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Top Ten

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Bo
Top Ten

As we conclude the last three plagues in this week's parsha, it is crucial to point out the pattern in which Hashem operated when it came to all of the plagues. The order of events was that God would speak to Moshe outside the city and instruct him to inform Pharaoh that another plague was coming. God would not appear to Moshe in a prophetic vision within the city because the city was filled with the impurity of idolatry. For this very reason, Moshe would only pray for the removal of a plague outside of the city so as not to pray in an impure idolatrous environment (Shemos Rabba, 12:5; Ex. 9:29).

However, there was one exception to this rule. When Hashem instructed Moshe to warn Pharaoh about the tenth plague, the Slaying the First Born, God not only appeared to Moshe inside of the city, but He even appeared to Moshe in Pharaoh's palace which was a place teeming with idolatry. Not to mention that Pharaoh maintained that he himself was a god (Rashi Ex. 8:16). Why did Hashem deviate from His usual protocol?

The Midrash (Shemos Rabba, 18:1) addresses this by saying that during the ninth plague, the plague of darkness, Moshe was standing in front of Pharaoh when Pharaoh said to Moshe, "Do not see my face anymore" (Ex. 10:28). Moshe responded, "You have spoken correctly, I will never see your face again" (Ex. 10:29). Had Moshe left Pharaoh's presence, he would have had to return to Pharaoh in order to warn him about the final plague. That would have made Moshe look foolish because Moshe just promised that he would never see Pharaoh's face ever again. So, God protected Moshe's reputation and appeared to him right then and there, during the plague of darkness, just before Moshe left Pharaoh's presence. It was then that Hashem instructed Moshe to inform Pharaoh about the tenth plague. This is why there was a sudden deviation from the previously established pattern of appearing to Moshe specifically outside of the city. It was in order to preserve Moshe's reputation.

We never find any criticism against Moshe for telling Pharaoh that he would never see his face again, even though this "forced" God to bring His Divine Presence into a spiritually polluted environment. From the lack of criticism we could deduce that appearing to Moshe in Pharaoh's palace was also part of God's master plan. If this is true, we must ask why it was suddenly acceptable for Hashem's Divine Presence to descend to a place bursting with such spiritual filth.

Speaking of the tenth plague, the Torah stresses twice that there would be a "great outcry" when the first born Egyptians would die (Ex. 11:6; 12:30). It would seem that this "outcry" was an essential part of the plague. This makes us wonder how the "outcry" was an inseparable and integral part of the plague.

Additionally, we must question the need for God to smite the Egyptians with specifically ten plagues. Why not just hit them with one blow and wipe them right out?

The Sfas Emes cites his grandfather, the Chidushei Harim, (Parshas Bo) who explains the logic behind smiting the Egyptians with specifically ten plagues. He says that the world was created with Ten Utterances (Avos, chap. 5, "Ba'asarah Ma'amaros", Mishnah 1). Moreover, the Ten Kabbalistic Spheres were also created from the Ten Utterances.

Obviously, the number ten is connected to holiness. However, this means that there must also be a number ten that is connected to impurity because God created a world of balance. In order to maintain balance, there must be opposing forces (Ecc7:14).

The Egyptians were the ones to create ten layers of spiritual filth known as "klipos" (husks or shells). By denying the fact that God created the world with ten utterances (Ex. 5; 2), the Egyptians created ten layers of spiritual pollution which darkened the Jewish People's eyes from believing in the Ten Utterances. Subsequently, The Jewish People were not able to connect with and benefit from the Ten Kabbalistic Spheres. Consequently, the Jewish People were not prepared to receive the Ten Commandments.

Therefore, Ten Plagues were needed to peel away and destroy the ten layers of impurity so that the power of the ten utterances would once again be accessible. Then the Jewish people would be able to benefit from the ten Kabbalistic spheres and eventually receive the Ten Commandments.

Since the Ten Plagues destroyed the ten klipos which revealed the Ten Utterances, the plagues would have to parallel the utterances. The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem, chap. 57) says that in connecting the plagues to the utterances, we must list the utterances from first to last, whereas the plagues must be listed from the last to first. In this way, the first plague corresponds to the last utterance and the tenth plague corresponds to the first utterance.

