The Torah portion of “Va’era” with the beginning of the ten plagues, raises an interesting question: how much time passed from the moment Moses accepted his mission at the Burning Bush which we saw last week, until the Exodus from Egypt and the beginning of redemption? We are used to reading the plagues on Seder night – blood, frog, lice… 10 drops of wine make little puddles on our plates. At best, that takes us about 60 seconds, but the truth is that things took time. A lot of time.
In Tractate Rosh Hashanah (10:b-11:b) the two Talmudic sages, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua discuss the question of when was the world created, in the month of Tishrei, in the fall, or Nisan, in the spring? When will the redemption be, in Tishrei or in Nisan? And there are also things on which they both agree, such as that “on Rosh Hashanah, Sarah Rachel and Hannah were remembered; on Rosh Hashanah Yosef was released from prison; on Rosh Hashanah, labor was held back (“canceled”) from our ancestors in Egypt”….
Wait, wait. What? I have watched “Prince of Egypt” quite a few times, and I have seen how the slaves worked hard until the last moment, and only then, tired and exhausted, with barely what’s left of their strength, joined Moses leading the Israelites into the desert… What does this mean, that “on Rosh Hashanah, labor was held back (“canceled”) from our ancestors in Egypt”…?
Rosh Hashanah is in Tishrei, that is, in the fall, half a year before we celebrate Passover and the Exodus!? Did Pharaoh, occupied with the troubles brought upon him by the plagues, left the slaves and perhaps even freed them, so that they may rest, get organized, and maybe continue to work voluntarily as “workers” and not as “slaves”?
And if in Tishrei he already released them and we have had another unnoticed six months, how long did the plagues take before that, up to this point?
Indeed, redemption took time…
After Moses and Aaron went to talk to Pharaoh and warn him of what was coming and he didn’t listen to them (that is, he listened, but didn’t get the impression that they were serious), one day, in the morning, the river turned to blood. It was not just a momentary spectacle of sunrise or sunset on the water, but hours and days that everyone could see and feel, even Pharaoh. And people said to each other, did you see?? what was that? Maybe the angle of the sun?
And after all the explanations, the river went back to normal, and people thought that was it, then suddenly, A frog came out of the water… one, big and fat frog… and every time someone tried to hit it, it split into more and more frogs, and these jumped and croaked and multiplied more and more, there was nowhere they were not; they filled every corner, and when they could no longer jump and make terrible noises, they bloated and dropped dead, leaving a disgusting stench that required cleaning and reorganization.
And all that took time.
And then, just when they thought, here we are, we got things under control, and maybe there is a moment to breathe, the lice arrived, and with the help of potions and ointments and various substances, they tried to get rid of these most annoying creatures; and for days and nights, they examined each other’s heads and bodies, each time finding one here and one there, and when it finally seemed that the river was somehow okay, and there were no crazy frogs, and their heads were all clean, the Arov, a collection of bad animals.
Dangerous wild animals roamed the streets and ran between the houses, and for days on end, it was impossible to go out for the fear and danger. It was impossible to bring food and water and cook and be with the neighbors, and talk and live; just sit and wait.
And all that took time.
And one day, the Arov disappeared, and it was almost possible to breathe, but then Dever came. Great beasts fell ill, their eyes rolling, they died tortured from malignant diseases, in pain and heart-wrenching wails, and all around, again fear and chaos, filth and danger. Valuable property, sheep and cattle were lost. And once more, it was necessary to clean and take care and organize, and it took time, but time has long lost its meaning.
And sometime, when all this had almost calmed down, suddenly, someone started scratching. And then – the neighbors too, and those on the other side. And, the children and the elderly and the workers and the teachers and the engineers. And when they went to the doctors, they discovered that they couldn’t treat anyone either because they hadn’t slept for several nights because of the itching, and their skin was red and full of swollen, painful, ugly boils. And all this took time.
And sometime, little by little, they nevertheless recovered, but then, a terrible sound terrified them, when they heard the hail hitting the roofs and trees, and the garden-beds and the fields. And when they peeked through the shutters, they saw that almost the entire crop was destroyed. And what was not destroyed in the storm of fire and ice that lasted for days, and what started again – almost – to grow bit by bit, was hit by the plague of the locust swarm that landed out of nowhere and consumed everything.
And all this took time.
And when they thought, OK, here we are, we have survived, and let’s think about how and what to do next, darkness settled over everywhere, the “darkness of Egypt”, darkness so thick that no one could even move for at least three days, and when the light returned, suddenly there were missing people among them who died or disappeared in this darkness , and no one saw or heard and it was impossible to find them at all, and while they were dealing with the grief, the dirt, the dangers, and the lack of water and food supply, a plague of firstborns appeared.
It seems that for several months, maybe a year, a year and a half, the strange natural phenomena raged around. And the Children of Israel, at least part of the time, were already unemployed, but still captive in their own “conception”, thinking, ‘actually, it’s not so bad here, it’s true that we’ve been enslaved far from our country for decades and hundreds or years, but look, we can manage. And the truth is, what do you think about Moses becoming the king of Egypt instead of Pharaoh, and we will all just live here? What is all this nonsense about leaving Egypt? Egypt is a wonderful place with a sophisticated water system and advanced agriculture, and the pyramids and other monuments, and we will build a glorious kingdom, a light unto the nations, with the Egyptians, why not, so what if they enslaved us and wanted to kill our sons and take our daughters, in total, this was not their fault, they had difficult conditions and one should understand them’…
And the Israelites sit and write long articles, and uploaded “stories” and “selfies” and watch the news, and take pictures next to the river that has returned to its former state, and next to where there was Arov and next to the field that was beaten by hail, and they chew on wheat kernels, and analyze why it takes so long, and tell about how Moshe and Aaron deliberately postpone the victory, and they just like to visit the palace, and there are moments when it seems as if neither “Yetzi’at Mitzrayim” nor the Exodus of the Israelites – will ever happen. And they no longer bake or pack or prepare or anything.
And one day, “suddenly” – next week – Moshe comes and said, now, now!! Get out, get out, get out!!!
And suddenly, it’s clear.
It is clear that all this time was needed in preparation for this moment; that the moment cannot come from nowhere; and that even if the Almighty can do “everything” and more, whether it’s create a whole world or subdue Pharaoh, in a fraction of a second, we – cannot. And we, like a “tree the of the field”, like a seed underground, sometimes seem to be “sitting idly”, but within, whether it’s known it or not, a process is already beginning, which at the right moment, will open and blossom and become a tree. Or a flower. Or whatever it needs to be. And within this process, it’s impossible to take the plant out of the ground every moment, to see if it has already grown. And already blossomed. And already merged “victorious”. Because redemption takes time.
In the Jerusalem Talmud it is written: Rabbi Hiya the Great, and Rabbi Shimon ben Chalfata were walking in the Arbel Valley (near the Sea of Galilee) early morning, and they saw the dawn’s first spark. Rabbi Haya the Great said to Rabbi Shimon ben Chalfta: Behold, this is how the redemption of Israel is, at first little by little, but the more it goes (sunrise and correspondingly, redemption – progresses), the further it gets (progressing more and more. Jerusalem Talmud Brachot 4).
With blessings of good tidings and patience; Shabbos Shalom.