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11 Answers 11


Why is the wicked son sanctioned for doing what the wise son does?

Nathan asked: In the Passover Hagada we're told about the four sons. The second one is called wicked because he asks, "What is this service to you?!" ("מה העבודה הזאת לכם?") (emphasis mine), while the first one is wise because he asks, "What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the L-rd, our G-d, has commanded you?" ("מה העדות והחוקים והמשפטים אשר ציווה ה' אלוקינו אתכם?").

Both of them ask about the second person (you), and not the first (us). Why is the second one considered wicked because of this, while the first one's distancing from everybody else is not even mentioned?

Michoel said: HaSeder Ha'aruch (134:9-13) collects several answers to this question:

  1. The wise son says "אתכם" since he did not personally hear the command, and he is referring to the generation which left Egypt. Since he mentions Hashem -"Which the L-rd, our G-d has commanded" he is not excluding himself. However, the wicked son who does not mention Hashem in his words is considered to be excluding himself. (Machzor Vitri)

  2. Although "אתכם" is written without a vov, it should be read with a choylam, meaning "אותי ואתכם". (Machzor Vitri based on Sotah 34a)

  3. The reason why the Chocham says "אתכם" is because we do not slaughter the Korban Pesach for a minor, and therefore it is not considered as if he is excluding himself (Shibaley Haleket, Chukus Hapesach and more)

  4. The Chocham asks about a command that Hashem commanded and therefore says "אתכם" since he want to hear the command the way it was given. Whereas, the Rosha asks not about the command but about the actual practise and excludes himself by saying "לכם". (Ma'asey Nissim")

Seth J said: In each case, far too much emphasis is placed on the words "to you", and not enough on the rest of the verse.

The wicked son says, "What is this service to you?" He just plainly lays out that he doesn't have any interest in it whatsoever.

The wise son, on the other hand, says, "What are the testimonies and the statutes, which HaShem, our G-d, has commanded you?" He clearly includes himself in the community by recognizing his own relationship with HaShem, but he doesn't understand what the service is about or how it relates to him, but he wants to understand it, so the response given is about the laws as a means to engage him in further study.

Original question: Why is the wicked son sanctioned for doing what the wise son does?


  • Four sons ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Mar 8, 2013 at 4:18

What animals were killed by hail, if they were all already dead from pestilence?

jabal asked: The fifth plague, pestilence, killed all livestock except that of the Israelites. Yet we see Moses warned the Pharaoh to bring his cattle to shelter before the seventh plague, hail, and the verse states that many animals were killed by the hail as people had not brought them in. How can this be?

Menachem answered: What the verse actually says (Exodus 9:3, emphasis mine) is:

behold, the hand of the Lord will be upon your livestock that is in the field, upon the horses, upon the donkeys, upon the camels, upon the cattle, and upon the sheep, a very severe pestilence.

This limits the scope of the plague to the animals in the field. Hence, any animal brought inside was not afflicted. So when verse 9:6 says "all the livestock of the Egyptians died", it is referring to all the livestock that were in the scope of the plague: every one of the animals in the fields died. (Rashi to 9:10 based on the Mechilta.)

Then the plague of boils, which was non-lethal, afflicted every Egyptian person and animal, regardless of whether they were inside or not. (Exodus 9:10.)

Then came the plague of hail, and Moshe warned the Egyptians that any animal or man left outside would get killed by the hail (Exodus 9:18–19), but any animal or man brought inside will be safe. Verses 20–21 tell us that the "G-d fearing" Egyptians brought their servants and animals inside, but the rest of the Egyptians did not. Verse 25 then tells us:

The hail struck throughout the entire land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast, and the hail struck all the vegetation of the field, and it broke all the trees of the field.

Once again only the animals in the field were struck, animals that were inside were unharmed by the plague.

