Extreme caution towards the end of troubled eras
It always increases before it decreases
Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald
The Parasha in our everyday life – Va'era - 5781
Almost a year has passed since the onset of the pandemic and thank G-d 'the light begins to appear at the end of the tunnel'. The campaign "Returning to Life", an unprecedented, international-level vaccination campaign marks the 'beginning of the end' of the pandemic. But this is precisely why this period is particularly challenging, difficult and dangerous. The last part of the troubles in general and epidemics in particular, has its own features that are important to recognize in order to know how to deal with its challenges. The trouble increases before it ends. Extra care is required towards the end of the trouble.
Parashat Va'erah is a direct continuation of the previous one. The enslavement in Egypt lasted more than a hundred years:
ומשמת לוי התחילו המצרים לשעבדם... נמצא משמת לוי ועד שיצאו ישראל ממצרים קי"ו שנה
"And from the time Levi passed away, the Egyptians began to enslave them... It was that from the time of Levi's passing until Israel came out of Egypt one hundred and sixteen years". (Seder Olam Rabbah 3)
During which the bondage worsened by four steps:
אַרְבַּע גְּזֵרוֹת גָּזַר פַּרְעֹה עֲלֵיהֶם
"Pharaoh's four decrees..." (Shmot Rabbah 1:12)
Now Moshe and Aaron came to the people and in their mouths, there were words of redemption:
וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר אַהֲרֹ֔ן אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיַּ֥עַשׂ הָאֹתֹ֖ת לְעֵינֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃ וַֽיַּאֲמֵ֖ן הָעָ֑ם וַֽיִּשְׁמְע֡וּ כִּֽי־פָקַ֨ד ה' אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְכִ֤י רָאָה֙ אֶת־עָנְיָ֔ם וַֽיִּקְּד֖וּ וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲוּֽוּ׃
"Aaron repeated all the words that Hashem had spoken to Moshe, and he performed the signs in the sight of the people, and the people were convinced. When they heard that Hashem had taken note of the Israelites and that He had seen their plight, they bowed low in homage". (Shmot 4:30-31)
After this: "The people understood, and were entitled to understand, that at least the torture would stop, and in any case, new abuses would not be added to them. For as said above (4:31): "Hashem had seen their plight", for even if it was delayed, Hashem's eyes will be on them, and will protect them from now on". (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Shmot 5:22). The light of redemption began to show at the end of the bondage tunnel.
After meeting with the people, Moshe and Aaron came to Pharaoh, who did not respond to their demand:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֔ה מִ֤י ה' אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶשְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹל֔וֹ לְשַׁלַּ֖ח אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לֹ֤א יָדַ֙עְתִּי֙ אֶת ה' וְגַ֥ם אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֹ֥א אֲשַׁלֵּֽחַ׃
"But Pharaoh said, “Who is Hashem that I should heed Him and let Israel go? I do not know Hashem, nor will I let Israel go.” (Shmot 5:2)
He even aggravated the conditions of their servitude:
וַיְצַ֥ו פַּרְעֹ֖ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא אֶת־הַנֹּגְשִׂ֣ים בָּעָ֔ם וְאֶת־שֹׁטְרָ֖יו לֵאמֹֽר׃ לֹ֣א תֹאסִפ֞וּן לָתֵ֨ת תֶּ֧בֶן לָעָ֛ם לִלְבֹּ֥ן הַלְּבֵנִ֖ים כִּתְמ֣וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁ֑ם הֵ֚ם יֵֽלְכ֔וּ וְקֹשְׁשׁ֥וּ לָהֶ֖ם תֶּֽבֶן׃ וְאֶת־מַתְכֹּ֨נֶת הַלְּבֵנִ֜ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֵם֩ עֹשִׂ֨ים תְּמ֤וֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם֙ תָּשִׂ֣ימוּ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם לֹ֥א תִגְרְע֖וּ מִמֶּ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־נִרְפִּ֣ים הֵ֔ם ... וַיָּ֥פֶץ הָעָ֖ם בְּכָל־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם לְקֹשֵׁ֥שׁ קַ֖שׁ לַתֶּֽבֶן׃
"That same day Pharaoh charged the taskmasters and foremen of the people, saying, "You shall no longer provide the people with straw for making bricks as heretofore; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But impose upon them the same quota of bricks as they have been making heretofore; do not reduce it, for they are shirkers…Then the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw." (ibid 6-8, 12)
This was the fourth decree, the most severe degree of bondage of all:
מְלַמֵּד עַל הָרָשָׁע שֶׁלֹא עִכֵּב לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּהֶן רָע. וְזוֹ הָיְתָה גְּזֵרָה רְבִיעִית.
