In this week’s parsha we learn of the final three makkos that Hashem delivered to the Egyptians. After describing the final makka, makkas bechoros, to Mosher, Hashem tells Moshe that there will be a tze’aka – a great cry – the likes of which there never was and never will be. From reading the pesukim it appears as though this great cry is part of the actual makka. But that begs for interpretation; generally crying is a natural reaction to pain and affliction. Why is it considered part of the plague?
Foremost, it is necessary to explain a bit of the background picture to better understand this aspect. The personal confrontation discussed in the past few parshiyos between Moshe and Pharaoh is not merely a historic confrontation between two individuals that happened thousands of years ago. As the Rambam wrote to his son regarding these parshiyos, the conflict between Moshe and Pharaoh also represents the power struggle that goes on continually between the Yetzer Hatov and Yetzer Harah within each and every one of us. Moshe represents Hashem’s voice and the Yetzer Hatov telling us to obey the ratzon Hashem; Pharaoh and the Mitzriyim represent the Yetzer Harah and our ability to block out the ratzon Hashem from our minds.
As humans, we have the capacity to generate delusions of our power and control. We see this ability continually throughout the ten makkos, but most dramatically during makkas bechoros. Moshe Rabbeinu has predicted the catastrophes that befell Egypt nine times, and each one occurred and departed exactly as predicted on cue with no deviation.
Now Moshe tells Pharaoh about the final makkah that will kill every firstborn and will cause an unbelievable terror and panic. There can be no shadow of doubt in anyone’s minds that such an event can and will take place. But what do we find when it actually strikes at midnight?
The Chumash reports that Pharaoh got up that night. Rashi elaborates that Pharaoh woke up from his bed. This reveals to us something astounding. The capacity of the human ego to deny reality knows no limit. Pharaoh managed to go to sleep in his bed – just like any ordinary night! He was somehow able to block out of his mind the certain knowledge that his country was going to collapse at midnight. Whatever would threaten his illusion that he is in charge couldn’t be allowed to disturb his nighttime routine.
Rashi is telling us something else as well. He says that this time he woke up in the middle of the night and not late in the morning, as do other kings. We learn from this that during all the previous nine makkos, Pharaoh actually did manage to sleep through the night and rose at his regular royal waking time.
Alas, pharaoh was awoken. And there was a tze’aka – a great cry. This great cry came from the realization that the Egyptian’s entire way of life was mistaken. They came to the realization that their entire lives were wasted and spent pursuing the wrong ideals. Indeed, this aspect was an integral part of the makka. One element of this makka was introducing the moment of truth to the Mitzriyim. Having reality smack them right in the face and realize that they have been living a lie and witness everything they had believed in brought crashing down in front of their eyes. That is what the word tze’aka teaches us.
When Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, the Torah tells us that upon learning the identity of the dictator they had been dealing with for so long, they could not speak. Chazal on that pasuk tell us: Woe is to us on the day of judgment, woe is to us on the day of rebuke (Bereishis Rabba 93:10). The commentators ask the obvious question: where was the rebuke? All Yosef said was, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?”
The explanation is that rebuke does not have to be lengthy or even one word. Real rebuke is to be shown in crystal clear view that you have erred. That you have lived a lie. In the case of Yosef’s brothers, they were shown in a split second that for the past 22 years or more they lived under the wrong assumption. They thought they were right, and Yosef was wrong, and they were now shown that the opposite was in fact true.
As the Rambam says, Pharaoh is the story of all of us. We live inside our comfortable fantasy world where we think we are in control and nothing can deter us from achieving our selfish ambitions. The makkos demonstrated that Hashem has absolute control over all natural forces and processes and can manipulate them in any which way He desires. This message is hard to accept because it holds us responsible for everything that happens to us, as it is all a result of our mitzvos and aveiros.
The bottom line coming through these parshiyos is that we are not in control and as much as we want to escape this reality, Hashem sees to it that we eventually wake up. We would be far better off if we would wake ourselves up by learning the lessons of these parshiyos instead of waiting for Hashem to shake us out of our complacency in a less than delicate manner. In times as these, where sheker and hypocrisy is rampant anywhere you look, we must strive to realize the absolute truth: Hashem runs the world.