Behind the Miracles

Internalizing the Message of the Makkos
By Rav Moshe Shternbuch

The following was written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a drasha given on leil Shabbos by Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim. •••••

The Torah describes the miracles that the Almighty performed for the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. First, Moshe Rabbeinu comes before Paroh and his staff transforms into a snake. After Paroh downplays this sign, the Almighty turns all of the water in Egypt into blood. After that, He brings a swarm of frogs into Mitzrayim. Eight more plagues followed, each one completely unique. When we take a closer look at these miracles, we might wonder what the reason for them was. The Egyptians were masters of sorcery, and their magicians could do tricks that appeared similar to some of the miracles that the Almighty performed. What was so special about the makkos? Miracles do not automatically change the way people think. While malachim are compelled to serve their Master, man has free choice. Every miraculous occurrence comes along with an alterna(Continued from Page 56)

tive explanation, in order to give us the choice to err in our assessment of the situation. Mitzrayim was a place where many people knew enough magic to apparently manipulate the course of nature. The Almighty’s miracles alone did not shock the Jewish people, and therefore did not provide an immediate boost for our faith. However, there was an element of the makkos that changed Klal Yisroel as a nation. The Haggadah Shel Pesach tells us that every miracle was accompanied by yad chazakah, a strong hand, zeroyah netuyah, an outstretched arm, and morah gadol, great fear. All of these phrases describe the same thing: manifestations of the Almighty’s awesome might. Every miracle in Egypt was accompanied by an “injection” of fear of G-d, which caused these wonders to have a huge impact even on people who were accustomed to seeing spectacular magic tricks.

revealed to him. The moment that the Almighty goes back to hiding Himself, the G-d-fearing person will forget all about Him. Yiras Shomayim is a more subtle concept. Someone who has yiras Shomayim fears the Almighty at all times, even when he is not experiencing a revelation of His glory. This exalted level can only be attained by Klal Yisraoel and not by the other nations of the world. As we get closer and closer to the coming of Moshiach, the Almighty is revealing Himself with greater frequency through open miracles, catastrophic natural disasters, and other demonstrations of His infinite might. Those who fear G-d are temporarily moved by these displays of might, but quickly revert to their old habits with the passing of these incidents from the headlines. Those who have yiras Shomayim and are able to maintain their feelings of awe in the long

that is experienced as a result of the Divine Presence being revealed. However, yiras cheit is a constant sense of awe that can only come from Torah study and working to internalize the level that we reach when seeing and contemplating the Almighty’s miracles.

There was one person who did not receive an injection of fear when observing the miracles. The Almighty hardened Paroh’s heart, allowing him to see things at face value. Consequently, these spectacular demonstrations of Divine power did not move him. For him, these miracles were no different than any of the other magic tricks that his sorcerers performed daily. This is a typical reaction of a rasha when shown the truth. Instead of admitting the error of his ways, he stands firm in his foolishness. This can lead him to act illogically

Each person will find out how everything that happened in his life was precisely designed to serve his individual needs.
term will escape the tribulations of chevlei Moshiach. In the Birkas Hachodesh that is recited in shul before Rosh Chodesh, we mention yiras Shomayim twice. One time we add yiras cheit, fear of transgression, and once we say yiras Shomayim, without any additions. What is the difference between these two descriptions? These two descriptions refer to the two different types of Divine fear. Yiras Shomayim, by itself, refers to an appropriate level of fear and against his own best interest. During World War II, the great rasha, Hitler yemach shemo vezicrono showed us just such behavior. The Allies were advancing on the Germans, and the army asked him for more trains to carry supplies to the front, rather than transporting Jews to their death in the camps. Seemingly, this was a very logical request, for supplies were essential in their bid to regain the upper hand in the war. Hitler responded with great fury: “Don’t you realize how important it is to rid the world of the Jews?” Even as he was witnessing his own destruction unfolding, his passion for evil blinded him to his own folly.

