• S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program

  • Peirot Haaretz  


    Akiva Schiff

    Yeshivat Har Etzion


    On Pesach, The Festival of Freedom, the Jewish people celebrate their exodus from Egyptian slavery. Undeniably, one of the focal points of the entire Torah is the narrative of the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, the powerful plagues that were inflicted on the Egyptians, and the glorious tale of the nascent people escaping the clutches of the Egyptians, passing through the Red Sea, and receiving the Luchot at Har Sinai. Indeed this era of Jewish national history is one of the pinnacles of the Torah, and a key part of our faith.

    Now, that said, if one wanted to know where to search to find the best description of the process of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, surely he should go to Sefer Shemot. The book begins with the seventy descendants of Yaakov Avinu settled in Egypt, and continues, with a plethora of detail, to illustrate the famous story with all the facts. If so, the question arises: Why do we read from Parshat Ki Tavo in Sefer Devarim on the Seder night, and not from Sefer Shemot? The main section of Maggid in the Pesach Haggada goes through the following four short pesukim and expounds them through Midrash; why is this abbreviated form of the story used instead of quoting from the more detailed version in Sefer Shemot?


    ..."An Aramean [sought to] destroy my forefather, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there with a small number of people, and there, he became a great, mighty, and numerous nation.

     And the Egyptians treated us cruelly and afflicted us, and they imposed hard labor upon us.

    So we cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.


    And the Lord brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, with great awe, and with signs and wonders." - Devarim (26:5-8)


    Perhaps the reason is practical. It would take much longer to read through half of Sefer Shemot, and thus we use a convenient summary of the same narrative provided elsewhere in the Torah.


    Alternatively, perhaps this narrative is actually preferred because it is an example of someone telling the story. These pesukim are part of the recitation of one who comes to bring Bikkurim, the first fruits of the harvest, to the Beis HaMikdash. Sefer Shemot records the facts as it happens. But perhaps it is preferable to tell it as a story. A story has a beginning, middle and an end. The text here, begins with the Avot (Arami Oved Avi -An Aramean [Lavan] sought to destroy my Father [Yaakov]), then mentions the descent into Egypt, and examines the slavery itself, and concludes with the salvation of the nation. Thus this section would be a greater fulfillment of Sippur Yetziyat Mitzrayim, telling the story of the exodus.


    Furthermore, the Bikkurim are rife with their own internal significance, which could lend more meaning to the practice of reading from there at the Seder. At its core, the Mitzvah of Bikkurim is one to express gratitude. When man has worked for weeks and months to tend to his field, and to produce a beautiful bounty, he is commanded by the Torah to set aside the first fruits of his harvest to God. This is a lesson in gratitude to Hashem, to thank him for a successful yield. Moreover, this is a reminder to man, that no matter how hard he works, and how much he produces, all of his output is still a tremendous gift from God. These themes are immensely applicable to Pesach. Upon thinking of our redemption from slavery, we should be overcome with a sense of gratitude to Hashem. On the heels of gratitude, comes a strong recognition that our entire lot in life and all of our successes are a gift from Hashem. Thus, the reenactment of the exodus provides a reminder of our eternal dependence on Him.


    This was the purpose of Yetziyat Mitzrayim, and this is the reason why we remind ourselves of the story each year. We were not redeemed for the sake of redemption; rather we were redeemed by God to be his chosen people. To spread his glory in this world, and to build lives and communities of Kedushah in which he can dwell. May we merit the opportunity to celebrate our covenant with Hashem, to feel his constant presence in our lives, and to be cognizant of his unfaltering generosity to us.


     (Much of the content here is from an article by Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon)


    Dani Kurtz


         The clock struck midnight and the final plague commenced. Firstborns were dropping dead all throughout the land, and panic and fear were rushing through Pharaoh's blood. He was searching frantically for Moshe and Aaron to tell them that he had changed his mind and that B'nei Yisrael (B”Y) – men, women, children, and even the flock and cattle – were free to go.  But right before Paroh ended the conversation he added one request, “Uvarachtem gam osi,” (Shemos 12:32) and Rashi says this means, “Hispalelu ali shelo emos she’ani bechor.” At the very end of the shibud mitzrayim, in the very last moments that B”Y were in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh asked that they daven for him – he asked them to ask Hashem to not kill him because he is a bechor. When Pharaoh was afraid for his life, seemingly in the final few seconds of it (in his eyes anyway), he recognizes Hashem.

         This however, should not come as such a surprise because Pharaoh definitely acknowledged Hashem’s existence before this – possibly as far back as Macas Tzfardae when he realized that he must ask Moshe and Aaron to ask Hashem to remove the tzfardaim because his sorcerers were unable to do so.  The question is: if Pharaoh had already recognized Hashem earlier than Macas Bechoros, why did he wait so long before sending B”Y free?

