To Dedicate Please Contact: Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
It was at midnight and Hashem smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting in his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon and every firstborn animal. (Shemos 12:29)
In this week’s parsha we learn about the slaying of the firstborns. The slaying of the firstborns was the climax and culmination of events that Hashem brought upon the wicked Egyptians. It was this final blow that forced Pharaoh to say “Rise up, go out from among my people, even you, even the children of Yisroel, go and serve Hashem as you spoke. (Shemos 12:31)
We may ask what symbolic significance is there in this that the redemption took place at midnight.
In parshas Lech Lecha we learn that Avraham was told that his nephew Lot was taken captive. The Torah tells us that Avraham armed his household and pursued the enemy to save Lot. The posuk says “And he divided against them at night, he and his servants and he struck them” (Bereishis 14:15). Rashi explains that the word “divided” modifies the word “servants.” Thus, the interpretation of the posuk is, Avraham divided his servants into different battalions and pursued the enemy during the night. However, the Midrash interprets the word “divided” as a modifier of the word “night.” The posuk is thus interpreted as meaning, the night was divided. Based upon this idea, the Pisikta Rabbasi (17) says in the name of Rebbi Tanchuma the following: “Hashem said, Avraham went out at midnight [to save Lot], I too will go out at midnight [to redeem his children].” This Midrash teaches us that the redemption of the Jewish people took place at midnight as a reminder that Avraham went out at midnight to save his nephew Lot.
The commentators ask why did Avraham risk his life to save Lot. The Four Kings that Avraham was pursuing were much more powerful then he. Certainly, midnight was not an ideal time to wage war either. In addition, Lot was not exactly a righteous person who deserved this extreme kindness. Why did Avraham risk his life for him?
Rashi in the end of parshas Noach (11:28) quotes a Midrash that tells us how Terach, Avraham’s father complained to Nimrod that his son Avraham had destroyed his idols. In response, Nimrod threw Avraham into a furnace. Haran, Avraham’s younger brother sat and watched. He said to himself, if my brother Avraham will be saved I will join him. If he will perish I will join Nimrod. After Avraham was miraculously saved they asked Haran, “Who do you support, Avraham or Nimrod?” He replied, “I am with Avraham.” Thereupon, they threw him into the furnace and he died.
It emerges from this incident that Haran was the first person who gave up his life to sanctify Hashem’s name. Although Avraham was also thrown in to a furnace and was willing to give up his life for Hashem, a miracle occurred and he was spared. It was only Haran who actually gave up his life in sanctification of Hashem’s name. Haran’s sanctification of Hashem’s name represents the reality of life. Miracles don’t happen often. Avraham’s attempted sanctification and miraculous salvation was the exception. Realizing this, Avraham felt he had an obligation to do something for Haran in recognition of what had happened. It was only because Haran’s true belief in the teachings of Avraham’s that he lost his life. Avraham’s feeling of gratitude and obligation to Haran was channeled to his only son Lot. Avraham took it upon himself to care for him. Indeed, we find that Avraham took Lot with him wherever he went. When the time came for Avraham to separate from Lot, Avraham promised him that he would come to his aid whenever needed. When Lot was captured Avraham risked his life to save him. He felt that this was the least he could do for the son of his brother who has given his life to sanctify Hashem’s name.
The redemption of the Jewish People took place at midnight. Rebbi Tanchumah tells us that this was a reminder that Avraham risked his life to save Lot at midnight. We may suggest that the above idea is the deeper meaning behind the meaning of midnight. Just as Avraham risked his life to save Lot in the merit of his father Haran who made the ultimate sacrifice for Hashem, likewise, the redemption of the Jewish people took place in the merit of those who did not survive the exile but gave up their lives in order to sanctify the name of Hashem.
Chazal tell us that what happened to our forefather is a sign for us. There have been many great accomplishments in the history of the Jewish people. Each major accomplishment is reminiscent of the redemption of the Jewish People from Egypt. Just as the redemption took place at midnight to remind us that it was in the merit of those who gave up everything for the Jewish people, likewise we must not forget that every accomplishment in the history of the Jewish people is only due to the merit of those who gave up everything for those who would come after them.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2004