Parshas Bo contains the final three makkos as well as Bnei Yisrael finally leaving Mitzrayim. In between, Moshe and Aharon receive the first mitzvos given to us as a nation, Kiddush HaChodesh and Korban Pesach. All in all, this is a very important parsha in Jewish history.
The final plague given to Mitzrayim is the Death of the Firstborn. Moshe warns Paroh about this makkah and adds a very dramatic detail. “כֹּ֖ה אָמַ֣ר יְהֹוָ֑ה כַּֽחֲצֹ֣ת הַלַּ֔יְלָה אֲנִ֥י יוֹצֵ֖א בְּת֥וֹךְ מִצְרָֽיִם” “So said Hashem: ‘At the dividing point of the night (midnight), I will go out in the midst of Egypt” (Shemos 11:4). Moshe tells Paroh that at exactly midnight, the plague will start. However, even though Moshe meant midnight, the grammar is slightly off. If Moshe wanted to say exactly midnight, he should have used the prefix “בּ”, meaning “at”, instead of “כַּֽ”, which means an approximation. Moshe wanted to make an impact on Paroh, so why didn’t he say that Hashem would come exactly at midnight instead of giving an approximation? It’s not like Hashem doesn’t know exactly when midnight is!
The classic answer given by Chazal is that while Hashem knew exactly when midnight was, Paroh and his advisors could make just a small mistake in their calculations and be off by just a second. Since they were looking for any excuse not to believe in Hashem, they would have ignored even the slightest difference and taken it as a proof against God. Therefore, Moshe protected the validity of the miracle and told them the plague would start at approximately midnight.
The Kli Yakar offers a different explanation. Chazal teach us that each one of the makkos was given “middah k’neged middah”, measure for measure, corresponding to a torturous act the Egyptians had done to the Jews. (We have discussed this in previous years on this forum.) Says the Kli Yakar, not only was the actual makkah a punishment, but even the timing of this particular makkah was calculated.
Back in Parshas Shemos, Moshe witnessed an Egyptian hitting a Jew and killed him. Rashi explains (2:11) that this happened when the first rooster crowed, which was the sign for the Jews to come out and work. How did Rashi know the timing of this event? There is no hint to it in the pesukim. The Kli Yakar explains that we learn it from here.
There is no particular reason why the plague had to start at exactly midnight, and no clear reason why Moshe used that particular prefix (“כַּֽ”). The reason is in order to punish the Egyptians for further torturing the Jews by making them start working at midnight, the time the first rooster crowed. Moshe used this prefix even though it denotes an approximation and not a certainty, in order to remind the Egyptians of how they made the Jews get up by the crowing of the rooster, which happened approximately at midnight.
With everything that has happened to us throughout history and continues today, Hashem has and will always have our backs. We can rest assured that everyone and everything will get what is coming to them sooner or later. As we see from this week’s parsha, even the smallest detail can be used to perform justice. B’ezrat Hashem, the day will come when we will clearly see the hand of Hashem protecting us and lifting us up from everything that surrounds us, and He will once again take us out from shibud l'geulah!
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