Rabbi Shimon [bar Yochai] continued: It is now fitting to reveal mysteries connected with that which is above and that which is below. Why is it written, “Come in to Pharaoh”? Ought it not rather have said, “Go to Pharaoh”? It is to indicate that G‑d brought Moses into a chamber within a chamber, into the abode of the supernal mighty serpent that is the soul of Egypt, from whom many lesser serpents emanate. Moses was afraid to approach him, because his roots are in supernal regions, and he approached only his subsidiary streams. When G‑d saw that Moses feared the serpent, He said, “Come in to Pharaoh.”
When Pharaoh would soften, his servants and ministers would harden themselves; when they would soften, Pharaoh would harden; when both would soften, G‑d would harden their hearts.
Moses was distressed to see the forces of evil capable of such resolution and determination. So G‑d said to him: They, on their own, do not possess such power. It is only because I have hardened their hearts . . .
(The Chassidic Masters)
Pharaoh was willing to let the menfolk go, as long as the children remain behind; for as long as the younger generation remains “in Egypt,” there would be no future for the people of Israel.
The “Pharaohs” of our day have the same attitude. If the older folk wish to cling to Jewish tradition, that is perfectly acceptable; but the youth should be raised in “the spirit of the times” . . .
(Maayanah Shel Torah)
Pharaoh said to them: “By my astrological art I see the star ‘Evil’ rising towards you in the wilderness; it is a sign of blood and slaughter.”
Consequently, when Israel sinned by worshipping the golden calf, and G‑d threatened to slay them, Moses said in his prayer (Exodus 32:12): “Why should the Egyptians speak and say: He brought them forth in evil.” The Egyptians will say: Indeed, we have already said, “See, there is evil before you.” Hence, “G‑d bethought Himself concerning the evil” (ibid., v. 14).
G‑d then changed the blood, of which this star was an emblem, to the blood of the circumcision. Thus, when Joshua circumcised the people of Israel (immediately after they entered the Holy Land), he said (Joshua 5:9): “This day have I removed from you the reproach of the Egyptians”—that which the Egyptians said to you, “We see blood impending over you in the wilderness.”
When the locusts first came, the Egyptians rejoiced and said: “Let us gather them and fill barrels with them.” Then did G‑d say: “Wretches! Will you rejoice with the plagues I have brought upon you?” Immediately, “G‑d turned a very strong west wind . . . there remained not one locust in all the borders of Egypt”—even those that had been pickled in their pots and barrels took wing and fled.
Why did G‑d . . . bring darkness upon the Egyptians? Because there were transgressors in Israel who had Egyptian patrons and who lived in affluence and honor, and were unwilling to leave. So G‑d said: “If I bring upon them publicly a plague from which they will die, the Egyptians will say: ‘Just as it has passed over us, so has it passed over them.’” Therefore He brought darkness upon the Egyptians for three days, so that the [Israelites] should bury their dead without their enemies seeing them.
There were six days of darkness. . . . During the first three, “a man did not see his fellow”; during the last three days, one who was sitting could not stand up, one who was standing could not sit down, and one who was lying down could not raise himself upright.
There is no greater darkness than one in which “a man did not see his fellow”—in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of his fellow man. When that happens, a person becomes stymied in his personal development as well—“nor did anyone get up from his place.”
Ordinarily, G‑d spoke with Moses only outside of the city, which was full of idols and impurities. On this occasion, however, He spoke to him in the throne room of Pharaoh’s palace. For Moses had said to Pharaoh, “You have spoken well; I will see your face again no more”; yet in the following verses, he conveys this new message from G‑d to Pharaoh! This means that G‑d appeared to Moses in the very epicenter of the idolatry and depravity of Egypt.
To what is this comparable? To a man who is locked up in prison and is told: “Tomorrow you shall be freed from prison and given a lot of money.” Says he: “I beg you, free me today, and I ask for nothing more . . .”
[But G‑d had said to Abraham at the “Covenant Between the Parts”: “Know that your children shall be strangers in a foreign land, [where] they will be enslaved and afflicted . . . and afterwards they will go out with great wealth” (Genesis 15:13–14).]
So G‑d had to plead with them: “Please! Ask the Egyptians for gold and silver, so that the Righteous One should not say: ‘They will be enslaved and afflicted’ He fulfilled, but He did not fulfill ‘and afterwards they will go out with great wealth.’”
(Talmud, Berachot 9b)
Why was it so important that the children of Israel should carry out the wealth of Egypt, to the extent that this was foretold hundreds of years earlier to Abraham as an indispensable component of their redemption?
Every creation contains a “spark of holiness” which embodies its divine purpose. When a person utilizes an object, force or phenomenon to serve the Creator, thereby realizing its function within G‑d’s overall purpose for creation, he “redeems” and “elevates” the divine spark at its core.
