SALT - Monday, 23 Tevet 5776 - January 4, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Torah in Parashat Vaera tells of the first seven of the ten plagues that God visited upon the Egyptians, with the account of the final three plagues appearing in Parashat Bo.  Numerous commentators observed the clear pattern that runs through the plagues – namely, every third plague occurs without any warning to Pharaoh.  Whereas the other plagues were preceded by Moshe and Aharon’s approaching Pharaoh to warn of the impending disaster, these plagues – vermin, boils and darkness – were brought upon the kingdom without advanced notice.  Indeed, as we read in the Haggadah, Rabbi Yehuda divided the ten plagues into three groups of three, three and four plagues each, an arrangement that is likely based on this pattern.

            Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim La-Torah (Shemot 7:17), makes another observation about these three groups of plagues.  In each group, he notes, the warning of the first plague was given to Pharaoh at a private meeting, and the warning of the second was given in the palace.  God sent Moshe to warn the Egyptian monarch about the plagues of blood (7:15), wild beasts (8:16) and hail (9:13) early in the morning, when Pharaoh went to bathe.  Before the plagues of frogs (7:27), pestilence (9:1) and locusts (10:1), however, God simply tells Moshe, “Bo el Pharaoh” – “Go to Pharaoh” – which most likely refers to meeting Pharaoh in the palace.  (Proof may be drawn from the fact that after the warning of locusts, Pharaoh’s servants plead with him to free Benei Yisrael, and then Moshe and Aharon are summoned back to Pharaoh; it certainly appears that this meeting occurred in palace.)  It emerges, then, that three different methods were used in an attempt to convince Pharaoh to free Benei Yisrael: private warnings, public warnings, and no warnings.  This was done, Rav Sorotzkin explains, so that Pharaoh cannot later claim that he failed to obey because he did not receive an appropriate warning.  God punished Egypt after issuing all possible kinds of warnings, including no warning at all, to establish that all possibilities were covered in His attempt to persuade Pharaoh to obey His command.

            We might learn from Rav Sorotzkin’s insight that people respond differently to different forms of influence.  In Pharaoh’s case, no method of persuasion worked, but most people can be affected, at least to some extent, by one method or another.  The way one person is uplifted and moved will have no effect on another person.  Not every source of inspiration is suitable or effective for all people.  Just as God had Moshe try different methods in an attempt to persuade Pharaoh, we must realize that many different methods exist with which we can, potentially, impact upon our children, students and peers, and not every method is necessarily appropriate for all of them.  With patience, common sense and an open mind, we can, hopefully, find the right technique for all those under our charge, so we can do what we can to uplift and exert a positive influence upon them all.