“Pharaoh sent and summoned Moshe and Aharon and he said to them: I sinned this time; the Lord is righteous and I and my people are wicked. Plead with the Lord; there has been too much thunder of God and hail. I will send you forth and you will not continue to abide.” (Shmot 9:27-28)

Parshat Vaeira ends with the seventh plague, the plague of hail. It wrought massive devastation upon Egypt, destroying vegetation, livestock and even people who were in the open. Only in the district of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived, was there no hail. Pharaoh could not endure it a moment more and he pleaded with Moshe and Aharon to bring an end to the plague. He promised to set the slaves free if only the storm would cease. However, God hardened his heart and he did not liberate the Hebrews. There is a unique phrase in Pharaoh’s request to Moshe and Aharon to stop the plague of hail which we do not find elsewhere: “The Lord is righteous and I and my people are wicked.” This admission of Pharaoh did not go unrewarded by Hashem, as Rashi points out in his commentary on the Song at the Sea in parshat Beshalach.  There (Shmot 15:12) we read, “You extended Your right hand and the earth swallowed them.” Rashi, citing the Midrash (Mechilta), notes, “From here we see that [the Egyptians] merited burial, this was a reward for saying: The Lord is righteous.” God could have left the corpses of the Egyptian army floating on the surface of the sea or washed up on the beach for the birds and fish to feed upon. They certainly deserved such an ignoble end for all the suffering they brought upon the Israelites, but He did not do so. Instead, He buried them in the earth, granting them dignity in death.

Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz (Lithuania, 1860-1929, in Shiurei Da’as 4:16, cited in Haggadah Shel Pesach Gedolei Telz) is astounded by this statement of our sages: “This admission of Pharaoh, that he had sinned and that Hashem is righteous and he and his people are wicked, did not flow from the depths of his heart nor from a true recognition. Rather, it was a result of being under duress and pressure, after great and awesome plagues. Moreover, he did not remain true to his admission but immediately sinned [when the hail was over] as Moshe had predicted (Shmot 9:30), ‘And as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’ Later, they returned to their corrupt ways and pursued the Children of Israel. Therefore, how is it possible that this admission, which came as a result of duress, could be the very reason for a reward and a merit? For burial is a merit for a person, as the Sages commented, ‘They required many miracles so that they should receive that reward’”.

Rabbi Bloch derives from this an important concept: “The impression made by a good thought or a good word is enduring and is never erased. Such good thoughts or words bring reward to those who contemplated or uttered them even if at the current time they no longer agree with their former sentiments.  Nonetheless, they are rewarded for the good they did in the past. Consider the Egyptians: at the very moment they received their reward, they stood defiant and failed to recognize Hashem. Nonetheless, the admission that escaped their lips, even though it was uttered at a time of duress, brought about a recognition of the greatness and righteousness of God. This has an impact on the very substance of creation, in that it brings about a desired effect, and because of this they received their reward.”

If a deed, thought or word brings about a positive result, God will reward the person involved, even if they were under duress at the time and even if they had no intention at all to produce the result that occurred.   This is true even of animals. In parshat Mishpatim (Shmot 22:30), we are commanded “You shall be holy people to Me; you shall not eat meat of a mauled animal in the field, you shall cast it to the dog.” Why do dogs receive the carcasses of animals that are not fit for human consumption? Rashi, citing the Midrash (Mechilta) explains, “This teaches us that God does not withhold the reward of any creature, for it states (Shmot 11:7, in reference to the Exodus), “But for all the Children of Israel, a dog will not extend his tongue from man to beast so that you will know that the Lord distinguishes between Egypt and Israel.” Dogs usually bark and bay when the angel of death is in town (Bava Kama 60b). Yet, on the eve of the exodus from Egypt, when the firstborn were being struck, no dog barked at or frightened a single Hebrew. For this deed, God rewarded dogs for all time, granting them the carcass of a mauled animal. This, in spite of the fact that the dogs in Egypt had no intention or understanding that they were doing anything positive!

Rabbi Bloch continues his premise and notes that it should now be understood that any good deed that was done in any past era is preserved for generations. The merit generated by those good deeds will stand us in good stead in times of tragedy and suffering. The blessings that come from those good deeds sprout throughout the ages even if we are unaware of their source. We should therefore not be surprised if, in our generation, we will see the final redemption, even though Jews of previous generations were better and greater than we were. The reward for the good that they did has been held in abeyance until the time God sees fit to grant it.

At the moment, we are all praying for the safety and victory of the soldiers of the IDF; we are reciting Tehillim and prayers for the speedy and safe return of the hostages and we are beseeching God to bring an end to the war. Jews around the globe are petitioning Hashem, volunteering their time and donating their money towards the war effort. There is an unprecedented feeling of unity and togetherness in Israel and in the diaspora. The tragedy of the seventh of October has awakened a spirit of return to Hashem within the hearts of the Jewish people. There is a massive demand from Israeli soldiers for tefillin and for tzitzit vests, even from non-religious combatants. The organisations that are supplying these sacred items can barely keep up with the demand. In Gaza, soldiers are making daily minyanim, reading the Torah and learning the daily page of the Talmud! Now, it may be true that this awakening has come about because of duress and pressure. If not for the war, these soldiers would have no interest in tzitzit or tefillin. If not for the war, there would not be such a spirit of volunteerism and unity within the Jewish people. But, according to Rabbi Bloch, does it matter? These are all good deeds and good deeds make a lasting impression. We pray that God will (Devarim 26:15), “Look from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the land that You gave us, as You took an oath to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!  

Rabbi Liebenberg.

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha:

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