The Weekly Sedra – Parshas Bo

The Rebbe says:

1. In this week’s Torah portion Hashem (G-d) sends the tenth and final plague upon the Egyptian people- every firstborn in the land of Egypt died.

2. When Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) forewarned Pharaoh about the impending catastrophe that was about to befall him and his people he told him that the plague would happen “Ki’cha’tzos Ha’lie’lah – at around midnight”.

Rashi explains that the actual prophecy which Moshe Rabbeinu received from Hashem to tell over to Pharaoh was that the plague of the firstborn would happen precisely at midnight however Moshe Rabbeinu changed the wording to “at around midnight” because if he would say “precisely at midnight” and Pharaoh and his stargazers would make a mistake as to when the exact time of midnight is, they would say that Hashem was late or early (Heaven Forbid) in bringing the plague.

3. The Rebbe now asks a question and points us in the right direction:

Why did Moshe Rabbeinu have to tell Pharaoh the time when the plague would occur? He did not mention a specific time by any of the other nine plagues!

We must therefore say that the time of the plague-midnight- was such vital information that Pharaoh would not be able to understand what the plague was if he was not told the time.
Now what’s left to understand is why the time of the last plague-midnight- was so significant.

4. Before getting to the answer the Rebbe points out another two differences between the tenth plague and the nine before it, and then questions them:

First difference: For the plague of the firstborn the Jewish people were told to put a sign on their doorposts- the blood of their Bris Mila (circumcisions) and the blood of the Korban Pesach (the Passover Sacrifice)- so that the plague would not affect them. However for the other nine plagues they were not told to do this.

Second difference: Hashem warned the Jewish people that throughout the night of the plague of the firstborn they should not leave their houses at all because “once permission was given to the destroyer, he does not differentiate between righteous ones and wicked ones” and the Jewish people were at risk of getting hurt as well. However during the other nine plagues the Jewish people were able to go about their business as usual.

Question: The Jewish people did not suffer from any of the other nine plagues and they did not have any special signs or precautions to guard them and keep them safe. Why didn’t the rule of “once permission was given to the destroyer, he does not differentiate between righteous ones and wicked ones” apply to the other nine plagues as well?

5. The Rebbe now provides a surface-level answer to this question:

The reason the first nine plagues did not fall under the category of “once permission was given to the destroyer, he does not differentiate between righteous ones and wicked ones” is because each one of them was very limited and defined; let’s take the plague of frogs for example- it is a specific thing (frogs), doing a limited amount of damage (they could not kill the Egyptians), in a particular way (the technique that frogs use to do damage). However the tenth plague was not limited or defined at all- it was not through a specific thing, there were no limits to the amount of damage that could be inflicted on the Egyptians (it could actually kill them) and there was no particular way in which it killed them. Therefore, since this plague did go under the category of “once permission was given to the destroyer, he does not differentiate between righteous ones and wicked ones” the Jewish people needed to take precautions to stay safe.

6. The Rebbe now gives a deeper explanation of how the first nine plagues and the tenth plague differ:

The main purpose of the first nine plagues was not to punish the Egyptians; it was to let them know that Hashem is the undisputed ruler of Heaven and earth. As Moshe Rabbeinu says in the name of Hashem, “Through this shall you know that I am Hashem”. Therefore Hashem kept the Egyptians alive during these nine plagues.

On the other hand the main objective of the tenth plague was for punishment- to kill the Egyptians.

Consequently, the first nine plagues, which were there to show that “I am 
Hashem”, were obviously not appropriate for the Jewish people who already knew that Hashem is the Creator of Heaven and earth and they did not to take precautions to be safe.

However the tenth plague, which came as a punishment, was fitting for the Jewish people as well, as the Midrash (a major collection of homilies and commentaries on the Torah) relates, “the attribute of Judgment (Gevurah) came and complained to Hashem that the Jewish people do not deserve to be redeemed from Egypt because they are no different from the Egyptians, ‘These people served idols and these people also served idols’ ”. Therefore the Jewish people needed to take precautions to be safe from this plague.

The precautions that they took were- 1) “Place the blood on your doorposts”, and 2) “Do not leave your house”. Both were needed:

Hashem said that He would “pass over” all the Jewish houses. In other words, the destroyer only had permission to enter the non-Jewish homes to kill all the firstborn. However the destroyer needs to know which home is Jewish, therefore they put the blood of their Bris Mila and Korban Pesach on the doorposts.

On the other hand the destroyer was given no restrictions in the streets; it was there to totally destruct and destroy. Therefore the only solution to this was to completely stay indoors.