Incidentally, this answers something else. In Exodus 14:6–7, it says that Pharaoh harnessed his chariot, and took 600 chariots with him. Where did those horses come from? Weren't all the animals killed in the plagues? The animals came from the "G-d fearing" Egyptians, who brought their animals inside for the plagues. (Rashi 14:7.) (This is why I put "G-d fearing" in quotations. They may have been scared of G-d's plagues, but as soon as they saw that their free labor had left, they gladly offered their horses to try and get the Jews back).

jake answered: Abarbanel, in his description of the pestilence (דבר), writes that part of the greatness of this plague was that the Jews in Egypt were able to profit from it. The Jews had an abundance of livestock (they lived in Goshen for this reason, as we see in Genesis 47), and were able to sell animals to the Egyptians after the plague for exorbitant prices.

It seems, according to this theory, that the Egyptians did indeed have animals that were to be afflicted with boils in the subsequent plague and then killed if left outside during the plague of hail (barad).

Original question: Ten plagues of Egypt: hail and pestilence
Contributors: https://judaism.stackexchange.com/users/561/jabal

  • Magid ("arami oved avi": "b'yad chazaka zo hadever... hine yad H' hoya b'mikn'cha...").
    – msh210 Mod
    Mar 12, 2013 at 21:48

How would Har Sinai without the Torah have been enough?

Shlomo asked: In the Hagada of Peasach it says "even if he brought us to Har Sinai but didn't give us the Torah it would have been enough." What would be the purpose of going to Har Sinai if we didn't get the Torah? How would that be enough?

Alex said: When the Jewish People reached Mount Sinai, the Torah (Ex. 19:2) describes their encampment in the singular form - ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר. Rashi, citing Mechilta, states that this means that they really felt unified, "as one person, with one heart."

That unity among Jews, then, was by itself worth reaching Sinai in order to achieve.

(Alshich to this verse associates their ability to achieve such unity with the idea that their zuhama (spiritual filth) disappeared at that point.)

Josh Waxman said: 1) Dayeinu does not mean that it would have been enough for us, as in it being an end in itself, but rather that it would have been sufficient cause for us to give praise to Hashem. Each step in the process was wonderful and deserving of our praise.

2) This was a fulfillment of a Divine promise in Shemot 3:11-12:

יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, מִי אָנֹכִי, כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה; וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם.‏
11 And Moses said unto God: 'Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?'

יב וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ, וְזֶה-לְּךָ הָאוֹת, כִּי אָנֹכִי שְׁלַחְתִּיךָ: בְּהוֹצִיאֲךָ אֶת-הָעָם, מִמִּצְרַיִם, תַּעַבְדוּן אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים, עַל הָהָר הַזֶּה.‏
12 And He said: 'Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.'

Jeremy said: We still would have been a nation, and then could have formed our own set of ethical laws. That seems to have worked out well for the Greeks around the same time. B"H we got the Torah instead, and have since long outlasted our secular contemporaries.


Original question: How would Har Sinai without the Torah have been enough?

  • Dayeinu. [15char] Mar 10, 2013 at 3:00
  • I chose the answers that I thought would work best for this application. No slight is intended to the other fine answers there. Mar 10, 2013 at 3:02

What was the Arov?

Double AA asked: The fourth plague is Arov, commonly translated as wild beasts.

The word I think most literally translates to "a collection" or in this case, maybe along the lines of "a swarm" (consider the word "eiruv" from "to mix up" the reshuyot [domains] in a community).

First, how do we know the word here refers to wild beasts? Second, and more importantly, does anyone provide an alternative explanation for the contents of the plague?

jake said: Most of the commentators understand ערוב Arov as being derived from the word for "mixture", the animals being a "mixture" of a certain type. What type is subject to speculation. Shemos Rabbah (11:3) brings a difference of opinion between R' Nechemia and R' Yehuda as to what type of animals were involved: either insects or what we would think of as wild animals (like lions, leopards, bears etc.) respectively. [Incidentally, the preceding midrash (11:2) seems to say that birds were involved as well.]

What necessitates that the mixture be of animals specifically? The hint is Tehillim 78:45:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּהֶם עָרֹב, וַיֹּאכְלֵם; וּצְפַרְדֵּעַ, וַתַּשְׁחִיתֵם.‏
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.

It has to be something that can "devour them". Wild animals make sense. Some commentators (ex. Rashi and Abarbanel) prefer more reptilian or rodent-like animals or other venomous creatures. According to others (eg. Shadal) Insects that bite can also be considered to "devour" their victims, if there's enough of them. (See Shadal.)