The Shem Mishmuel (Parshas Bo) cites the Kotzker Rebbe that uses this formula to point out a relationship between the Ninth Plague of Darkness (Ex. 10:21-23) and the Second Utterance, "Let there be light" (Gn. 1:3). The connection between them is that the Egyptians created a darkness that completely covered the spiritual light of Genesis, preventing the Jews from drawing from its holiness. Therefore, God punished the Egyptians measure for measure and smote them with the darkness that Hashem created. God's darkness destroyed the Egyptian's darkness, thus revealing the Light of Creation. This is why the verse goes on to say, "But for all the children of Israel, there was light in their dwellings" (Ex. 10:23). This does not only mean that the Jews were able to see during the plague of darkness but rather, it also means to say that the Jewish People had access to the spiritual Light of Creation once again.

The Maharal continues making comparisons between the two lists of plagues and utterances. The reason why the tenth plague parallels the first utterance is because slaying the first born Egyptians was an attack against "firsts"; the firsts of Egyptian strength were their first borns (See Gn. 49:3). This connects to the first utterance which was the word "Bereishis" (Gn. 1:1; Rosh Hashanah, chap. 4, "Yom Tov", pg. 32a) which also contains the essence of "firsts".

Parenthetically, the Arizal (Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar Chag Hamatzos, chap. 7) says that since the Ten Plagues destroyed the ten klipos which revealed the Ten Kabbalistic Spheres, there must be a connection between the Ten Plagues and the Ten Spheres. Here too, the spheres are listed from the first to the last, whereas the plagues are listed from the last to the first, so that the first plague corresponds to the tenth sphere, and the tenth plague corresponds to the first sphere. This supports to the way the Maharal listed the plagues and the utterances.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that based on all of this we can take the liberty of comparing the plagues and the commandments in the same exact way. Since the Ten Plagues destroyed the ten klipos which prevented the Jews from receiving the Ten Commandments, the Plagues parallel the commandments in the same order. The commandments are listed from first to last, whereas the plagues are listed from last to first so that the tenth plague corresponds to the first commandment and the first plague corresponds to the tenth commandment.

In this way, the tenth plague broke the klipa which covered the first commandment. This is why the tenth plague was the only plague that God carried out Himself (Ex. 12:12; Passover Haggadah), without the involvement of His agent, Moshe. Since the first commandment of "Anochi" (I am) was being revealed, "Anochi" Himself would have to bring it out.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can understand why there was no criticism against Moshe for "forcing" God's Divine Presence to appear in Pharaoh's palace. This is because Hashem appeared to Moshe during the ninth plague of darkness which destroyed the klipa covering over the second commandment, "There must not be any foreign gods in My Presence" (Ex. 20:3). Once the energy of this commandment began to fill the world, it destroyed the dark powers that idolatry used to possess. The idols no longer had any substance to them. Moshe knew this and therefore saw nothing wrong with "forcing" God to appear in a palace that was teeming with idolatry because there was no longer any idolatrous impurity. When Hashem actually communicated with Moshe in the palace, it affirmed that Moshe was correct.

Let us now address our final question which was the relevance of the outcry that accompanied the tenth plague. The answer to this question opens up a whole new idea. It begins with the Tikkunei Zohar (Preface, pg. 3a) that says that with every speech of Torah we must have in mind to join the words to the voice. When we understand this Zohar, we will have an answer to the significance of the outcry.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that all speech can be divided into two components: 1) voice and 2) words. The voice contains the essence of a person's will. However, most people cannot understand what a person means if he were to just let out a voice. Communication via voice is such a high frequency that most people cannot decipher its meaning.

Therefore, words are necessary. Words constrict the voice into letters, sentences, and paragraphs and convey the person's will to others. As we know, something is always lost in a translation. When voice gets converted into words, it loses something.

There are some thoughts and feelings that are beyond words. Sometimes words cannot capture the true essence of what a person is feeling or thinking. Sometimes husbands and wives can communicate on this higher frequency to the point that if a third party was in their presence, he would have no idea that an entire dialogue just occurred. This explains the holiness of babies. Before they learn how to speak, babies communicate with voice. Most people do not understand what a baby is screaming about. However, in many cases the mother can. We think that as we mature we advance by communicating with words. In reality this is a demotion. When we lose the holy innocence of a baby, we can no longer communicate with voice and must settle for words.