         The Ramban (D”h Va’ani Ekshe es Lev Pharaoh) on the pasuk, when Hashem tells Moshe, “Va’ani ekshe es lev Pharaoh,” (Shemos 7:3) says that because of this pasuk the heretics are enabled to ask, ‘if Hashem decided that He would “harden” Paroh’s heart, what was Pharaoh's sin and how could Hashem hold him accountable for all the punishments that He gave him? After all, Pharaoh was unable to control his sinning and do teshuva because Hashem had predetermined to harden his heart?’ One of the answers that the Ramban gives is if one looks back at the first five macos, it is possible that Pharaoh was punished with them because of his own actions, and not because Hashem was dictating his every action. He proves this from the fact that after these five macos when the pasuk says that Pharaoh's heart became “chazak” or “cavade,” it makes no mention that Hashem caused it as it does by the five later macos.  Rather, this was Pharaoh acting of his own volition. From here, says the Ramban, we see that Pharaoh had no intention to send out B'nei Yisrael Lichvod Hashem. Then, when the macos began to be too much for him to handle, he was actually considering whether or not he should send B'nei Yisrael free – but not because he wanted to do the RatzonHashem. At this point, Hashem stepped in and “hardened Pharaoh's heart” as he said he would, in order that He would be recognized throughout the world. But this was only after Pharaoh was given the chance and chose to harden his heart on his own at first. This can help explain why Pharaoh would not send out B'nei Yisrael starting from Macas Shchin and on, but what remains is to try and understand why he would not send them out by one of the first five macos. 

         When the macos first begin, back at Macas Dam, Pharaoh's sorcerers were able to perform the same act of turning blood into water. Similarly, by Macas Tzfardae the sorcerers were able to make frogs arise from the water to the dry land.  Thus, it is not so shocking that Pharaoh would not send B”Y free after these two macos.  This is because Pharaoh was also unconvinced of Hashem when Aaron turned his staff into a snake (to prove he and Moshe were sent by Hashem) since his sorcerers were capable of doing the same. The Ibn Ezra (D”h Vayichazek) comments on this encounter by saying that here Pharaoh hardened his heart on his own because he saw that his sorcerers were able to do the exact same trick as Aaron, and so it seems that he thought that what Aaron did was sorcery as well. It stands to reason then, that since the sorcerers were also able to carry out Macos Dam and Tzfardae, Pharaoh would push them off as being mundane sorcery.  However, there was one thing that the sorcerers were unable to do with the tzfardaem, and it was to get rid of the ones that they brought up from the water (ayain Ibn Ezra D”h Vaya’asu, Shemos 8:3). Thus Pharaoh saw that there was a difference between what Aaron and his sorcerers did, forcing him to call Moshe and ask him to daven to Hashem to remove the frogs. This is Pharaoh's first recognition of Hashem. Nevertheless, assuming that the fact that he saw his sorcerers perform the same action as Aaron is reason enough to keep his heart hardened and not send the B'nei Yisrael free, the next few macos should have given him a change of heart.

          When the sorcerers attempted the next maca, Kinim, they failed miserably. They then told Pharaoh, “Etzba Elokim hee,” (Shemos 8:15) which simply means that they are acknowledging that this maca must be from Hashem. The Ibn Ezra here explains that Pharaoh never denied “Elokim” (God the Creator Who can effect and take part in the world[1]), just “Hashem/ Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay” (God as Hashem Who is manifest in all reality and everything beyond[2]) Who was Moshe’s God. And so, on a very simple level, when the sorcerers told Pharaoh that this maca was “Etzba Elokim,” it did not tell Pharaoh anything about Hashem. The Ramban (ayain D”h Vayomru Hachartumim el Pharaoh, Shemos 8:15), however, takes issue with the Ibn Ezra’s interpretation of the sorcerers’ statement. He says that really by saying “etzba,” they were just attempting to minimize the miraculous fashion of the maca by not saying “Yad Elokim,” (the “hand” being stronger than the “finger”) but they were most definitely admitting that the plague was done by Hashem. According to the Ibn Ezra, the original question would again be pushed off because according to him Pharaoh did not recognize Hashem through this maca. On the other hand, the Ramban would say that here too it was clear to Pharaoh that Hashem exists, but he was too stubborn to let the Jewish people free.

         Again, by Macas Arov, Pharaoh cannot handle the plague and he asks Moshe to daven for him. This time it seems that Paroh has no excuse to believe the maca originated from any source other than Hashem, but nevertheless he refuses to set the Jews free. Then, in Macas Dever, Pharaoh's last chance to send B'nei Yisrael free before Hashem takes charge of him; he, out of his own stubbornness, hardens his heart. Now it is too late and even if he wanted to send B'nei Yisrael free Hashem would not allow him to do so (see Ramban mentioned previously).

         And so, it seems from here to remain unclear exactly why Pharaoh would not send out Klal Yisrael earlier than he did. From this story of Pharaoh, one can begin to understand the harsh effects of not being able to listen to truth and reason when it is staring him in the face. Unfortunately, stubbornness can be manifest in many areas of one’s character. Hopefully after one begins to comprehend what Pharaoh's stubbornness caused him and his people, one will be able to recognize the importance of working on these areas in one's own life and be able to overcome this ever so powerful characteristic.



    [1] This is a very basic understanding of the shemElokim.”  For a better understanding please speak to someone knowledgeable on the subject of the shemos of Hashem.  Since this is not the main point of the subject at hand it will not be discussed at length.

    [2] This is a very basic understanding of the shem “Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay.”  For a better understanding please speak to someone knowledgeable on the subject of the shemos of Hashem.  Since this is not the main point of the subject at hand it will not be discussed at length.


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