SALT - Monday, 23 Tevet 5780 - January 20, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
 
 
            Before the onset of the seventh plague, the plague of hail, God commanded Moshe to appear before Pharaoh and warn him that “ka-eit machar” – “at this time tomorrow” – an unprecedented, destructive hailstorm would devastate Egypt (9:18).  Rashi, based on the Midrash Tanchuma, writes that when Moshe said the words “ka-eit machar,” he made a mark on the wall, and predicted, “Tomorrow, when the sun reaches here, the hail will fall.”  According to the Midrash, Moshe’s prediction that the plague would strike “at this time tomorrow” was intended to be perfectly precise, to the point where Moshe drew a mark on the wall guaranteeing that the plague would strike when the sun reached the spot the following day.
 
            Rav Yosef Salant, in his Be’er Yosef, observes that the Midrash comment would seem to point to a miraculous feature of the hail (beyond its other miraculous features) – namely, that it descended from the skies when the sun shone.  After all, the Midrash describes the sunlight reaching a certain point on the wall when the plague struck, suggesting that there was sunlight.  Normally, of course, dark storm clouds cover the sky before and during the fall of rain or other precipitation.  In this instance, however, as part of God’s manifestation of His unlimited power, which transcends the natural forces, He brought a destructive hailstorm from a clear, sunny sky, without any cloud cover.  (This point is made also by Maharil Diskin.)
 
            We might wonder whether this particular aspect of the plague of hail was simply a demonstration of God’s unlimited might, or if perhaps there was some particular significance to the fact that the hail fell directly from the sky, without any clouds.  If we would want to find a symbolic meaning underlying this aspect of the plague, we could perhaps point to the Gemara’s famous comment that the Egyptians enslaved Benei Yisraelbe-feh rakh” – “with a soft mouth” (Sota 11b).  The Torah uses the word “parekh” to describe the labor imposed upon Benei Yisrael (Shemot 1:13), and according to one view in the Gemara, this word is actually an acrostic representing the words “peh rakh,” alluding to the fact that the Egyptians deceptively lured Benei Yisrael into becoming slaves.  They began by offering handsome rewards and extending friendship in exchange for their service, and once the people were enlisted, they were then trapped, forced to perform slave labor.  This deception, perhaps, is symbolized by the image of the sunny skies from which God produced the devastating hail.  The Egyptians showed Benei Yisrael “sunshine” – friendship, kindness and generosity, but this “sunshine” was fake and insincere, intended to break and destroy the people.  Just as the clear sky, which normally produces pleasant, comfortable conditions, proved destructive, the Egyptians’ warm, kind gestures to Benei Yisrael were actually harmful, intended to ensnare them.
 
            We must ensure that the “sunshine” we extend to other people is always genuine and sincere, truly intended to dispense kindness, and not a phony display of goodness to cover for selfish motives.