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For this time I shall send all my plagues against your heart and upon your servants and your people so that you shall know that there is none like me in all the world (Shemos 9:14)
In this week’s parsha we learn about the plague of hail. Rashi takes note how the posuk mentions the coming of the hail with the expression “all of my plagues.” Rashi says we may derive from this that the plague of hail was equal to all the other plagues combined. The commentators note that it would seemingly appear that the last plague, the slaying of the firstborns of Egypt was the most severe of all the plagues. What exact quality of hail made it equal to all the other plagues combined?
To answer this question we must first understand that the primary purpose of the plagues was not to punish the Egyptian people but to make them aware of the existence of Hashem and His omnipotence. Indeed, the posuk toward the beginning of the parsha says, “And Egypt shall know that I am Hashem when I stretch out My hand over Egypt” (Shemos 7:5). There is no mention of punishment, only acknowledgment of the existence of Hashem. It may be true that the slaying of the first born was the most severe. It may even be true that the severity of the slaying of the firstborns was equal to all the other plagues combined, however, it did not necessarily achieve the desired effect that Pharoah and his people realize that Hashem has control of the entire world. Only in regard to hail do we find the Torah telling us that its effect was equal to all the other plagues combined.
We may suggest that the unique characteristic of the plague of hail was how Moshe was able to predict the exact moment it would begin. Commenting on the posuk “at this time tomorrow” Rashi tells us that Moshe etched a scratch on the wall and told Pharaoh that when the sun reaches this mark tomorrow the hail would descend.
With regard to no other plague do we find such precision. Even the last plague, the slaying of the firstborns was predicted only with approximation. The posuk there says “So said Hashem at about midnight I shall go out in the midst of Egypt.” (Shemos 11:4). Rashi notes that Moshe said at “about midnight” and not “at midnight.” Rashi explains that Moshe knew that the astrologers of Pharaoh might err in their calculation of midnight and say Moshe is a liar. He therefore said at about midnight which may be interpreted as either a little before or a little after. In contrast, here with regard to the plague of hail Moshe told them the exact moment. Here there was no room for error because the hail descended by day and the moment it descended could be seen when the rays of the sun shine on the scratch.
We may further note that hail is a form of rain. Indeed, the Torah used the expression of rain in connection to hail. Even in modern times with our advanced technology, weather forecasters cannot predict with certainty a day in advance if it will rain or not, how much more so the exact moment the rain will descend.
From all the different elements of creation time is the most difficult to comprehend and define. Hashem has given human beings great understanding of the natural world, even power to manipulate it. However man has no control over time. Man has no power to stop time, return to the past or go to the future.
We may suggest that this is what frightened Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It was the realization that Hashem had complete control of time. The plague of hail was equal to all the other plagues because only it was predicted to come at a specific moment. Man’s limitation to understand and control time was something that the Egyptians were cognizant of. Indeed, concerning the second plague of frogs we find Moshe asking Pharaoh when he would like the frogs to stop. Pharaoh replied, “Tomorrow.” Pharaoh was willing to suffer an entire day just to see if Hashem has control over time.
Chazal tell us that every plague had lessons for the Jewish people as well. We may learn form this plague how powerful the concept of time is. The Ba’alei Mussar tell us that the greatest tactic of the evil inclination is procrastination. If we would only realize that the moment is coming when we will have to give an account for all our actions, we would take to heart our duty and obligations in this world.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2004