January 27, 2017
My chaver, Rav Shalom Rosner shlita, Rav in Beit Shemesh, and Rebbe in Reishit and Shaalvim, shares an important insight into the nature of Emunah. Hope you enjoy, and have a great Shabbos and Chodesh tov!
God afflicts the Egyptians with the plague of dever – all of their flocks died. Pharaoh sends his servants to check if the animals of the Jews died as well. The Torah records that Pharaoh is informed that none of the animals of the Jews died. We would assume that this would lead Pharaoh to consider freeing the Jews. After all, he lost all of his flocks and the Jews lost none – a clear message regarding the existence of the Jewish God. However, the exact opposite occurs. On the heels of Pharaoh hearing this news, his heart his hardened again and he does not free the Jews. How are we to understand this puzzling sequence? Why would Pharaoh become more determined not to free the Jews after seeing something which should have prompted him to free the Jews?
The Malbim points to the fact that the Torah says “did not die from the flock of the Jews ad echad – until one.” (9:7) What does “ad echad” mean? Shouldn’t it have just said “echad” which would have meant that not even one died? There are two other places in the Tanach were it says “ad echad.” One is at the splitting of the sea in reference to no Egyptians surviving, and the other in the Book of Shoftim where no one from the army of Sisra survived the battle against the Jews. In both places, our Sages teach us that the words “ad echad” mean that one did survive. The Midrash teaches that Pharaoh survived the Yam Suf, and the Navi itself makes it clear that Sisera survived the battle and then went on to Yael’s tent.
The Malbim suggests that this is the meaning in our Parsha as well. Pharaoh sent his messengers and found out that while most of the Jewish owned flock remained alive, “ad echad” – one of their animals did die. (He explains that this was an animal belonging to the Jewish woman who had a relationship with an Egyptian man.) Once Pharaoh saw that an animal from the Jewish owned flock died, he was able to convince himself that it was not the hand of God and he refused to free the Jews.
We learn a very important and practical lesson from this episode. If we have an attitude that we don’t want to believe, then the greatest act of God will not persuade us to believe. We will always find the way out. Every single Egyptian owned animal died and every Jewish owned animal but one lived. And Pharaoh was able to focus on that one and convince himself that God was not involved.
Rav Yisrael Salanter points out that in “Ein Kelilokenu” we seem to say things out of order. Shouldn’t we first say “mi keilokeinu” – “who is like our God” - and then say “ein keilokeinu,” that there is none like our God? He explains that the order is very precise. If we live our lives truly questioning if there is a God or not, then we are not going to end up believing and, like Pharaoh, we will find our way out. However, if we start with the premise that there is a God – “ain keilokeinu” – and we now question and search to try to see Him more clearly and gain a better understanding of Him, then our search will yield fruit. That is the way a Jew must live his life and we should be blessed with the opportunity to build off that base starting level of emunah and continue to see God in our daily lives.