A Time To Laugh

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Rabbi  Daniel Doron Levy  

 

Recalling the Ten Makot (plagues) that Hashem performed in Mitzrayim is the highlight of the seder for every child. The pasuk where we learn of our obligation to share the story of leaving Egypt with our children uses unique terminology. In Shemot (10:2), the word “hitalalti,” meaning “made fun of” is used. The Rambam explains that the damage Hashem rendered with His ten plagues was a display of His revenge for all of Paro’s wicked decrees against the Jews. The Rambam cites the pasuk from Tehillim: “The one who sits in Heaven will degrade them. Hashem will laugh at them.” Essentially, Hashem made a mockery of the Egyptians. According to Rashi and the Rambam, part of “Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim” is discussing this irony. 

 

The Be’er Yosef (Rav Yosef Salanter) elaborates on this commentary as follows. When Hashem commanded Moshe to warn Paro that Egypt would be plagued with locusts and grasshoppers, He prefaced it by saying that He would harden Paro’s heart. Up until this point Paro had been relatively respectful while interacting with Moshe, but at makat arbeh (the plague of locusts) Moshe and Aharon were, by then, not in Paro’s favor. After makat choshech (the plague of darkness) Paro’s hostile behavior continued as he warned Moshe: “Get out of here. Be careful. I do not ever want to see your face again.”  

 

Paro Changes His Tune 

 

Interestingly, in his time of need, the mighty king of Egypt, who purported to act like a god, ran through the streets in the middle of the night screaming, “Where is Moshe? Where is Aharon?” The Jews, his former slaves, were laughing at a man they despised and had feared just months ago. As makat bechorot (the killing of the firstborn) descended, Paro screamed, “Get up and get out and serve your Gd as you asked!” 

 

Let us recall that Paro  bargained with Moshe numerous times. At first he refused to let the Jews go completely, and then he relented slightly, asking, “Who do you want to go?” He agreed to let only the men go and pray before hardening his heart again. But now, a desperate Paro not only totally acquiesced, but he was also ready to send animals for sacrifices! He begged, “Please pray for me not to die, as I am a firstborn.” Is there a bigger irony than that? Elaborating on these details is an integral part of our fulfilling the mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim – the obligation to share the story of leaving Egypt with our children. 

 

For a long time, Paro believed himself to be a god. After all, the Nile River came to his feet and he provided food to his humble servants and to the whole land of Egypt. During makat arbeh (the plague of locusts), however, all the grains of the field were destroyed and a terrible famine was felt throughout the land. Paro’s pride was severely damaged, as “the mighty provider” proved to be powerless to feed anyone. The once superior Egyptians were now hopeless subjects with nowhere to turn. They came to realize that their “mighty Paro” was an imposter, a mere mortal, a human being, totally helpless to save even himself. He, like all of us, was subject to the mercy of the one true Gd, Hashem. Sharing these amazing insights with our children and depicting how Paro’s ego was deflated will enhance our fulfillment of the mitzvah of Sipur Yetziat Mitzrayim on Pesach. 

 

The Egyptians’ Reaction  

 

After makat barad (the plague of hail) descended, Mitzrayim looked like a war zone. The grass was ruined, broken trees blocked all the roads and walkways, and the crops of flax and barley were decimated. The Egyptians were shocked by the mass destruction before them, but the fact that wheat and buckwheat remained offered some consolation. Miraculously, these crops were spared from this horrific plague. 

 

Alas, even Paro’s small pleasure quickly turned to sorrow as the plague of arbeh eradicated all rest of the crops in sight. HaRav Shlomo Homner, who wrote Sefer Eved Hamelech, describes how the Egyptians prepared salted and pickled grasshoppers for dinner. They filled their storage houses with these delicacies only to be disappointed yet again when the grasshoppers flew away. The Jewish people laughed at the Egyptians and teased them saying, “How many grasshoppers did you eat today?”  

 

In a similar fashion, the wild animals left the land after makat arov so that the Egyptians should not benefit from the animal skins. Measure for measure, Hashem mocked the Egyptians, who ridiculed the Jews during their enslavement in Egypt. 

 

May we merit seeing true justice as Hashem shows us the final redemption and His name is sanctified before the world. Amen!