The same is true with Hashem's Speech. There are two components: 1) voice and 2) words. God's Will is found within His Voice. But, since we would not be able to understand God's voice, Hashem constricted His voice and clothed it into words so that He could convey His Will, even though something is inevitably lost in the conversion.

By dissecting speech into these two parts, we will be able to understand the answer to a difficult question. The Gemarah (Rosh Hashanah, chap. 4, "Yom Tov", pg. 32a, Reb Yochanan) asks where the Ten Utterances are found in the story of creation. The Talmudic scholars counted all the times the verses said "Vayomer" (and He said...let there be...), and they only found "Vayomer" mentioned nine times. Where is the tenth "Vayomer"? The Gemarah says that the word "Bereishis" (in the beginning) is one of the utterances.

The question is, "How can 'Bereishis' be an utterance?" "Bereishis" is just a narrative. There is no hint of saying or speaking contained within the word "Bereishis". How can the Gemarah claim that "Bereishis" is an utterance?

The Maggid of Mezheritch (Likkutim Yekarim, chap. 125) addresses this by teaching that in order for Hashem to "Vayomer" (say) anything, there must have been letters with which to form into the words and sentences that He used to utter all creations into existence. The letters had to have come first.

Now, letters are a creation also. When did God create the letters? The Maggid says that the letters were created in Genesis 1:1. Most people think that the verse says, "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth". A closer examination of the text shows us otherwise.

The verse begins, "Bereishis Barah Elokim" (In the beginning God created). What did God create? The answer is found in the very next word, "Es". Although this word may be tough to define, every "Es" in the Torah comes to teach us something (See Baba Kamma, chap. 4, "Shor Shenagach Dalet V'hey", pg. 41b; Shimon Ha'amsuni, Nechemia Ha'amsuni, and Rebbi Akivah). In this case, the word "Es" teaches us that the letters were created. We can see this in the word "Es" which is spelled, "aleph" "saf". This tells us that in the beginning, God's first creation was the letters from the "aleph" until the "saf". Only then did God use the letters to "Vayomer" everything else into existence.

How did Hashem create the letters? God used His voice! This is how "Bereishis" can be one of the utterances even though there is no vernacular of saying or speaking contained in that word. This is because there could not have been any form of speaking yet since the letters were not yet created. There was no word for "voice" yet. This is what the Gemarah is teaching us. The voice of God was present in the word "Bereishis" even though we cannot see it in the letters on the page.

Perhaps we could suggest that this is why our Hebrew language is called "Lashon Hakodesh" (the Holy Tongue). It is because the letters were created directly from God's voice which is the root of His Will. Everything else was created from the letters which means that all creations are one step removed from Hashem. Since the letters were created directly from God Himself, the language is called "holy" because it is closer to the source of holiness.

This could be why we blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Although there are a lot of words that we pray on Rosh Hashanah, the highlight of the day is the Shofar blowing, which is a Mitzvah that is done with a sound only which represents our collective voice. There are no words. When we blow the Shofar, we are sending God a message. We are saying that we feel so close to Him that we feel that we can communicate to Him on the level of voice, just like a close married couple and just like a baby and his mother. When Hashem sees just how close we feel to Him, He seals us immediately in the Book of Life.

Perhaps we could add that this is the meaning behind all the "signs" that we do on Rosh Hashanah in order to procure a sweet year for us (Abaye, Krisus, chap. 1, "Shloshim Vashesh", pg. 6a). How do these signs actually work? How can we avert a harsh decree just by eating an apple dipped in honey? It's not a game. Rather, we are communicating our desires to God without using words. Just by eating certain foods, or just by having them on the table, we are asking Hashem to grant us a life of sweetness and prosperity. This in and of itself is communicating on the level of voice in which no words have to be spoken. When Hashem sees that we feel that close to Him, He rips up any harsh decrees and grants us a year of success.

Although we mentioned that most people cannot understand God's unadulterated voice, there was an exception to the rule. At Sinai, the Jews reached such a high level that they were capable of understanding Hashem's Will just from His voice. This is why Moshe reminisced about the Sinai Experience and said, "These words God spoke on the mountain in the thick cloud, a great voice, etc...." (Dt. 5:19). By stressing "a great voice", Moshe meant that the Jews were able to grasp God's intentions just by hearing His voice.