Every soul has its own “sparks” scattered about in the world, which actually form an integral part of itself: no soul is complete until it has redeemed those sparks which belong to its mission in life. Therein lies the purpose of galut in all its forms: the exile of the soul from its sublime origins to the physical world, and the various exiles that nations and individuals experience in the course of their history, impelled from place to place and from occupation to occupation by seemingly random forces. All is by divine providence, which guides every man to those possessions and opportunities whose “spark” is intimately connected with his.
As the father and prototype of all exiles, the Egyptian galut was a highly concentrated period of history, in which the foundations were laid for all that was to unfold in subsequent centuries. The material world contains 288 general “sparks” (each of which includes innumerable offshoots and particles); of these, 202 were taken out of Egypt, redeemed and elevated when the Jewish people carried off its gold and silver and used these to construct a sanctuary for G‑d in the desert (see Exodus 25–31).
(The Chassidic Masters)
This chodesh (new moon, month) shall be for you the head of months; it shall be for you the first of the months of the year (12:2)
G‑d showed Moses the new moon at its moment of rebirth, and said to him: “When the moon is reborn, mark the beginning of a new month.”
There was a large courtyard in Jerusalem called Beth Yaazek, where all the witnesses (who had seen the appearance of the new moon) used to assemble, and the beit din (rabbinical court) used to examine them. They used to entertain them lavishly there, so that they should have an inducement to come . . .
The pair of witnesses who arrived first were crossexamined first. The senior of them was brought in and they said to him: “Tell us how you saw the moon—in front of the sun or behind the sun? To the north of it or the south? How big was it, and in which direction was it inclined? How broad was it?” . . . Rabban Gamaliel used to have diagrams of the phases of the moon on a tablet on the wall of his upper chamber, and he used to show them to the unlearned and ask, “Did it look like this or this?” . . .
After that they would bring in the second witness and question him. If their accounts tallied, their evidence was accepted. The other pairs were questioned briefly—not because they were required at all, but so that they should not be disappointed and discouraged from coming (the next time).
The head of the beit din would then proclaim: “Sanctified!” and all the people would repeat after him, “Sanctified! Sanctified!”
(Talmud, Rosh Hashanah ch. 2)
What blessing was to be recited by one who beholds the new moon, in the period when Israel used to sanctify the new month? Some of the sages hold: “Blessed be He who renews the months.” Others say: “Blessed be He who consecrates the months.” And others say: “Blessed be He who hallows Israel,” since unless Israel sanctify it, it is not sanctified at all.
The moon begins to shine on the first of the month, and increases in luminance till the fifteenth day, when her orb becomes full; from the fifteenth till the thirtieth day her light wanes, till on the thirtieth it is not seen at all. With Israel too, there were fifteen generations from Abraham to Solomon. Abraham began to shine . . . Jacob added to this light . . . and after them came Judah, Peretz, Chetzron, Ram, Aminadav, Nachshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse and David. When Solomon appeared, the moon’s orb was full. . . . Henceforth the kings began to diminish in power. . . . With Zedekiah [in whose time the Holy Temple was destroyed], the light of the moon dimmed entirely.
It is written (Genesis 1:16), “G‑d made the two great luminaries”; but then it says, “The great luminary . . . and the small luminary”?
[Indeed, at first they were both great; but then] the moon said to G‑d: Master of the Universe! Can two kings wear the same crown?
Said G‑d to her: Go diminish yourself.
Said she to Him: Master of the Universe! Because I have said a proper thing, I must diminish myself?
Said He to her: You may rule both during the day and at night.
Said she to Him: What advantage is there in that? What does a lamp accomplish at high noon?
Said He to her: The people of Israel shall calculate their dates and years by you.
Said she to Him: But the sun, too, shall have a part in that, for they shall calculate the seasons by him.
Said G‑d: The righteous shall be called by your name—“Jacob the Small,” “Samuel the Small,” “David the Small.”
Still G‑d saw that the moon was not appeased. So G‑d said: “Offer an atonement for My sake, for My having diminished the moon.” This is the significance of what Reish Lakish said: Why does the he-goat offered on Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) differ from the others in that it is specified as for G‑d? G‑d is saying: This he-goat shall atone for My diminishing of the moon.
(Talmud, Chullin 60b)more
The months of the year are lunar months, as it is written: “This chodesh shall be for you the head of months.” So said our sages: G‑d showed Moses the figure of the [new] moon in a prophetic vision, and said to him: “Thus you should see and sanctify.”
However, the years which we figure are solar years, as it is written: “Keep the month of spring” [i.e., ensure that the month of Passover is always in the spring season].