[Also, see Bechor Shor, who compares "הִנְנִי מַשְׁלִיחַ בְּךָ וּבַעֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמְּךָ וּבְבָתֶּיךָ אֶת הֶעָרֹב" (Shemos 8:17) with "וְשֶׁן בְּהֵמוֹת אֲשַׁלַּח בָּם" (Devarim 32:24).]

The only interpretation I know of that does not derive ערוב from "עירוב - mixture" is that of Rashbam, who derives it instead from "ערב - evening". He explains that the plague entailed a pack of wolves descending upon Egypt. These wolves are called ערוב because they attack primarily at night.

Original question: What was the Arov?

  • Maggid, plague of Arov
    – Double AA Mod
    Mar 12, 2013 at 4:52

How do we know the wicked son would not have been redeemed?

yydl asked: The Haggada speaks about 4 sons, the second of which is called "wicked". He distances himself from G-d's commandment, and in turn is told that if he had been in Egypt he would not have been redeemed. How can we say that? How do we know?

Alex said: Well, we do have the precedent that four-fifths (or even more) of the Jews in fact did not want to leave Egypt and serve Hashem, and died during the Plague of Darkness. So based on the attitude that this second son shows towards the mitzvos of Pesach, there is indeed a good likelihood that he would have been in that category, G-d forbid.

That said, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l explains that in this rebuke there is actually an implied positive statement. "Had you been there, in Egypt, where being part of the Jewish People was a matter of one's choice," we tell him, "then you might well have remained where you were. But you are living now, after the giving of the Torah, when Hashem chose us as His people, and this remains true no matter what choices you make. So it is inevitable that you will do teshuvah and be redeemed, along with all other Jews, from our current exile, with the coming of Moshiach - may it be soon."

josh waxman said: The Wicked Son says "מה העבודה הזאת לכם", or "what is this service to you?" Thus, he has renounced a portion in the offering, as the Haggadah continues, interpreting his statement as " 'to you' but not to him". Meanwhile, in plague of Death of the Firstborn, Hashem only skipped over the houses of those who had offered the Paschal Offering.

He would not have made it to the geulah.

Menachem said: G-d's message to Pharoah was "Let my people go so they may serve me."

The four fifths of the Jews who died in Egypt were Jews who did not want to leave Egypt.

So the Rasha, who excludes himself from the serving G-d, would not have wanted to leave Egypt, since he had no interest in serving G-d. If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed.


  • Four fifths of Jews died in Egypt: Rashi to Exodus 13:18, quoting from Midrashim Mechilta d'Rabbi Shimon and/or Tanchuma
  • Lubavitcher Rebbe's explanation: Likkutei Sichos; Vol. 1 p. 252, vol. 11 p. 2

Original question: How do we know the rasha would not have been redeemed?



"If God had not delivered us from Egypt we would still be slaves"? Really?

Monica Cellio asked: One part of the Pesach seder that has always bothered me is saying that if God had not taken us out of Mitzrayim at that time we would still be slaves today. This seems lacking in faith in God; surely if not then, He would have had His reasons and would have redeemed us at a later time. Why do we hold that that single point in time was our only opportunity for redemption from slavery? Even if this translation of "mesheubad" is flawed, it still sounds like this was pretty much our last chance.

Menachem said: The Maharal of Prague (Gevurot Hashem 61) explains what happened when the Jews left Egypt:

The Exodus of Egypt, he suggests, was not merely a political and geographical event, in which slave laborers were allowed to leave a country and forge their own destiny. It was also an existential mutation, in which the gift of freedom was “wired” into the very psyche of a people. With the Divine liberation from Egyptian bondage, a new type of person was created—the Free Man: The individual who will never make peace with oppression and who will forever yearn for liberty. The Exodus implanted within the soul of the Jew an innate repulsion toward subjugation and an inherent quest for liberty.

If G-d would have waited even a second longer to take the Jews out of Egypt it would have been too late. G-d could have taken them out later, but by that point they would never have been able to change their state of mind. They, and by extension we, their descendants, would have always considered themselves slaves.

