Vaeira 5777

RABBI BENTZION MORGENSTERN

ועתה שלח העז את מקנך ואת כל אשר לך בשדה כל האדם והבהמה אשר ימצא בשדה ולא יאסף הביתה וירד עליהם הברד ומתו. הירא את דבר ה’ מעבדי פרעה הניס את עבדיו ואת מקנהו אל הבתים. ואשר לא שם לבו אל דבר ה’ ויעזב את עבדיו ואת מקנהו בשדה.
(שמות ט:יט-כא)

And now send forth, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field. All the people and animals that are found in the field and will not be brought into the house, the hail shall descend upon them and they shall die. Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. And whoever did not take the word of Hashem to heart, he left his servants and livestock in the field. (Shemos 9:19-21)

If all their animals had previously died in the plague of דבר, pestilence, from where, the Rishonim ask, did the Egyptians get animals? Rashi (Shemos 9:10) explains that the plague of pestilence only affected the livestock that were in the field. The Pasuk (Shemos 9:6) says, “Upon your livestock that are in the field.” There were those among the Egyptians who feared the word of Hashem. They brought their livestock into the house, and these are the ones saved from the plague of pestilence.
Moshe warned them about the coming ברד, hail. “And now send forth, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field… whoever did not take the word of Hashem to heart.” How could there be an Egyptian who did not take the word of Hashem to heart? During the plague of pestilence, they had witnessed that those that feared the word of Hashem and brought their animals into the house were saved.
That’s not all. The ones who still had livestock were the ones that feared Hashem’s word before the plague of דבר. What happened between דבר and ברד that they suddenly did not fear Hashem’s word anymore? Between דבר and ברד there was שחין, boils! That gave them less fear of Hashem’s word? Further, prior to the דבר there was no clear command to bring in the livestock. Rather, Moshe informed them that the plague will be on the livestock in the field. Some Egyptians understood by inference from Hashem’s word that they should bring in their animals. Yet those very people, when they were explicitly informed to bring their animals in to protect them from ברד, did not take Hashem’s word to heart.
Rashi (Tehillim 78:48) tells us that the Egyptians moved to bring their livestock indoors at the onset of the hail. Hashem prevented them by surrounding their livestock with walls of hail. These people believed Hashem’s word; they believed Moshe’s warning to bring in their animals. They just thought they would be able to do it at the last moment, as we shall explain.
“Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. And whoever did not take the word of Hashem to heart, he left his servants and livestock in the field.” If the first group were called those that fear the word of Hashem, why wasn’t the second group called those that did not fear the word of Hashem? They are labeled as not taking the word of Hashem to heart.

There is a difference between fearing Hashem and fearing the word of Hashem. One who fears Hashem means he has יראת שמים, he is a G-d fearing person. One who fears the word of Hashem means he has no יראת שמים. He is simply and quite rationally afraid of the punishment that is coming, just as any other dangerous circumstance would scare him. The Egyptians were not G-d fearing; they were afraid of Hashem’s warning of a hailstorm, like one would be petrified by the flash warning of a tsunami.
All the Egyptians intended to bring their possessions indoors. But some did it right away and some waited for the last possible moment. Moshe said “ועתה שלח העז את קנך”, “And now send forth, gather in your livestock.” Moshe told them, if you want to save your livestock, bring them in now! This idea is stated in מדרש שחר טוב (Tehillim ibid.), which notes that the Egyptians responded to Moshe, “Why do it now? The shepherd can bring them all in with one wave of his stick.” Of a surety they feared Hashem’s word. They thought they could listen in the manner they saw fit, on their own terms. They listened regarding what they should do, but not how they should do it.
The sky did not darken before the hailstorm (see Rashi, Shemos 9:18). The hail fell in a cataract of fire and ice from a blue sky, forming walls of ice that blocked the Egyptians from saving their servants and livestock (Rashi, Tehillim 78:48). Only those who responded immediately to Moshe’s warning were spared the destruction of the flaming hail.
We learn from here that when the Torah tells us how to do something, there are no two ways. One cannot assume he understands the matter, and try to get the same result by doing it a different way. Although he is trying to get the same result as what Hashem wants, that is not enough; it must be done as Hashem says.