Heavenly Hail

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Vo'eira includes the first seven of the ten plagues Hashem visited on Mitzrayim. While all the plagues were wondrous and miraculous, it is the introduction to the seventh plague, Hail, that begs exploration. Here Pharaoh is warned, "For this time I shall send all My plagues against your heart... so that you will know that there is none like Me in all the world."

While this is one plague, Hail, how can this warning include "all My plagues?" According to Rashi, this warning included a precursor to the plague of the Death of the Firstborn. the most devastating of all the plagues, and as such, is all inclusive. Further, asks Rabbi Weinberger, how is it that this particular plague entered Pharaoh's heart? Answering the second question on a simple level, Pharaoh saw that those who heeded the warning and took their slaves and livestock indoors for protection indeed saved them. They were not killed by the hail as was everything else left outdoors. But the Chasam Sofer offers a different insight. It was only after this plague that Hashem first hardened Pharaoh's heart so that he would obstinately refuse to accept Hashem's sovereignty even in the face of overwhelming evidence. The loss of one's free will is indeed the greatest plague anyone can suffer.

When we read the Haggadah at the Seder, we note that Rav Yehudah divided the ten plagues into three groupings, acronyms for each of the plagues within that group. DTZa'ChADa"SH, and BeACh"B. The Maharal explains that each of these groupings has its own unique purpose, as is apparent in the introduction to these plagues. The first group, Blood, Frogs, Lice, proves that Hashem created the world. The second group, Wild Animals, Pestilence and Boils, proves that the God of Creation is still intimately involved with each individual in the world. He differentiated between the Egyptians and the Jews in administering each plague. Finally, with Hail, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn, Hashem showed Pharaoh that He is the only God and controls all of nature and everything that occurs on earth. As such, the introduction to Hail, the first plague of this grouping, included a warning for the other plagues that were to follow within this group, explains Rabbi Hofstedter. Further, the sorcerers themselves were so overwhelmed that they did not even attempt to replicate this plague.

But this awareness was fleeting, writes Rabbi Wolbe zt”l, as Moshe tells Pharaoh that "You and your servants do not yet fear Hashem Elokhim" This combination of two of Hashem's names appears very sparingly in all of Tanach. It appears in the story of creation, before Adam sinned, and in describing the end of days. Why does this plague warrant the use of Hashem's double Name? This, too, must then also present some form of revelation. Rabbi Wolbe zt”l points to a succession in the origin of the plagues. The first group arose from water and dirt; the second group were from those upon the earth; this third group came from heaven. As Hashem creates peace in heaven, so did He make peace between fire and ice in the plague He sent to earth as hail. While Pharaoh got the message, however momentarily at this stage, we need to have this clarity always, so that our free will is exercised with that clarity.

Letitcha Elyon makes an interesting observation from Rav Mattisyahu Salomon zt"l. Pharaoh did not ask for the hail to stop. Rather he asked for the sounds of thunder to stop. While Moshe responded that both the thunder and the hail would stop, it was the boom of the thunder that entered Pharaoh's heart. Hashem presents us with variations of frightening sounds. Do they arouse us to their messages?

Pharaoh's heart is mentioned with all the previous plagues. He hardened his heart and remained unaffected. Therefore, writes Rabbi Blau in Siach Yaakov, it was necessary to finally shake Pharaoh up with a boom loud enough to be impossible to ignore. This plague therefore had the ability to allow the previous 6 plagues to enter into his heart, hence, the all-inclusive nature of this plague. Rabbi Blau suggests that these were the same kolot, thunderous booms, that Bnei Yisroel were to later hear at Sinai and that would enter their hearts.

The purpose of everything that happens to us and that happens in the world at large is to bring us closer to Yirat Hashem/fear and awe of Hashem, writes Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon zt"l. When we hear someone attribute his success to his own strength or brilliance, we must raise our own kol/voice in protest and remind them that it all comes from Hashem. Similarly, when we fail, or a country fails, it was Hashem Who brought about that failure. [Why did the intelligence fail? Why did the rifle keep firing even though it was later found to be totally non functioning? CKS]

Rebbetzin Smiles related the story of the survival of the Yifrach Yeshivah. Why did the terrorists pass it without attacking it? According to a captured Hamas officer under interrogation, he said that the terrorists saw the building already up in flames. Therefore, since it was already being destroyed, there was no need to attack further. We may try to explain it as being a mirage, for there was no fire, but it was Hashem Who created that illusion to save over 800 yeshivah boys learning there.

