Rabbi Shmuel Brazil
THE FOURTH DECREE AND THE GEULAH FROM MITZRAYIM | PARSHAS VAEIRAH
At the end of Parshas Shmos Moshe Rabbeinu complains to Hashem concerning his mission to Pharaoh to ask from him to emancipate Am Yisrael from bondage. Moshe asked if You sent me to free them then why would You make their situation even more severe than before. For now it is expected from them to go out to the fields and gather their own straw and nevertheless come up with the same tally of bricks as when the straw was given to them without collecting it.
The answer to Moshe's criticism is found at the beginning of the Parsha. At the Bris Bein Habisarim (Bereishis 15,14) Hashem made a treaty with a sworn statement to the Avos that Am Yisrael will be enslaved four hundred years ועבדום ועינו אותם ארבע מאות שנה and וגם את הגוי דן אנכי and also the nation that did this to them will be judged by being smitten with plagues. After this, Am Yisrael will leave Mitzrayim ברכוש גדול with a great wealth.
The meforshim explain that part of the Bris is the punishment to the Egyptians. The angel of the nation of Egypt could claim they are not deserving of punishment since they were only fulfilling the decree and orders that Hashem made with Avraham. Hashem was saying to Moshe "I cannot let them leave Mitzrayim unless I have the absolute unquestionable right to punish them with plagues and thereby fulfill every segment of the oath I made with Avraham. Therefore I sent you to command Pharaoh to let My people go. Since he openly refused to obey My orders I have the right even in the eyes of the Egyptian angelic ambassador to give Pharaoh the consequences for not listening to my command. If Mitrzrayim will claim that we are not responsible for enslaving because it was Your will Hashem to do so, why then did you disobey my will when I command you to set them free?
Another deflection to the angelic ambassador of Mitzryaim whose claim was Mitzrayim was just following orders is presented by the Maskil Ledovid on Rashi with a slightly different twist. The right to bring punishment on Mitzrayim was because they clearly did not place Am Yisrael in servitude because that was the decree of Hashem to Avraham and they were merely fulfilling it. For if this was so, why did the Egyptians go to the extreme of בפרך of back breaking labor. What would they gain by changing the work roles of men to woman and vice versa? Why would they give the impossible task to them of now gathering their own straw and are still be expected to make the same number of bricks before the introduction of this new decree. All these actions point and reveal to the truth what deep lay deep in Mitzrayim's hearts that they never enslaved them because they knew of the Bris of Avraham. Rather, they tricked them into bondage motivated only because of selfish and evil reasons. This portrays why there did not exist any limits to their torture and mistreatment of Am Yisraelway beyond the normal handling of slaves. It is with this revelation that now Hashem can punish them not only for the extra severity of labor that they added, but also for the initial enslavement of Am Yisrael even when at that period it wasn't at the extreme level of servitude.
According to this interpretation we can understand why Hashem sent the sign of a staff transforming into a snake. It was in order to prove to Pharaoh and the people of Am Yisrael that they are even going to be redeemed not only after their situation worsened but rather because their situation worsened. Chazal say that the staff of Moshe had Hashem's name written on it, plus דצך עדש באחב which was the acronym of the Ten Maakos. The angel of Mitzrayim claimed they did it for the sake of fulfilling the decree of Bris Bein Habasarim which Hashem made with Avraham Avinu and are not deserving of such a pay back. This Divine plan of slavery is symbolized by the staff. However, the staff turned into a Serpent which symbolized that even if the staff appears on the outside as if Mitzrayim was fulfilling the decree of Hashem with Avraham, its inner workings were a replay of the Nachach's deception which tricked Chava and Adam to eat from the Aitz Hadaas.
The meforshim explain that the Serpent pushed her against the tree and said "You see, you did not die from touching the tree, so too you won't die by eating from it". The Serpent knew that in reality there was no prohibition to touch the tree and it was only added on by Adam Harishon to safeguard his wife not to eat from it. Chavah was not aware of the safeguard and thought it was a real prohibition. The Serpent therefore fooled her into eating from the tree by adding more to Hashem's will prohibiting not to eat from it, but also forbidding not even touching it. So too, Pharaoh is likened to the Serpent since he also added more to the command of Hashem that only stated that Yisrael must be in bondage to Mitzrayim. They took this command of bondage of Am Yisrael to a totally extreme level of evil proportions adding degrees of servitude of slaves that was unheard of and inhumane. The example of this depravity was the last decree #4 that of gathering your own straw and still to be expected to come up with the same tally otherwise you will be whipped to death. This is not slavery but rather an excuse for torture and murder.
This fourth decree was proof that Egypt can now be punished for their evil intentions beyond Hashem's command of slavery. This is why Moshe was sent by Hashem to go to Pharaoh to command him to set Yisrael free. Hashem knew that Pharaoh would become infuriated at this command and he decreed this new law which paved the way for Hashem to fulfill the rest of the conditions of the Bris with Avraham. The rest of the Bris Bein Habasarim that could be now executed was the segment of וגם את הגוי דן אנכי punishing the Egyptians with Ten Maakos for enslaving Yisrael in bondage, plus their additions of torture and torment to the Jewish Nation, and also the segment of leaving Mitzrayim with a tremendous wealth.