The "Free Man" of the Maharal could never have existed.

You can take the Jew out of Egypt, but you can't take the Egypt out of the Jew, so to speak.

As it was the Jews didn't feel truly free of the Egyptians until they saw their bodies washed up on the shore of the Red Sea, and even after that they complained many times in the desert that they wished to go back to Egypt. (In fact, if I remember correctly, this is one of the reasons given why the Jews had to wait a generation before entering the land.)

So it's not that that was a single point of redemption, as much as it was the last possible time the Jews could have remained in Egyptian bondage and still been able to recover when rescued.

Shmuel Brin added that we were already idolaters and 4/5 of us didn't want to leave Mitzrayim; if we stayed any longer we would be too far gone.

Shalom said: Had God not taken us out of Egypt, then we, our children, and grandchildren would have been indebted to Pharaoh. The Hebrew is me-she-ubad, as used regarding real estate on lien for paying potential debts.

Had things worked out for our release in other fashions, we would have still owed Pharaoh one. Only by the dramatic show that it was clearly G-d's power, and Pharaoh's not, that we didn't feel indebted to Egypt anymore.

Though note that 800+ plus years later, when Israel was under Babylonian sovereignty and things went south, who did the Jews go running to? Egypt! Apparently the connection runs deep.


Original question: mi.yodeya.com/q/9944


  • Monica Cellio mi.yodeya.com/u/472
  • Menachem mi.yodeya.com/u/603
  • Shmuel Brin mi.yodeya.com/u
  • Shalom mi.yodeya.com/u/21
  • Avadim Hayinu... Mar 8, 2013 at 1:56
  • I would recommend substituting "so to speak" for "or something like that", instead of removing it entirely. Maybe @Menachem has input too.
    – HodofHod
    Mar 8, 2013 at 2:19
  • I updated my answer over there, but I'm not sure if too much needs to be changed. Maybe add the Maharal (who is answering a separate question, why we still celebrate exodus if we are now in exile.)
    – Menachem
    Mar 8, 2013 at 3:10
  • @Menachem, thanks for the alert. How does this look now? Mar 8, 2013 at 4:00

“Moshe cried out” - really?

Isaac Moses asked: Pharaoh, plagued with frogs, asks Moshe and Aharon to "entreat" God to remove the plague and says that he'll respond by releasing the Israelites. Moshe agrees, and then we have (Exodus 8:8):

וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן מֵעִם פַּרְעֹה וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה' עַל דְּבַר הַצְפַרְדְּעִים אֲשֶׁר שָׂם לְפַרְעֹה

And Moses and Aaron went away from Pharaoh, and Moses cried out to the Lord concerning the frogs that He had brought upon Pharaoh.

I've always had a problem with the verb "cried out" here. It seems to me that people "cry out" about things that are really, really bothering them. In fact, this would seem to be the pattern the other times we have "וַיִּצְעַק" in the Torah:

  • Esav, upon learning that Ya'akov had taken their father's blessing. (Genesis 27:34)
  • Starving Egyptians, begging Pharaoh for food. (Genesis 41:55)
  • The Israelites, when a wrathful fire from God was burning them for being whiners. (Numbers 11:2)
  • Moshe, when his sister was afflicted with Tzara'at. (Numbers 12:13)

So, what was bothering Moshe so much here that he "cried out"? The frogs weren't plaguing him, and I assume that he didn't love Pharaoh like a sister. Why not just say to God "Pharaoh said he'd let us go if You take away the frogs. Could You please do that?" Why did Moshe have to get so emotional about his oppressors' frog problem?

Alex brought some answers:

Daas Soferim has an interesting take on it.

Really, he says, Pharaoh didn't deserve to have the plague taken away at this point. However, Moshe wanted to do him a favor and make it possible for him to recognize Hashem's greatness (by seeing how Hashem removes the plague at his, Moshe's, request).

So he had to "cry out" because he was asking for something undeserved.

Building on this, then, I think the implication is also that with this word the Torah is underscoring Moshe's greatness. He could have just left Pharaoh to stew in his own juices and take the full punishment he deserved; instead he chose to not only get involved, but indeed to "cry out" about it as if it personally affected him or his family - all because he had in mind the ultimate goal of getting Pharaoh to acknowledge Hashem.

