Weekly Reading Insights: 



From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of Moses)

13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman

14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe Alshech of Tsfat

17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya Horowitz

18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar


Now Scripture did not elucidate the nature of these judgments because "the vanities by which they are instructed are but timber" [Jeremiah 10:8]. Similarly, at the time when this actually took place, it is written "and the Eternal smote all the firstborn...and all the firstborn of cattle" [Further, verse 29], but does not mention the judgments executed against their gods. The Egyptians' apprehension on that night concerned the death of the firstborn, whereas the judgments executed against their idols did not come to be known till the morning when they went to the house of their abominations. And it is written, "And the Egyptians were burying them that the Eternal had smitten amongst them, even all their firstborn, and upon their gods the Eternal executed judgments" [Numbers 33:4].

In my opinion, Scripture alludes here to the lords on high, the gods of Egypt, something like the verse, "The Eternal will punish the host of the high heavens on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth" [Isaiah 24:21]. Thus He subdued the power of the Egyptians and that of the lords over them ("the idols of wood rotted, and the one of metal melted"-Rashi). But Scripture hints and deals briefly with hidden matters.


Rabbeinu Bachya

"..not a dog will whet his tongue.." [11:7]

A kabbalistic approach: "what does the whetting of a dog's tongue have to do with the plague of the dying of the firstborn?" It is a well known fact that the dog is a totally materialistically oriented animal which is never satiated. Isaiah 56:11 confirmed this when he said: "moreover the dogs are greedy; they never know satiety." The greed of the destroyer (Satan) is similarly never satiated. Proverbs 30:15 describes him as constantly demanding: "give! give!" Seeing that the animal which died of natural causes (nevelah) as well as the one which was torn by wild beasts (treifa) died due to the power of said "destroyer," the Torah commanded to throw such carcasses to the dogs (compare Exodus 22:30) so that two species of the same category should meet.

This is the mystical dimension of our verse here. Seeing that it is the nature of the dog to constantly attack and cause damage, it was appropriate that just as the celestial destroyer (Satan, the angel of death) did not attack the Jewish firstborn so its terrestrial counterpart would not make any threatening noises either. The tongue is characteristic of the original serpent which inflicted its damage upon the world and upon man by the indiscriminate use of its tongue. This is why the tongue of the dog is singled out by the Torah in this connection….
It was customary for the dogs to bark at midnight. This was the time when the angel of death would normally reap its harvest in Egypt.
…Our verse here tells us that at the same hour when the dogs were barking at the Egyptians, not a single one barked at an Israelite. The Torah added: "in order that you shall know that HaShem will have differentiated between Egypt and Israel."



"Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his advisors, so that I will be able to demonstrate these miraculous signs within them." [10:1]

The effect of the plagues never penetrated inside of him. Now, however, G-d would display miracles which would result also in the previous ones registering bam, "within them."

Hardening of the heart of his servants, was for the purpose of teaching Israel the lesson of what befalls hardened sinners, as outlined in Tzefaniah 3:6-8. The Jewish people, though they had known G-d, had to learn that the same G-d who is the source of mercy, is also the source of justice. Sometimes, when one experiences what one believes to be G-d's goodness, one assumes that this is an expression of approval of one's conduct. The Egyptians who had brought their livestock and slaves into safety, did not realize that they were being saved merely to enable G-d to prepare an even bigger disaster for them.

The righteous know that when they experience hardships, this is merely a facet of G-d's mercy. The wicked delude themselves that when they experience ease and comfort that this is their ultimate destiny, forgetting that it may be only a prelude to G-d's justice. Saving the unripe crops made the Egyptians susceptible to the plague of locust. What Pharaoh thought was relief was merely a preparation for the next round of retribution.



"This month shall be for you." (Ex. 12:2)

The commandment to sanctify the new moon and to arrange for leap years when necessary is designed to ensure that the various holidays set out in the Torah occur in their respective seasons. Passover must occur in spring; Sukkot in autumn. Leap months and leap years were determined by calendar calculation even during the eras when the appearance of the new moon was confirmed by visual observation.

