BO (Exodus, 10:1-13:16) — “Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts…I’ve Already Made Up My Mind!”

The very first Passover is rapidly approaching. You have repeatedly reprimanded the king of Egypt and warned him to let G-d’s People go and serve Him. The Pharaoh has responded with promise after broken promise to let them go. You and your brother Aaron have wreaked havoc on the Egyptians by afflicting them nine times with G-d’s miraculous plagues. Egypt is in shambles. The king’s own advisers have begged him to wake up and smell the coffee and realize that he is destroying his own country by continuing to disregard G-d’s demands. 

Now it’s time to take off the kid gloves and get tough!

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Moses told the king, “G-d said, ‘at about midnight, I will go out into the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh sitting on his throne, to the firstborn of the (Egyptian) slave girl behind the millstone, and the firstborn animals as well.'” (Exodus, 11:4-5)

An interesting choice of words. “About midnight.” In fact, the Torah tells us later on that the tenth plague took place precisely “AT midnight.” (12:29) Why did Moses choose the inaccurate description of “about” midnight?

Rashi explains that Moses was concerned about human error. G-d had told him that the plague was scheduled to take place at exactly midnight. However, Moses feared that the Egyptians would miscalculate the precise moment of midnight. They would look at their “watches” (hourglasses?) and see that midnight had come and gone, and yet the firstborn of Egypt were still alive and well. Moses would be branded as a liar. By saying that the plague would come “about midnight,” Moses hoped to avoid the negative P.R.

Rashi’s explanation is difficult to understand. What was Moses worried about? Who cares if the Egyptian “clocks” are off by a few minutes? What difference would it make if they made a mistake? Even if the Egyptians erred and thought that the plague was a false alarm, they would certainly find out the truth two minutes later! They would learn, when midnight actually arrived, that Moses was right. They would then understand that G-d was killing their firstborn because they had refused to release the Israelites from slavery. Why was Moses afraid of being called a liar?

By making allowance for the margin of Egyptian error, Moses demonstrated great insight into human nature. When we hear what we don’t want to hear, we will find any excuse to discredit it. Moses understood the Egyptian psyche. If they could somehow come up with a way to disparage Moses, even by claiming a two-minute discrepancy in his prophesy, they would ignore the whole message and deny that G-d had sent him. It didn’t matter that Moses had predicted the other plagues. It didn’t matter that the G-d of Moses and Israel had decimated Egypt with miracle after miracle. The fact is that Moses was off on the time, and therefore he’s a liar, and therefore, we’re not letting the Israelites go!

People think the way they want to think, and then look for excuses to justify their “logic.” Sound unreasonable? Do you think that people don’t really think that way? Let’s examine an event in recent American history.

Two years ago, this country was hotly divided over a close election. Half the country felt that George W. Bush was trying to steal the election, and the other half felt the same way about Al Gore. Half of us thought that the Florida Supreme Court justices were political hacks and that the U.S. Supreme Court had wisely and judiciously straightened them out. The rest feel that the U.S. Court made a partisan decision to overrule the sagacity of the Florida Court.

Each side pointed to the supposed dishonesty of the other side. Isn’t it interesting that Republicans only see the point of view that favors their man, and that Democrats see it exactly the other way?!

I have a number of relatives and close friends whose political affiliations and leanings differ with my own. (I am making every effort to keep my personal political views out of this and other articles. A sermon/Torah Talk is no place to vent one’s own political agenda.) I am often amazed by the negative e-mails I receive about public figures whom I respect, and positive e-mails about people whom I disdain. I (usually) don’t respond.

People tend to see the value of their own position and immediately reject anything that negates that position. Don’t we get frustrated when people argue with what WE consider to be valid opinions?

The same thing happens in familial relationships. How often does it happen that husbands and wives, parents and children, are too busy defending their own positions to actually LISTEN to what the other person is saying? Instead, we look for an inconsistency, a two-minute miscalculation of midnight, and use that as the weapon to destroy the other side’s argument and justify our own, sometimes-UNJUSTIFIABLE attitudes.

The word “Torah” means “teaching.” If we look for excuses to ignore the profound lessons of the Torah, we will certainly find them. It is our responsibility to open our minds to the Torah’s wisdom, and to synchronize our “spiritual clocks” to its timeless message.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives 

“How Many Plagues Does It Take to Punish a Pharaoh?”, or, “A Plague on TEN of Your Houses?” (2012)

… G-d told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “G-d said, ‘My firstborn son is  Israel…You have refused to release him…I will kill your firstborn son.’”