A couple of the classical commentators address this as well.

Ibn Ezra writes that Moshe, on his own initiative, had given Pharaoh the option when the plague should be gone (8:5-6) - without first consulting Hashem whether this was the right thing to do, or whether the stated deadline was acceptable to Him. Now he was concerned that Hashem might not approve of this, and so he felt the need to "cry out" that Hashem should follow through anyway, so as not to put him to shame.

Sforno takes a different tack. Ordinarily, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a, et al) tells us, "G-d does not grant just half of a petition." But here Moshe was telling Pharaoh that the frogs would disappear from the dry land but remain in the Nile (8:5,7); to accomplish this required extra-fervent prayer.

Shalom said: I don't think this is the simple answer, but it is nonetheless an interesting answer from the Sifsei Chachamim: normally, prayer should be "just loud enough to hear yourself" -- but with all the frogs croaking, Moshe had to scream!

Original question: "Moshe cried out" - really?

  • Section: Plagues
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 10, 2013 at 16:36
  • Is this too long?
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 10, 2013 at 16:37
  • It doesn't seem too long to me, and other than one line ("emphasis mine") I don't see anything that could be cut to tighten it up. Mar 10, 2013 at 17:28

Where did the Egyptians get the wealth they brought to the sea?

Menachem asked: In Shemot 15:22, Rashi says:

Moses led Israel away: lit., made Israel journey. He led them away against their will, for the Egyptians had adorned their steeds with ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones, and the Israelites were finding them in the sea. The plunder at the sea was greater than the plunder in Egypt, as it is said: “We will make you rows of gold with studs of silver” (Song of Songs 1:11). Therefore, he had to lead them against their will.

But in Shemot 12:36, Rashi says:

and they emptied out: Heb. וַיְנַצְלוּ. Onkelos renders: וְרוֹקִינוּ, and they emptied out.

Furthermore, in Bereshit 45:18, Rashi describes the emptying of Egypt as:

the best of the land of Egypt: [I.e.,] the land of Goshen. He prophesied but did not know what he was prophesying. They (the Israelites) would eventually make it (Egypt) like the depths of the sea, which have no fish. [From Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan, second version, ch. 43; Ber. 9b]

My question is, if the Jews emptied out Egypt before they left, where did all the "gold, silver, and precious gems" which the Egyptians adorned their steeds with come from?

On the other hand, if the Jews left more gold in Egypt than they took with them, how can we consider what the Jews did "emptying the land of Egypt"?

Alex answered: Mechilta (to 14:6) states that Pharaoh emptied out his treasury and disbursed it among his army, to induce them to pursue the Jews (with the promise, too, of dividing all of the spoils equally with them).

Presumably, no one had gone to Pharaoh to "borrow" gold and silver. (Indeed, the command (Exodus 11:2) was that the Jews should request "each man from his neighbor, and each woman from her neighbor" - pretty clearly excluding the royal household.) So when the Torah says that they had "emptied out Egypt," it must be referring to the belongings of the common people.

(Which also would explain how the plunder from the drowning of the army exceeded what they took away from Egypt: in an autocratic monarchy like Egypt, the king's wealth probably far exceeded that of all his subjects combined.)


Original question: Where did the Egyptians get the wealth they brought to the sea?


  • Dayeinu or "Al hayam laku"
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 10, 2013 at 16:50

Why are the commandments for Rosh Chodesh and Passover in the same paragraph?

Isaac Moses asked: The reading for Parashat Hachodesh consists of a single paragraph in the Torah, Exodus 12:1-20, whose main topic is God's commandments related to the Passover offering and holiday observance that would be coming two weeks later, when He would take the Jews out of Egypt. First, however, there is one verse (12:2) that give the commandments to observe Rosh Chodesh upon observing the new moon and to count Nisan as the first Jewish month. These two topics are part of the same speech from God to Moshe and Aharon, without any strong indication, such as a new "And God said," that there's a change of topic.

Why are these commandments mixed together in the same stream of prophecy and in the same paragraph in the Torah?