The Torah writes that those Egyptians who feared the word of the Almighty brought their animals in during the plagues. At first glance, this posuk surprises us. How is it possible that the Mitzriyim were G-d-fearing? There is a distinct difference between a person who is G-dfearing and someone who has yiras Shomayim. An individual who is G-d-fearing only retains that attitude when the Divine Presence is emanates from our Father in the Shomayim! We cannot be freed from slavery unless we realize that our existence depends entirely on Him! This is not theory, my friends. This is survival! Our adherence to this mighty Truth in the eyes of the entire world is what is called Kiddush Hashem! We exist to tell the world that we are sustained only by Avinu Malkeinu, our Father and King! My wife and I had the privilege on the Shabbos of Parshas Shemos to attend the Annual Presidents’ Conference of Torah Umesorah in Miami, Florida. It was a large convention, held at a major hotel, part of a worldwide chain. Thousands of travelers and conventions pass through these halls (where I am writing at this very moment). I want you to know what the Convention Director of this major hotel told the Torah Umesorah staff. Please listen to these words. “We have never dealt with more honest, pleasant and straightforward people than you. You have completely reversed our expectation of what it would be like to deal with an orthodox Jewish organization.” Do you hear these words! Am Yisroel! A holy nation upon the earth! “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation on

pursuits and the love of luxury, money, cars, vacations, television, sports, entertainment, scandal, lashon hara and emptiness, the entire degrading lifestyle of self advancement, in which the highest ideal is to “get ahead,” meaning ahead of the other person, in order to destroy him so that you in your pathetic attempt at self-glorification can tell yourself that you are “Number One”! I know it sounds extreme, but we have to consider what the Torah means when it informs us that only twenty percent of the Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim. Apparently, eighty percent did not want to abandon the culture of Mitzrayim even though that was their only ticket to survival! There was no other way, and so it seems to be with us today. The culture of Edom is not our culture. Ours, lehavdil, is the culture of constant service to the King of Kings, constant study of His Torah in order to live His Torah, constant dissemination of Torah to the entire world! There is no room for the culture of Edom, despite its apparent predominance. And so we clean out the chometz before Pesach. We clean out every vestige of belief in the alien culture which enslaves us! We come to understand that we are sustained only by what 7 Shevat 5770 • January 22 2010

earth!” (Shabbos Mincha Shemoneh Esreh, Shmuel II 7:23). My friends, it is all about Kiddush Hashem. It is our job to demonstrate to the world what it means to cleave with all our hearts and souls to the Ribono Shel Olam, the Ruler of the Universe. If we cling to His Torah with fiery devotion, then we can hope to participate with the greatest simcha in the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid, who will liberate us from all tzouris and usher in the era of everlasting happiness and kedushah for the entire world. May we soon eat the Korban Pesach and consume our matzoh in purity as we gather in sanctity around the Bais Hamikdosh in the coming days, when “Torah will go forth from Zion and the Word of G-d from Yerushalayim” (Yeshaya 2:3). ••••• Roy Neuberger’s third book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim Publishers), is available at all Jewish book stores. Roy is also the author of “From Central Park To Sinai: How I Found My Jewish Soul,” and “Worldstorm: Finding Meaning & Direction Amidst Today’s World Crisis.” From Central Park To Sinai has just been released in Hebrew by Feldheim Publishers in Israel as “M’Manhattan El Har Sinai.” Roy can be reached at or at YATED NE’EMAN

In Mitzrayim, the Almighty performed miracles that clearly showed that only He controls the world. Seeing these displays of Divine might instilled yiras Shamayim into the Jewish people. Yet this pales in comparison to the clarity and fear that we will experience in

the days of Moshiach. “I took you [Klal Yisroel] to be My nation, and I manifested Myself as Elokim to you, I am Hashem Elokim.” Sometimes the Almighty shows Himself to the world as Elokim, i.e. strict justice. In other instances, we see Him as Hashem, as He sends us overflowing mercy and kindness. On the surface, this world presents itself to us as a mixture of Divine justice and mercy. Why are some people poor and others wealthy? Why are some gifted and others lacking in intelligence? Why do some have an easy life and others suffer? These are some of the many questions that we often ask when trying to comprehend Gd’s ways in this world. Yet, as the posuk tells us, “Hashem Elokeichem is true.” In reality, there is absolutely no contradiction between the Divine attribute of mercy and that of strict justice. The two abide together in complete harmony, even though we are not expected to understand this. There is no “good” or “bad,” only truth. Rav Chaim Brisker said that in the End of Days, the Almighty will answer these questions. Each person will find out how everything that happened in his life was precisely designed to serve his individual needs. At that moment, every individual will experience great trepidation when he sees how he squandered many of the opportunities that the Almighty graciously offered him. As we read these parshiyos in the Torah, we can learn from the Almighty’s actions what is in store for us at the End of Days. Now we can prepare ourselves, to ease the shock that will surely come. May those days come soon, and may we be prepared adequately to experience the joy that will accompany them. ••••• Rabbi Travis is a rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim, and is the author of Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying With Joy - A Daily Tefilla Companion,” a practical daily guide to improving one’s prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers. For more information about his work, contact

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