As we all know, he refused to release G-d’s “firstborn”, and eventually he sustained the loss of the Egyptian firstborn in the Tenth Plague.  Based upon this original warning, it appears that the only punishment necessary for refusing to release the slaves was the tenth Plague.  Why the other nine?…

Read more.

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“Time Off for Bad Behavior” (2010) 

The numbers don’t add up.

The habitation of the Israelites during which they dwelled in  Egypt was four hundred thirty years.  It was at the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, the legions of G-d left the  land of Egypt.  (Exodus, 12:40-41)

There’s a problem with the math.

…  Obviously, our stay in  Egypt must have been considerably shorter.  In fact, says Rashi, we were only there for 210 years.

… what happened to the other 190? 

Read more.

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“Just Desserts” (2009)

…The lamb was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.  …Now the Egyptians would suffer the anguish of seeing their god made into a schwarma sandwich…

This is difficult to understand.  Our People were enslaved.  We were beaten.  Jewish children were murdered so the Pharaoh could bathe in their blood.  In the major scheme of things, not getting the beef seems to be an almost insignificant addition of insult to injury.  G-d brought ten plagues against the Egyptians.  He devastated their country.  He shattered their economy.  The god-roasting of the Passover Lamb seems to be an inconsequential supplementary slap at an already chastised sinner…

Read more.

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“Double Dating” (2007)

A few weeks ago we opened up our new calendars and re-taught ourselves how to write checks … 

There are authorities who rule… that one is not permitted to abbreviate the secular months of January, February, etc., as 1, 2, etc.  …  Other authorities … argue against the use of the secular months entirely!…

Read more.

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“Pharaoh’s Brother” (2006)

One of the unsung heroes of the Exodus from  Egypt is the Pharaoh’s older brother.  He was the one who finally brought the Pharaoh to his senses.

What’s that?  You’ve never heard of the Pharaoh’s older brother?  Well, I did tell you he was an UNSUNG hero!…

Pharaoh lost it.

Get outta here!” he screamed.  And don’t ever come back!  If you dare come to see me again, you’re a dead man!”  (Loose translation of Exodus,10:27)…

Read more.

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“Lox, Cream Cheese, and … UNLEAVENED BAGELS??!!!” (2005)

You don’t have to be religious to feel Jewish…

Pharaoh no longer refused to let the Israelites leave.  Not only did he permit them to leave, he INSISTED that they leave.  Immediately!

… we have been in exile for close to two thousand years  … How is it that our ancestors would not have been able to withstand a moment more than 190 years of exile, while we continue to exist into our third millennium?

… there is a very big difference between our generation and that generation…

Read more.

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“The Dog Days of Egypt” (2004)

… He’s doing it again… That obnoxious know-it-all at the office who always manages to grate on your nerves.  He “knows” who’s going to win the primaries and who’s going to win the Super Bowl.  He’s got an opinion about everything, and he’s consistently full of baloney.

You really want to put him in his place.  You’d love to tell him, just this once, exactly what you think of him and his crazy notions.  Still better, you’d just love to punch him in the nose! …

Read more.

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“If I Could Only Be Like ___” (2003)

… G-d said to Moses, …”Go to Pharaoh, because I have made his heart stubborn …

Was this fair?  It looks like a set-up!  It looks like G-d is forcing Pharaoh to stubbornly refuse to release the Israelites, and then He plans to punish Pharaoh for being stubborn!

Why should Pharaoh be punished?  He should plead “Not Guilty, by reason of Divine Coercion!”  …

Read more.

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“Nissan Maximum” (2002)

… How can we celebrate the first of Tishrei in the fall as the New Year, when the Torah tells us very clearly that year really begins on the first of Nissan in the spring? …

Read more.

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“Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts…I’ve Already Made Up My Mind!”  (2001)

…Egypt is in shambles. The king’s own advisors have begged him to wake up and smell the coffee and realize that he is destroying his own country by continuing to disregard G-d’s demands.

Now it’s time to take off the kid gloves and get tough! …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 1, 2001 at 7:46 am  Leave a Comment  

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