Double AA answered: The Kli Yekar explains that Nissan is the month when the sun is in the constellation Aries, a sheep. We know the Egyptians worshiped sheep (Genesis 46:34 and Exodus 8:22). By slaughtering a sheep in the month of the sheep, God was showing the Egyptians his power over their gods. This connection also helps us understand how counting Nissan (the month of the sheep) as the first month helps us remember the Exodus.

Fred said: The Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) writes that without the commandment to set the months, we would observe the holidays by season (e.g. shamor es chodesh ha'aviv, v'chag hakatzir bikkurei ma'asecha, etc.). However, setting the halachic calendar is an intrinsic part of the holidays so the commandment of "hachodesh hazeh" is appropriately placed with the first instance of holiday related commands.

Additionally, the Ibn Ezra writes that the centrality of y'tzias mitzrayim in terms of the many mitzvos dependent upon it makes it appropriate for Nisan to be the head of the months. This connection makes the placement of "hachodesh hazeh" contextually appropriate.

Isaac Moses came back to answer his own question:

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch construes the commandments of both Rosh Chodesh and the Passover offering as means toward fulfilling God's promise/commandment in Exodus 6:7:

... וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים
and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God ...

According to R' Hirsch (in his commentary on 6:7 and then on 12:3-13 ), God designed the Passover offering experience as the process that would transform the crowd of dehumanized, dispossessed slaves that was the Israelites into a nation - His nation. I'll summarize some of the relevant points here, but as usual, I recommend reading through his entire magnificent treatment of this portion yourself.

  • ... וְיִקְחוּ לָהֶם, אִישׁ שֶׂה ...
    ... they shall take to them every man a lamb ...

    Each individual gained personhood by acquiring personal property and by becoming eligible to be an agent for others.

  • שֶׂה לְבֵית-אָבֹת--שֶׂה לַבָּיִת ...
    ... a lamb, according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household;

    God gathers the individuals first into families and extended families.

  • וְאִם-יִמְעַט הַבַּיִת, מִהְיוֹת מִשֶּׂה--וְלָקַח הוּא וּשְׁכֵנוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֶל-בֵּיתוֹ, בְּמִכְסַת נְפָשֹׁת: אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ, תָּכֹסּוּ עַל-הַשֶּׂה.‏
    and if the household be too little for a lamb, then shall he and his neighbour next unto his house take one according to the number of the souls; according to every man's eating ye shall make your count for the lamb.

    What cements a bunch of agency-endowed individuals into a Jewish nation is mutual aid. If one person has more than he needs, he contributes the extra to help someone else who doesn't have what he needs.

  • The lamb is always associated with the shepherd leading it around. When the Israelites offer one, representing themselves, they're submitting to God's guidance and leadership. A whole nation doing this becomes God's nation.

God took the Israelites to be His nation via this initial Passover offering. He will be to us a God throughout the generations through regular relationship-renewing meetings between God and nation. This section of the Torah describes both monthly and annual meetings.

First, in 12:2:

הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם, רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים: רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם, לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה.‏
This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.

R' Hirsch notes the significance of the word "לָכֶם" - "unto you (pl.)" here, in light of the rules we have for inaugurating a Rosh Chodesh. Each monthly meeting with God is established not by God, not by astronomical phenomena, not by individual Jews, but by the Jewish nation as a whole, through its leadership - the Beit Din.

R' Hirsch translates "חֹדֶשׁ" not as "month" but as "renewal of the moon," which serves as a reminder for us to renew our relationship with God. As a result of these periodic rejuvenations, we won't slide into the sort of absolutely obstinate God-ignorance that was cultivated in the stagnant culture of Pharaoh's Egypt.

Similarly, the annual holiday of Passover (commanded in 12:14-20) brings us back each year to the original moment of God's taking us to be His nation and invites us to re-commit ourselves to His shepherding. Like the command for Rosh Chodesh, this command (in 12:16) uses the word "לָכֶם" - "unto you (pl.)" to put the responsibility for this annual re-connection on the nation as a whole. Now that God has taken us to be his nation, we and He can work together, month by month, year by year, to forever ensure that He is our God.