This is the understanding of the verse that says, "And all the People saw the voices (at Sinai)" (Ex. 20:15). In Hebrew, "seeing" also means "perceiving". The verse is teaching us that the People were able to perceive the will of God just from His voice. It was only after the Sin of the Golden Calf that we lost our innocence and could no longer communicate on the frequency of voice. Therefore, we needed a Torah with words.

Avraham Avinu was on the level of communicating with voice. When Rav sites a verse to prove that Avraham kept the entire Torah before it was given (Yoma, chap. 3, "Amar Lahem Hamemuneh", pg. 28b), he chose the verse that says, "Because Avraham listened to My 'voice'" (Gn. 26:5). Avraham was able to hear God's voice even before any words of Torah were given at Sinai.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is what the Tikkunei Zohar meant when it said that with every speech of Torah we must keep in mind to connect the word to the voice. It means that it is not enough to learn the words of the Torah which are the Words of God. Rather, we must try to hear the voice of God behind the words. In other words, it is not sufficient just to understand the words which teach us the technicalities, rigidities, and minutia of the law. We must try to hear God's voice behind those laws to attempt to figure out what God is driving at. We have to ask ourselves what motivated Hashem to command us in these Mitzvos. What's God getting at? What does he really want from us? What's the point of it all? When we tap into God's voice, the Mitzvos take on an entirely different dimension of meaning.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the relevance of the screaming that took place during the Tenth Plague, Slaying the First Born. The final plague destroyed the final Egyptian klipah that covered over the first utterance, Bereishis. Since Bereishis was God's holy utterance of voice, the Egyptian klipah covering it must have also been a filthy layer of polluted voice stemming from the side of impurity.

When the plague of the Slaying of the First Born hit, not only were there screams coming out of every Egyptian home on account of all the corpses, but the klipah of unholy voice was also killed. As it was dying, it screamed its last scream and breathed its last breath. The klipah saw the revelation of Bereishis (holy voice) being revealed once again. Bereishis was this klipah's arch enemy. The klipah screamed in agony with its impure voice at what was transpiring. The Torah stressed the scream to indicate that the last klipah was destroyed.

When I saw this piece of Torah, it occurred to me that this might be a deeper meaning behind praying with a Minyan (ten Jews). Perhaps, the power of prayer said with this larger Jewish community carries the weight to destroy the ten layers of klipah created by other nations since the destruction of the Egyptians. Praying with a Minyan could reveal the Ten Utterances and Ten Kabbalistic Spheres, and even enable us to receive the entire Torah contained within the Ten Commandments (Rashi, Ex. 24:12, citing Rav Sadya Gaon).

However, when we pray, it is important to connect the words to the voice. This means to put thought and feeling into the words. After all, we ask Hashem to hear our "voice" (Shmoneh Esrei).

Don't forget that there are ten words for prayer (Rebbi Yochanan, Devarim Rabba, 2:1). When we join the words to our voices in the ten types of prayer with a Minyan (of ten people), we can truly destroy the ten klipos, reveal the Ten Utterances, activate the ten spheres and receive the Ten Commandments.

This could be our exercise. For men, let's try not to miss a Minyan. This is not always easy. It's constant, three times every single day. It requires stamina. There are also circumstances that get in the way. We need determination.

For women who do not carry the same responsibility as men for a Minyan, I would suggest to try to attend one prayer a week with a Minyan. This could be done on Shabbos.

The point is, when praying with a Minyan, concentrate on the power of those prayers. Appreciate that we have the power of ten with us. We should pray that the ten layers of klipah be destroyed. We should pray for success in revealing the Ten Utterances. We should pray for the success in benefitting from the Ten Spheres. We should pray for success in understanding the entire Torah contained in the Ten Commandments.

So, may we, God's first born child, be blessed to destroy the Klipos with our tefillos, reveal the Ma'amaros, activate the Sefiros, and receive the Dibros to such a degree that we actually see what the voice of God is truly trying to teach us, and thus deserve to join the largest Minyan ever, at the site of our new and final Beis Hamikdash, speedily in our days.

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