This concept is hinted in the "trop" the incantations of the words וימררו את חייהם the Egyptians embittered their lives with פרך back breaking labor. On the words וימררו את חייהם are the notes קדמא ואזלא רביעי which translates as, the fourth (caused Yisrael) to precede and to go. This alludes to the fact that the fourth decree of Pharaoh now opened the door for Hashem to send the plagues on Egypt and then to send Yisrael free from bondage.
If we now look closely at the language used at the Bris Bein Habasarim we will see the allusion of our interpretation mentioned above. ועבדום ועינו אותם ארבע מאות שנה וגם את הגוי דן אנכי ואחרי כן יצאו ברכוש גדול. The host culture will force them into slavery and will afflict them for four hundred years. וגם את הגוי אשר יעבודו דן אנכי. Why is this segment of the TenMakkos introduced with the word וגם? Would it not have been sufficient just to state ואת הגוי אשר יעבודו דן אנכי? The answer is that in this word וגם is hinted the reason why Hashem punished Mitzrayim for their enslavement of Am Yisrael and they were not pardoned with the claim that they merely obeyed the orders of Hashem to enslave them. They demonstrated with the וגם the "also" the extra degree of torture and torment to Am Yisrael by adding unattainable and impossible tasks to complete, such as with the 4th decree, which clearly showed that they had no intentions to fulfill the will of Hashem to enslave them. The Ten Makkos befell Mitzrayim because the fourth decree revealed their true intentions and because of which the conditions of the Bris Bein Habasarim were now able to be fulfilled and Am Yisrael to be released to freedom from their slavery.
This is also alluded to in the passuk (Shmos6,5) וגם אני שמעתי את נאקת בני ישראל אשר מצרים מעבידים אותם ואזכר את בריתי. The passuk can be translated as וגם אני שמעתי את נאקת בני ישראל the וגם I heard the pain anguish from the extra evil the fourth decree which caused the cries of YIsrael from their slavery. With the וגם, the time has come to fulfill ואזכר את בריתי . For now I can fulfill the other two conditions of the Bris, one, punishing Mitzrayim and two Yisrael will leave with a great wealth taken from Mitzrayim for enslaving them. Note that the trop on וגם אני שמעתי is מונח מונח רביעי Because of the fourth decree, it was now possible to activate and "put into place" the other two conditions in the Bris (twice מונח) which are the punishing Mitzrayim and Yisrael leaving with a great wealth.
Now we can also understand the reason why our Chachamim established the drinking of the Four Cups of wine during the Seder. It was the fourth cup which represents the fourth decree that made the geulah possible when it was. For it was the 4th decree that opened the window for Hashem and cleared the way without kitrug to finish the conditions of the Bris and Shevuah, and go ahead to redeem Am Yisrael with a great wealth. That is why in the order of the pessukim the next passuk after וגם אני שמעתי starts to talk about the four terms of geulah .והוצאתי והצלתי וגאלתי ולקחתי the term והוצאתי parallels יצאו ברכוש גדול found in the Bris Bein Habasarim (Rashi). Once Hashem hears the וגם the extra torment that they caused through the 4th decree, Hashem executed the Ten Maakos and the exodus of Am Yisrael with והוצאתי the רכוש גדול which they were promised.
The last day of Yetzias Mitzrayim which occurred on the 7th day of Pesach at Kerias Yam Suf, Am Yisrael sang the Shira of Az Yashir. Part of that Shirah is זה אלי ואנוהו this is my Hashem and I will glorify Him. Chazal learn from here the mitzvah of הידור מצוה to beautify and do extra to enhance the mitzvah past the bare minimum. Why is this הידור מצוה revealed during the Yetzias Mitzrayim at Kerias Yam Suf? According to our explanation above, Yetzias Mitzrayim took place because the Egyptians added on to the command of Hashem with an intensified deeper evil and harm to Am Yisrael. The same occurred with the first chait of Mankind that the addition of an enhancement and safeguard to the mitzvah was used as a ploy by the Nachash to get Adam and Chavah to sin. The geulah from MItzrayim therefore corrected both scenarios of additions and enhancements for evil and fixed the addition to Hashem's command to enhance mitzvos.
This is why Chazal relate to us that there is a connection between אז ישיר and the 4th decree which Moshe also used the אז word מאז באתי אל פרעה הרעותה לעם הזה. At Kerias Yam Suf Moshe sang with the same word he used as a complaint against the intensification of the severity of bondage. As Hashem explained to him that only by Pharaoh making the 4th decree, the geulah was made possible by clearing the way to complete the conditions of the Bris Bein Habesarim of punishing Mitzrayim and leaving with a great wealth.
At the night of the Seder the minhag is to open up the door. One reason that is given is because that night is ליל שמורים when Hashem guards and watches over Bnei Yisrael. According to our words above we can say the custom is to hint to the Fourth Decree which is hinted in the word דלת the door, and the fourth letter in the Alep Beis. The fourth decree was the opening of the door for the geulah to occur.
Many times one's life experiences can take him into episodes that seem to make the situation that he is in even worse than it was before. The crisis seems to deepen and the future gets even bleaker. The Fourth Decree shows us that many a time we will merit to see that the turning southwards was only for a period of time. Afterwards, one can see the brilliant light that was hiding behind the dark clouds and come to the realization that the light only came about because of the darkness that preceded it. אז ישיר משה
- Rabbi Shmuel Brazil