“In the Blink of an Eye”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Bo, Pharaoh finally yields to the power and destruction of the Ten Plagues. Rising in the middle of the night, Pharaoh cries out to Moses and Aaron, Exodus 12:31, “Get out from Egypt, together with all the Children of Israel, and go worship G-d as you have spoken.”

Before the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn, is visited upon the Egyptians, G-d instructs Moses to prepare the Jewish people for their departure from Egypt. The Al-mighty tells Moses (Exodus 11:1) that the defeat of Egypt will be so complete that after the final plague Pharaoh will not only allow the Israelites to leave the country, but will actually drive them out. As compensation for their many years of slave labor, they will be permitted to take valuables of gold and silver from their Egyptian neighbors’ homes (Bo 5768-2008 and Bo 5771-2011).

The Bible, in Exodus 11:3, describes the new, exalted status in which the Jewish people and Moses were held in the eyes of the Egyptians וַיִּתֵּן השם אֶת-חֵן הָעָם, בְּעֵינֵי מִצְרָיִם; גַּם הָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, גָּדוֹל מְאֹד בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בְּעֵינֵי עַבְדֵי-פַרְעֹה, וּבְעֵינֵי הָעָם And G-d granted the people favor in the eyes of Egypt. Moreover, the man, Moses, was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all the people.

Drawing upon the interpretation of the Ramban, the Da’at Sofrim explains that even though the Ten Plagues had left their entire country in ruins, remarkably, the Egyptians did not regard the Hebrews as enemies. Because G-d caused the Hebrews to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, the Egyptians were able to see the greatness of the Jewish people and their righteousness, creating an actual bond of friendship between the Jews and the Egyptians.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch argues brilliantly that, during the plague of darkness, the Egyptians were locked in blindness for three days and were completely helpless, while their treasures lay open in their houses for all the Jews to see. When the Egyptians recovered from the plague and saw all their belongings still intact, they recognized the moral nobility of the Jews, and their antipathy toward them immediately vanished. The honesty of the Jewish people, who could have easily looted Egypt, left a greater impression on the Egyptians than all the plagues performed by Moses at G-d’s behest.

The Ha’amek Davar suggests that even though Pharaoh, due to his hardened heart, refused to release the Jewish people as he had promised, the Egyptians noted that Moses continued to pray for them, and had pity on them. When the Egyptian masses saw this, Moses’ esteem rose in their eyes.

Although all the previously-noted commentators offer compelling reasons for the change in the status of the Jews, it is still difficult for contemporary observers to accept the sudden transformation of the Egyptian view of the Jews, from hated enemy to respected friend. We, who have witnessed and been exposed to generations of bitter enmity among many families and nations, find such sudden transformations difficult to fathom. Do the McCoys ever make peace with the Hatfields? Will the Israeli-Palestinian dispute ever be resolved? Were the differences in America between the North and the South really addressed by the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War? Can one really love one’s enemies?

Obviously, if the Al-mighty is orchestrating the events then, of course, all is possible. The popular aphorism (Book of Maccabees, and Minchah L’Yehuda), ישועת השם כהרף עין maintains that G-d can bring instant salvation, in a veritable blink of an eye.

I saw such a transformation in real life when I recently visited a young child in the hospital who, due to a severe allergic reaction, went into anaphylactic shock, and was revived from a coma and from near death through the miracles of modern medicine. When I saw him not twenty-four hours after he was stricken, the child was cheerful and playful, and back to his old self. The salvation of the Al-mighty can truly occur in the blink of an eye.

While it is always important for those who are challenged to do their utmost to bring about the transformation of evil to good, destruction to salvation, it is necessary to have sincere faith, and maintain an upbeat and optimistic disposition, knowing that a loving G-d and Father is always there, caring for His children.

The Biblical portions that we read weekly always have profound lessons to teach, lessons that apply to us every single moment of the day. G-d, giving the Israelites grace in the eyes of the Egyptians, demonstrates clearly the ability of even the most seemingly hopeless situations to turn around instantly. The fact that the Jews and Moses, who were deeply hated, could, in short order, become highly admired, is but one small example.

With G-d as our companion, we need never despair. We need to do our thing, contribute our part, knowing all along that we have the greatest ally in our corner, and that the Al-mighty’s intervention can, and will, be instantaneous and blessed.

Given the beleaguered state of the world today, and, particularly, the constant challenges faced by the Jewish people, it is easy to yield to a sense of desperation and despair. The transformation of the Jewish people in the eyes of the Egyptians, should give us all reason for hope, and to look forward to the ultimate redemption.

May you be blessed.