The pasuk in Parshas Re’eh tells us that we eat matzah because Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim “b’chipazon” – with haste. The famous Zohar tells us that this was because Klal Yisrael was on the forty-ninth level of tumah, and had they remained any longer they would have sunk to the point of no return.
The Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Avoda Zara writes about the origin of avoda zara. When Hashem created man, Adam and his children certainly knew that Hashem created the world. In the days of Enosh people began serving avoda zara, because they made the following flaw: they reasoned that since G-d created the celestial bodies and gave them honor and glory and suspended them up in the air, He likely wants us to give them honor as well. Just as a king would want us to honor his servants, we too should honor His servants, the celestial bodies. Eventually they forgot the ikar and began serving the servants. Ultimately, they forgot about Hashem altogether.
Until the “Pillar of the world,” Avraham Avinu, was born. Avraham Avinu on his own realized that there must be a creator and tried to teach this theology to others, and had thousands of talmidim. He also taught this to his son Yitzchak, who taught this fundamental principle to his son Yaakov. Yaakov Avinu taught it to all of his sons and appointed Levi as the rosh yeshiva. Yaakov also commanded his sons that Levi and his children must always remain in the yeshiva learning and teaching this fundamental belief, so that it would not be forgotten.
And so it was, until Mitzrayim. After many years of servitude in Mitzrayim this knowledge was almost completely lost. Bnei Yisrael began serving the idols that the Egyptians worshiped and many forgot about the revolutionary theology that their forefather Avraham introduced to the world. Until Hashem sent Moshe Rabbeinu and redeemed them and restored the knowledge of the creator in them.
The mashgiach in Beis Medrash Govoha, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, shlit”a, asked a compelling question. We know that the oppression stopped one year before Klal Yisrael left Mitzrayim. For an entire year, the Yidden witnessed the ten makkos defy every natural law and destroy their oppressors. How could they still be sinking lower in tumah after witnessing this? In fact, Rashi (Shemos 7:3) tells us that the purpose of the makkos was for Klal Yisrael to attain yiras Shamayim. How could witnessing these supernatural events bring them to a lower level?
Rav Matisyahu says that we can learn from this a chilling reality. If one witnesses the most inspirational event, even if one witnesses Hashem overturning the world in front of him, if he is not meisim lev – paying close attention and concentrating on it and learning from it – it will bring him to a lower level.
Bnei Yisrael were not meisim lev after seeing the yad Hashem destroy Mitzrayim in front of their eyes. Therefore, they were constantly sinking to a lower level, and they had to be redeemed immediately.
Why is it that if one is not meisim lev after seeing the yad Hashem it will bring him to a lower madreigah?
Concerning the makkah of Barad, the pasuk (Shemos 9:20) says that whoever was a yarei dvar Hashem brought his animals inside, and they were saved. The following pasuk contrasts this and says that whoever was not “sam lev” did not bring his animals inside, and thus they were lost. The opposite of yiras Hashem is not being meisim lev.
The Rambam (Hilchos Ta’anis 1:2, 3) says that whenever tzaros come on Klal Yisrael, they are because of our actions. If one says that these occurrences are part of the natural course of the world and are not cause for one to cry out to Hashem and do teshuvah, he is an achzar – a cruel person. The Rambam calls such a person an achzar because he has closed his heart.
Pharaoh closed his heart to seeing the yad Hashem during the first few makkos, as the pasuk constantly states, vayechabed Pharaoh es lebo. By makkas Dam the Torah writes a seemingly extra pasuk (7:23), which states that Pharaoh closed his heart from listening to this makkah as well.
The Rambam says that Pharaoh represents the yetzer hara that we all possess. This yetzer hara tells us to not be moved by events that should awaken us to the yad Hashem in our lives. If one would leave his heart open to witness the yad Hashem, he would naturally become a yarei Shamayim. This is the pshat in the pasuk in Nishmas, “V’chol levavos yera’ucha.” If the heart is opened, it will come to fear Hashem. But if one closes his heart and is not mesbonen about the catastrophes occurring around him, he will fall to a lower madreigah.
Are we being mesbonen about the fact that Hashem is overturning the world in front of our eyes? If one looks at events unfolding in front of our eyes he will see how the yad Hashem is actively setting the stage for the final ge’ulah. May we be zoche this Nissan to finally be redeemed once again, amen.