Original question: Why are the commandments for Rosh Chodesh and Passover in the same paragraph?

  • "Yachol merosh chodesh"
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 17, 2013 at 5:51

What were the 300 plagues of the Exodus?

SLaks asked: The Haggadah says:

במצרים לקו חמשים מכות, ועל הים לקו חמשים ומאתים מכות

In Egypt, they were struck with 50 plagues, and by the Sea [of Reeds], they were struck with 250 plagues

What were these 300 plagues?

Alex opened with:

R' Moshe Cordovero (Ramak), in his commentary Tefillah Lemoshe on the siddur, lists the following:

  • For each of the Ten Plagues - the respective manifestations of "af," "evrah," "zaam," "tzarah," and "mishlachas mal'achei ra'im" that were evident in each one - totaling fifty (as per R' Akiva).

  • The fifty plagues at the Sea. For some of them he lists sub-aspects too, but he says that since we don't have a detailed description of all of the events there, he's unable to provide the complete enumeration.

josh waxman added: Alongside Alex's answer, I would posit that they never had in mind specific identified plagues, and might even look at you strangely for trying to identify them. it strikes me more along the lines of 'kol ha-marbeh lesaper bitzias mitzrayim, harei zeh meshubach' ('Whoever exceeds in recounting the Exodus from Egypt, behold this is praisworthy'.); as well as what immediately follows these deductions in the haggadah, 'kamma maalos tovos laMakom aleinu' ('How many levels of goodness did the Omnipresent grant us!'). in other words, creative derashot + math to stress how much Hashem did for us. trying to identify each one would be missing the forest for the trees. Certainly so if Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva intended no specific trees.

Menachem cited one more possibility:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe brings down in his Haggadah, quoting the Rambam's Pirush Hamishnayos Avot Chapter 5 Mishnah 4, that while tradition tells us that there were many more plagues by the sea than in Egypt, there were only 10 types of plagues. They were all the same types of plagues which happened in Egypt, and at the Sea they split into numerous parts (how many depends on who you ask). The Rambam tells us that this is hinted to us from the verse in Shmuel 1 (Chapter 4, Verse 8):

"Woe is unto us! Who will save us from the hand of this mighty God? This is the God who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness."

The Rambam says that "every sort of plague in the wilderness" refers to the plagues that happened in the desert by the Red Sea (since it is self-understood that Egypt was not a wilderness).

The Rebbe points out that this way the Haggadah doesn't contradict what it says in Avos deR' Nosson (Chapter 33), and in (at least) one version of the Mishnayos in Avot Chapter 5, that there were 10 plagues in Egypt, "and 10 plagues visited on the Egyptians at the sea."

Original question: What were the 300 plagues of the Exodus?

  • במצרים לקו חמשים מכות, naturally
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 18, 2013 at 4:05
  • Please add link to original question. Thanks. Mar 18, 2013 at 19:44
  • @MonicaCellio, Done. Sorry about the omission.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 18, 2013 at 19:46
  • Thanks! (I'm compiling the contributor list and didn't have a handle to SLaks.) Mar 18, 2013 at 19:51
  • @MonicaCellio, it's a shame he's not more active here. He clearly knows Judaism, and he's currently #6 in all-time rep on SO.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 18, 2013 at 19:54

Did hardening Paro's heart mean he wasn't really responsible?

Monica Cellio asked: As a child I often wondered how, if God kept hardening Paro's heart after each plague, it could really be Paro's fault. It sounds like God was setting him up to fail, and while that's God's prerogative, it seems kind of unfair, and we hold that God is just.

Now I realize (as an adult) that that's not really what's going on, but it's still troubling. If Paro was evil and deserving of retribution then he shouldn't have needed help; if, as suggested by some commentaries I've read, he was actually ready to relent but God needed to demonstrate His power to the world, then it makes me wonder why miracles can't stand on their own. (If Egypt needed to receive the plagues then God could have just done that without giving Paro a chance to repent.)

So my question is: why did God need to harden Paro's heart and, in particular, what are good ways to explain this to children?

Jake answered: God never takes away a person's free will.