"That same day", teaches about the wicked who did not hesitate to do evil with them. And this was the fourth decree" (Shmot Rabbah 5:18)
The people's expectation for redemption was great, but so was their frustration at the aggravation of the bondage:
וַֽיִּפְגְּעוּ֙ אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽת־אַהֲרֹ֔ן נִצָּבִ֖ים לִקְרָאתָ֑ם בְּצֵאתָ֖ם מֵאֵ֥ת פַּרְעֹֽה׃ וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם יֵ֧רֶא ה' עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם וְיִשְׁפֹּ֑ט אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִבְאַשְׁתֶּ֣ם אֶת־רֵיחֵ֗נוּ בְּעֵינֵ֤י פַרְעֹה֙ וּבְעֵינֵ֣י עֲבָדָ֔יו לָֽתֶת־חֶ֥רֶב בְּיָדָ֖ם לְהָרְגֵֽנוּ׃
"As they left Pharaoh’s presence, they came upon Moshe and Aaron standing in their path, and they said to them, “May Hashem look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers—putting a sword in their hands to slay us.” (ibid 20-21)
From here began a difficult and complex period, the last year of the enslavement:
מכות מצרים י"ב חדשים, שנאמר ויפץ העם וגו' (שם ה יב), אימתי דרכו של תבן באייר, והם יצאו בניסן, לקו המצריים עשר מכות כל י"ב חדש
"The plagues of Egypt were twelve months, as is said: "And the people scattered"… The straw gathering is done in Iyar, because it is the end of the harvest. The decree was given the month before, in Nissan. Then the plagues began. Until the Exodus a year (12 months) later". (Seder Olam Rabbah 3).
On the one hand it was the end of the troubles and enslavement after which the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues and the people of Israel left Egypt, but on the other hand, it was the most difficult period, and towards the end, during the plague of darkness some of our own people died as well.
The difficulty, frustration and despair got even worse, since Moshe left Egypt and returned to Midyan for three months:
דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי לִצְבִי, מַה צְבִי זֶה נִרְאֶה וְחוֹזֵר וְנִכְסֶה, נִרְאֶה וְחוֹזֵר וְנִכְסֶה, כָּךְ גּוֹאֵל הָרִאשׁוֹן נִרְאֶה וְנִכְסֶה וְחוֹזֵר וְנִרְאֶה. וְכַמָּה נִכְסֶה מֵהֶם, רַבִּי תַּנְחוּמָא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה חֳדָשִׁים, הֲדָא הוּא דִכְתִיב (שמות ה, כ): וַיִּפְגְּעוּ אֶת משֶׁה וְאֶת אַהֲרֹן
"My beloved is like a gazelle, just as a gazelle is visible one moment, disappears and then reappears, so the first redeemer appeared to the Jewish people, disappeared, and reappeared again in due course. Rabbi Tanchuma said that Moshe disappeared for only three months and that this is the meaning of ויפגעו את משה ואת אהרן. [The expression ויפגעו always refers to an unexpected meeting, i.e. since both Moshe and Aaron had returned to their previous abodes there was no reason to expect them at the palace gates of Pharaoh at the time]". (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:9:3)
This is not an unusual but a recurring phenomenon:
כי מהידוע שכך היא המדה שבכל יום סמוך לעלות השחר החושך מחשיך ביותר מן חשכת הלילה ואח"כ אור השחר בוקע ועולה, וכן רוב החולים סמוך למיתתם הם מתחזקים ויושבים על המטה ומבקשים לאכול ואח"כ המוות גובר... כמו כן מה שהרע פרעה לישראל עכשיו יותר ממה שעשה לשעבר זה מופת חותך שקרב קצו, ושזמן הגאולה קרובה לבטל כל פעולותיו של פרעה על כן הוא רוצה להתחזק בפעולותיו, ... לפי שעתה הגיע הזמן שיהיה מוכרח לשלחם ולגרשם ע"כ הוא רוצה להתקומם עליהם ביד חזקה, וזה מופת כי קרוב ישועתי לבא וצדקתי להגלות.
"Because it is known that every day near dawn the darkness is heavier than the darkness of the night and then the dawn light rises. Also, most of the patients near their death get stronger and sit on their bed and ask to eat and then death prevails etc. Also, the perfect example that the end is nearing, the time for redemption, is that the evil Pharaoh was making Israel do much more than he had done in the past; he wanted to increase his actions, etc. According to this, it was the time he had to send and expel them, therefore he wanted to rise against them with a strong hand, and this is an example that salvation is near and so is the right to be exiled." (Kli Yakar Shmot 6:1)
Unlike the troubles in the Egyptian enslavement, to get out of the Corona pandemic (G-d willing) there are more things that depend on us.
We should not enter the ECM (End of Corona Mood).
Although we already want to 'be after' and return to our beloved habits; it is forbidden to lose patience, even after receiving the first dose of the vaccine. It's not over until it's over! By the time you reach the end, mental fatigue has increased. Erosion can lead to dangerous complacency. We must hold on a little more and maintain the same level of alertness. Until, Be'ezrat Hashem, the plague disappears completely.