7. The Rebbe now questions why the sign on the doorposts saved them:

As we said earlier, the attribute of Judgement had a good complaint- “These served idols and these served idols”. In other words, the Jewish people did deserve the punishment of the tenth plague. If so, why were the Jewish people actually saved?

8. The Rebbe now answers this question:

The complaint of the attribute of Judgement made perfect sense, however this is only applicable at a level where logic is taken into account. On the other hand at a place in Holiness where all levels and gradation are not at all taken into account, a place in Holiness higher then the regular order of the creation of the worlds (L’mala M’Seder Hishtalshilus), the logic of Judgement’s complaint is not applicable; at this level Hashem loves the people of Israel for absolutely no reason- He just loves us. Therefore, even though the attribute of Judgement came to Hashem and complained that the Jewish people deserve to be punished just like the Egyptians, Hashem said, you are right, however “I love Jacob (the Jewish people) and “I hate Eisau (the non-Jewish people)”.

9. The Rebbe now answers his original question as to why Moshe Rabbeinu gave Pharaoh a time when the plague would occur and also explains what the special connection between the plague of the firstborn has to midnight:

Chassidus explains that during the first half of the night the attribute of Severity (Gevurah) is most prevalent, and during the second half of the night the attribute of Kindness (Chessed) is most prevalent. As we see, during the first half of the night darkness gets stronger and stronger, keeping in line with the most prevalent attribute shining then- Severity, and from the halfway point and on it gets lighter and lighter, keeping in line with the most prevalent attribute shining then- Kindness.

The first half of night- Severity, and the second half of night- Kindness, meet at the exact middle point of the night- midnight. Moreover, for midnight to be able to connect Severity (the first half of night), and it’s exact opposite- Kindness (the second half of night), it needs to be superior then both of them. In other words, during midnight the light of Holiness which is higher then the regular order of the creation of the worlds is shining and is therefore able to connect the two opposite attributes of Severity and Kindness.

Therefore, since during midnight the light of Holiness which is higher then regular order is shining, the plague of the firstborn had to happen precisely at midnight; since Hashem was only punishing the Egyptian people and not the Jewish people, which as we said before comes from a place which is higher then the regular order of things, this had to happen during midnight when this kind of light is shining.

This also explains why Moshe Rabbeinu felt the need to tell Pharaoh that the plague would happen at midnight: If Moshe Rabbeinu would have only told Pharaoh that the plague of the firstborn was going to happen, Pharaoh and his star gazers would not have believed him because they would have thought, “They deserve to be punished just like us, how could this plague come and only punish us?” Therefore Moshe Rabbeinu told them that it was going to happen at midnight when the light of Holiness which is higher then all calculation is shining and therefore only the Egyptians would be getting struck.

10. The Rebbe now explains the need for a sign on their door:

All G-dly flows of energy to this world are responses to our work and service; when we work and serve Hashem He reciprocates and sends His Blessings to us down here. Furthermore, one must prepare appropriately for the kind of Blessing and energy that he is trying to get. For example, if one is going to a wedding he does not prepare himself by putting on his baseball uniform, he puts on his fanciest attire.

Consequently, when the Jewish people needed to prepare for the special light which was going to come down into this world during the plague of the firstborn, a light which is higher then normal order, they needed to prepare appropriately by doing something which was higher then normal- they needed to act in a way which is higher then logic:

A Bris Mila (circumcision) is an eternal bond between the Jewish child and Hashem; it is a bond which can never be severed. This bond is higher then logic, as can be readily seen from the fact that we give the Bris Mila to a child who does not have understanding yet- we are stressing that this Bris Mila is higher then logic.

The Korban Pesach was also something which was done with Mesiras Nefesh (total self sacrifice): The Egyptian people worshiped sheep (among other things). Therefore, when the Jewish people took sheep for themselves right in front of the Egyptians and then told the Egyptians to their face that they were going to slaughter the sheep, it was serious self sacrifice! The Jewish people were not afraid of the Egyptian’s reaction when being told that their G-d was going to be slaughtered, they fulfilled Hashem’s command without any thoughts of the consequences.

Now we can understand why the sign on their doorposts, the blood of their Bris Mila and the blood from the Korban Pesach, caused Hashem to save them even though they logically didn’t deserve it. Being that those actions, Bris Mila and Korban Pesach, were deeds which express and reveal the infinite bond between the Jewish people and Hashem, they caused Hashem to reciprocate by revealing His limitless love for the Jewish people and not punishing them.

Translated and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Goldberg. Taken from Likutei Sichos volume three.