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Behold, at this time tomorrow I shall rain a very heavy hail such as there has never been in Egypt, from the day it was founded until now. (Shemos 9:18)
In this week’s parsha we learn about the plague of hail. Rashi, commenting on the words “at this time tomorrow” writes that Moshe scratched a mark on the wall and said to Pharaoh that tomorrow when the sun’s rays reach this point the hail will descend. It is noteworthy that only with regard to the hail was the moment of its arrival predicted with such precision. All other plagues began as Moshe or Aaron performed a specific action as commanded by Hashem or on its own at a non specific moment. Even regarding the last plague, the slaying of the firstborns we find Moshe telling Pharaoh that it will occur ‘approximately’ at midnight.
The birth of Yitzchak was also predicted with a scratch on the wall. Rashi (Bereishis 21:2) says that a year before the birth of Yitzchak, the angel who was visiting Avraham etched a scratch on the wall and told him that next year when the sun’s rays reach this mark Sarah will give birth to a child. What is the connection between the plague of hail and the birth of Yitzchak in that both were predicted in a similar fashion?
Perhaps both the birth of Yitzchak and the plague of hail represent the concept of yiras shamayim, i.e., fear of heaven. Chazal tell us that Yitzchak represents the trait of fear. Yitzchak’s father, Avraham introduced the trait of love for the Jewish People. We thus find Avraham associated with kindness, an outgrowth of love for another person. However, at times there is a need to balance love with fear. This was Yitzchak’s contribution. Indeed, Yitzchak’s association with the trait of fear is mentioned to in the Torah. The posuk says “And Yitzchak trembled a great trembling …” (Bereishis 27:33). And Yaakov swore by the dread of his father Yitzchak (Bereishis 31:53).
Similarly, the plague of hail was a test of the Egyptian people’s fear of heaven. Moshe clearly warned them to gather in their livestock and possessions before the coming of the hail so that they would not be destroyed. The Torah tells us that those who feared the word of Hashem brought inside their servants and livestock and whoever did not take the word of Hashem to heart left their servants outside in the field (Shemos 9:20-21). The plague of hail was the only plague that the Egyptians could have avoided. They had free will. All they needed to do was exercise their free will to be saved.
Chazal tell us that everything in this world is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven (Berachos 33b). Chazal further teach us that the only thing Hashem has in his storehouses is a treasure of fear of heaven. (Berachos 33b) Thus the greatest satisfaction Hashem has is when man exercises his free will to fulfill His will. We may suggest that this is why both the birth of Yitzchak and the plague of hail were announced and predicted with a scratch on the wall. This tangible mark of time indicates a yearning for the moment of arrival. Actions of man that express fear of Hashem are truly the only yearning of Hashem.
The posuk says “It will shine for those who fear my name a sun of righteousness …” (Malachai 3:20). The posuk simply means that those who fear Hashem will benefit from the rays of Hashem’s Divine Presence. We may homiletically interpret the posuk as referring to those marks mentioned above. Just as these two moments in time were awaited for by the creation of a scratch that would be illuminated by the rays of the sun at a precise moment, likewise throughout history there are many moments that Hashem looks forward to. Hashem who knows the future recognizes that these moments will bring with them expressions of fear of heaven. Thus the posuk may be interpreted as meaning that Hashem yearns for the moment when the rays of sun will shine on those scratches (the moments) when man will exercise his free will in an expression of yiras shamayim.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003