Astronomical factors were not ignored. We have a tradition that the luminaries symbolize a two-faced concept [such as Adam and Eve before Eve was separated from Adam by G-d. Ed.]. The moon receives its light only from the sun. The secret of when the moon renews itself is when it is positioned close to the sun. (This statement needs a detailed analysis. I have dealt with it in my commentary on tractate Pesachim under the heading Torah Ohr, sub-category Rosh Chodesh.) Women observe the New Moon more than their husbands…

Women observe the New Moon more than their husbands, since, symbolically speaking, the moon (as the lesser of the luminaries) remains on the wane for no more than seven days before it begins to shine again. Similarly, a menstruating woman becomes pure again after seven days.

The normal menstrual cycle of a woman is thirty days, similar to the cycle of the moon. We find in the Midrash Ha-nee-elam of the Zohar Chadash that whereas the gentile nations arrange their calendar according to the orbit of the sun, the Jewish people count according to the orbit of the moon. At first glance we would have thought that the opposite should be true. When G-d told the moon to diminish itself, the moon was not placated until told that Israel would use it for its calendar calculations (Chulin 60).

The moon was also promised that the righteous would bear its name. This is a metaphor and means that Israel walks in darkness in this world, whereas the nations of the world walk in light. The moon in this world shines only at night when it is dark. When Israel is in exile it experiences an existence similar to that of the moon. Just as the moon, despite its temporary eclipse, re-emerges and shines, so will Israel re-emerge after its exile. The blackness [absence of moonlight. Ed.] of the moon is an allusion to its being in mourning over the fate of Israel in exile.

Shemot Rabba (15:26) makes the point that there were 15 generations from Abraham to King Solomon. These generations represented the rising star of the Jewish people, similar to the first half of the month when the moon is in its ascendance. After Solomon, the star of the Jewish people began to decline, much like the moon towards the end of the month. King Zedekiah was the 29th generation after Abraham, and it was during his life that the Temple was destroyed, that the light of the Jewish nation was eclipsed. The fact that King Zedekiah had his eyes gouged out by the Babylonians further re-enforces the allegory between the moon and the fortunes of the Jewish people.

There will come a time, however, when the light of the moon will be as brilliant as that of the sun, when G-d and His Name will be one, when a new light will shine over Zion. The formula used in our benediction when we recite the prayer for sanctification of the moon each month contains the words "a crown of glory to those burdened from birth". We refer to the Lord who bade the moon to renew itself, "a crown of glory to those burdened from birth, who are likewise destined to renew themselves just like the moon, and to glorify their Maker because of the glory of His kingdom." I have dealt with this in the chapter mentioned earlier.


Ohr HaChayim

"G-d said to Moses" (10:1)

The Torah mentions amira, the soft approach, as well as G-d's name as the Merciful One. This did not refer to the "sender," i.e. to G-d, but to the messenger Moses, as we see in verse 3. [Whereas as recently as 9:35 the Torah referred to Moses as having spoken sternly, diber, to Pharaoh, now there is a change of mood. Ed.] Moses spoke in a kindly manner to Pharaoh even while delivering a warning of a devastating plague. G-d warned him to do so, as otherwise he might have lived up to the description of the righteous man in Psalms 58:11 where the Holy Spirit describes the righteous as rejoicing when he observes G-d taking revenge. Moses is reminded that what truly makes the righteous happy is seeing G-d's attribute of Mercy in action.

Furthermore, the Torah employs the attribute of Mercy to remind us that G-d did not send the plague immediately after the warning but gave Pharaoh time to change his mind and to release the Israelites. If he did this then he and his country would be spared the suffering entailed by the plague of locusts. According to Shemot Rabbah 9,12, a week or even twenty-four days would elapse between the warning and the implementation of the plague. All this was part of the attribute of Mercy in action.

On the other hand, it is possible that our verse underlines that even the attribute of Mercy agreed joyfully that the time had arrived to take revenge on this enemy of G-d and the Jewish people.



Ramban - credits
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or 'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B. Chavel

Bachya - credits
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.

Alsheich - credits
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alsheich, the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)

Shelah - credits
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916, Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the Ashkenazi Siddur.

Ohr HaChayim - credits
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

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