim maintains that although the water took on the appearance of blood, it still retained the taste of water. In order to prevent the Egyptians from drinking it, Hashem additionally caused all the fish to die and render it putrid and undrinkable. Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, notes that the verse (7:21) mentions that the Egyptians were unable to drink the water only after recording that the fish died and caused the river to stink, which seems to support the explanation of the Daas Zekeinim. However, he notes that it is a bit difficult to explain that there was a second component of this plague, the putrification of the fish, one which seemingly wasn’t even performed by Moshe and Aharon. He also points out that according to this explanation, the Egyptians should have been able to drink the water which wasn’t connected to the river and didn’t contain fish, and he suggests based on 7:19 that these other water sources must have been turned into actual blood.