If God wants to influence a person's choice, He does just that -- influences it. He does not force it. He will manipulate external factors so that the decision will be influenced in a certain direction.

Let me give an example: Bill is buying a new car. He has free will to choose whichever model car he would like to buy. Now, suppose for whatever reason, God would like Bill to choose model X. Bill might be influenced in his decision by several factors: (1) Bill's neighbor got model X and loves it. (2) Bill's friend got competing model Y, and Bill doesn't want to look like a copycat. (3) Bill hears of someone who got in a terrible accident due to a car that lacks feature A, which model X is known for. (4) Bill will have had a childhood experience involving model X or similar, which makes him sentimental toward it. Etc. etc.

Because of these factors, Bill chooses model X. He is not forced to, but is influenced in his decision by external factors, which are perhaps manipulated by God to push him toward this decision.

Similarly, "God hardened Paro's heart" means that God provided experiences in Paro's life and surroundings to influence his decision to not allow Israel to leave Egypt. He still, using his free will could have made the right decision, but he willingly chose not to. It might not have been as easy to make the right decision, but he is still responsible for not doing so. Thus, he was justly punished.

Now, why did God need to "harden" Paro's heart? The answer commonly given for this is that God wanted Israel to be slaves in Egypt for a certain amount of time as a prerequisite for properly accepting the Torah. Egypt is described as a "furnace of iron" (I Kings 8:51), in which the metal is rid of imperfections and prepared to be formed properly. Additionally, God felt that the plagues on Egypt were also necessary to show Israel and the rest of the world how powerful and devoted He is. Therefore, God wanted Paro to make the decision to keep Israel in Egypt for their own benefit.

(This answer is based broadly on Abarbanel.)

Dov F said: The Rambam addresses this question in Hilchos Teshuva 6:3 and says quite simply that yes, sometimes free will is withheld from someone. The reason it was not unfair to punish Pharaoh after his heart had been hardened and he'd lost his free will is because he deserved it. Rambam explains that since he had plotted and carried out such wicked things, he simply did not deserve the chance to be absolved of his sins without punishment, and so as part of his punishment remorse was blocked from him and his heart was hardened.

Gershon Gold answered: The explanation I have heard, from the Seforno to 9:35, is that had Hashem not hardened Paro's heart then his actions would not have been by choice: he would have necessarily sent them out after each plague because the plague would have been so severe as to remove his free choice. Because Hashem hardened his heart, he was able to make a decision, which test he failed.

Original question: Did hardening Paro's heart mean he wasn't really responsible?

  • Magid, plagues. Mar 10, 2013 at 23:00
  • Does a citation to Hilchos Teshuva stand without a link? (That's a cumbersome link!) Or should we include it? Mar 10, 2013 at 23:03
  • 1
    I'm thinking that for all sources whose primary distribution is off-line (e.g. pretty much everything on HebrewBooks by definition and this Rambam), we should include only the off-line reference in our print publication. URLs look bad on paper, aren't clickable, and are useless on Yom Tov. The links are more useful to someone who chooses to navigate to our online Q&A. If we quote a blog or something, we should include the URL for that, and if we quote something truly obscure from HB, perhaps the link for that.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 10, 2013 at 23:34
  • I agree in this case, and in general. I now think, contradicting something we discussed a couple days ago, I'm inclined to make the question links real links and not just question numbers, to make it as easy as possible for someone who has the digital PDF to get to our site. A terse mi.yodeya.com link won't be that bad as a footnote. Nothing about links helps on yom tov and links don't help people who only have the paper, but for people who do have the PDF, we can selectively link. Mar 10, 2013 at 23:37
  • 1
    Oh, that idea of explaining a URL template and then giving question numbers to fit into it? No, only geeks would ever bother to reassemble the question URLs. I think we should indeed include m.y.com links for questions and for contributors, and sure, make them clickable on the PDF, but not underlined or blue, so they don't look silly on paper. (Sorry to hijack an instance to talk about this class.)
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Mar 10, 2013 at 23:39
  • @IsaacMoses, agreed -- clickable but not visually distracting is what I would want to see. (And on the instance, I've edited out the unwieldy link.) Mar 11, 2013 at 0:19

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