The solar year is eleven days longer than a year of [twelve] lunar months. Therefore, when this surplus accumulates to the amount of 30 days—either a little more or a little less—they add an extra month, so that the year has 13 months; this is what is called a shanah meuberet (“pregnant year”). [This is done] because one cannot make the year to consist of so many months plus so many days, since the verse says, “[It shall be for you the first of] the months of the year”—implying that the year should consist of months, and months only.
The moon is concealed each month, and remains invisible for approximately two days—for about one day before it is closest to the sun, and about one day after it is closest to the sun—after which it can be seen in the west in the evening. The night on which it is visible in the west marks the beginning of the month, and one counts from that day 29 days. If the moon is visible on the eve of the 30th, then the 30th day is Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”); if not, then the 31st day is Rosh Chodesh, and the 30th day belongs to the previous month.
(Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Sanctification of the Moon)more
Time is the first creation (see Sforno on Genesis 1:1); thus, the sanctification of time is the first mitzvah commanded to Israel.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
On the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb. . . . You shall keep it until the 14th day of that month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it towards evening (12:3–6)
When G‑d told Moses to slaughter the paschal lamb, Moses said: “Master of the Universe! How can I possibly do this thing? Don’t You know the lamb is the Egyptian god? ‘Lo, if we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?’” (Exodus 8:22)
Said G‑d: “By your life, Israel will not depart from here before they slaughter the Egyptian gods before their very eyes, so that I may teach them that their gods are really nothing at all.” This is what He actually did; for on that night He slew the Egyptian firstborn, and on that night the Israelites slaughtered their paschal lamb and ate it.
That year, the 10th of Nissan was a Shabbat; this is why the Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (“The Great Shabbat”)—because a great miracle happened on that day. For when the children of Israel took their paschal lambs on that Shabbat, the Egyptian firstborn converged on them and asked them: “Why are you doing this?” They replied: “It is a passover sacrifice to G‑d, for He will kill the firstborn of Egypt.” The firstborn approached their fathers and Pharaoh to request that Israel be allowed to go, but they refused; so the firstborn waged war against them, killing many of them. Thus the verse (Psalms 136:10) proclaims: “[Offer thanks] to He who smote the Egyptian with their firstborn.”
(Tosafot to Talmud, Shabbat 87b)
“I will pass”—I, and no angel; “I will smite”—I, and no seraph; “I will execute”—I, and no messenger; “I am G‑d”—I am He, and no other.
Those that were of wood rotted; those that were of metal melted.
The Jews in Egypt had sunk to the “forty-ninth gate of impurity,” so that morally and spiritually they were virtually indistinguishable from the Egyptians. Thus, when G‑d passed over the Jewish firstborn to kill the Egyptian firstborn, the divine attribute of justice argued: “How are these any different from these? These are idol-worshippers, and these are idol-worshippers!” Nevertheless, G‑d chose to extract the children of Israel from “the bowels of Egypt” and acquire them as His chosen people.
This is why the plague of the firstborn occurred precisely at midnight. The first half of the night embodies the divine attribute of gevurah (justice), and its second half, the divine attribute of chessed (benevolence). Midnight is the juncture that fuses and supersedes them both, since the power to join two opposites can come only from a point that transcends their differences. “Midnight” is thus an expression of a divine involvement in creation that transcends all standard criteria for punishment or reward.
The Hebrew word rav (“multitude”) has a numerical value of 202; the “mixed multitude” represents the 202 sparks of holiness that the Jewish people extracted from Egypt (see commentary on 11:2 above).
In the Passover Haggadah we say: “If G‑d had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we, our children and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt . . .”
Our sages explain that the children of Israel had become so entrenched in the paganism and depravity of Egypt that the Exodus came at the very last possible moment, as they approached the very brink of total indistinguishability from the Egyptians. Had they remained slaves in Egypt a moment longer, there would have been no “children of Israel” to redeem.
“Egypt rejoiced when they left” (Psalms 105:38). Said Rabbi Berechiah: This is comparable to a fat man who is riding on a donkey. The donkey longs: “Oh, when will he get off me?” and the man longs: “Oh, when will I get off the donkey?” As soon as he gets off, the man is happy and the donkey is happy. Still I do not know: who is the happier?
So, too, when the Jews were in Egypt, and the plagues were befalling the Egyptians, the Egyptians were longing: “Oh, when will the Jews get out?” And the Jews were longing: “Oh, when will G‑d redeem us?” As soon as they went out and were redeemed, these were happy and these were happy. Still, I did not know: which was the happier? Until King David came and said: “Egypt rejoiced when they left.”
In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself came out of Egypt; as it is written: “This is done because of what G‑d did for me when I came out of Egypt.”
(Talmud, Pesachim 116b)