The purpose of thunder, or any frightening experience, is to shock us emotionally so that we will do teshuvah and be worthy of the blessings of the rain which follows, continues Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon zt”l, to make us realize, as we declare on Yom Kippur, Hashem Hu HaElokhim/the spiritual and supernatural God of mercy is the very same God as the God of nature—the One God controls both.

When we listen to the news, hear the embedded messages of Hashem's supervision and control, and take them to heart. Don't get caught up in the fear. Channel it to awe of Heaven. Appreciate that the painful blow and hardship has within it the very healing we need, like the bitter pill one takes when one is ill, writes Rabbi Chaim Chernovits in Be'er Mayim Chaim. It is meant to wake us up to be worthy of redemption, both personal and national. During the era of the Prophets, writes Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter in Venichtav Besefer, the connection between what happened and what we needed to correct was evident and understood by everyone. Today we do not readily see the connection. Therefore, it is up to us to examine where we need to improve. When Hashem sees us getting the messages, waking up and changing, He doesn't need to continue sending us alarms.

In Ani Maamin, Rabbi Elias clarifies what a true believer is. While we all pray for relief, for cure, for sustenance, the true believer knows that the challenges we face whether in illness, livelihood, shidduch search -- indeed in any area -- also comes from Hashem; we are meant to grow from both positive and negative experiences. As Rabbi Dessler points out, the verse in Hoshea tells us that the same path on which the righteous walk is the same path upon which the wicked stumble.

Pharaoh is a perfect example of this phenomenon, continues Rav Dessler zt”l. Pharaoh takes all he has experienced, all the warnings he has received, and does not let it affect him. He needed a stronger, multi-sensory awakening. All the alarms didn't wake him; he needed a violent shaking. Only after this plague of Hail was Pharaoh able to admit, even for a short time, that "Hashem Hu Hatzadik/Hashem is the just and righteous One.

 Pharaoh is not alone. People see and hear all sorts of warnings, but don't change. Everyone heard Moshe's warning to bring the slaves and cattle indoors, but only a few actually did it. Tragically, we had a national, visceral wake up call on October 7. We have already made it a unifying force for Jews not just in Israel, but throughout the world. We must use it as a catalyst for continued positive change.

In Mima'amakim, Rabbi Shapira zt”l, turns our discussion toward Kabbalistic concepts. He notes that the ten plagues represent the ten sefirot, the emanations of Hashem's Being through which Hashem connects to the world. The lower seven plagues refer to the גוף/body, hence all מגפתי, the plagues affecting the body are included in this final plague of the seven. The remaining three plagues affect the upper sefirot of the mind.

 Rabbi Wolfson furthers this discussion in Feasts of Faith. He notes that the seventh plague, Hail, corresponds to the seventh sefirah, Malchut/Kingship, often achieved through revelation. This revelation and Kingship leads to fear of Heaven. It signifies the unity of Hashem with Elokhim. It thus connects Heaven to earth, and is the catalyst that activates the flow of the Heavenly blessings to earth.

If the Hail would have completed its mission, it would have brought the final redemption. But the world, and especially Pharaoh, was not yet ready. Therefore, when Pharaoh asked Moshe to stop this plague, Moshe arrested it mid mission. The leftover hail is suspended in heaven, awaiting the final battle between good and evil, between Gog and Magog. Some of the hail may fall intermittently, as we face battles of faith to preserve our spirituality and commitment to Torah and to Hashem's sovereignty.

Hail was the seventh plague. As such, Rabbi Wolfson connects the Hail to the seventh day, to Shabbat. He quotes Chazal that each of the three Shabbat meals protects us from one of the major tribulations of the end of days, from the "birth pangs of Moshiach," from the "judgment of Heaven," and from the "War of Gog and Magog." But the Hail was not complete. It remains suspended during the third Shabbat meal. We need to access it through our aspect of faith. We need to go back to basics, to the beginning, to בראשית, an acronym for ירא שבת, the awe of Shabbat that reflects our awe of Heaven.

But Pharaoh's awe of Heaven was only temporary, and the time of full redemption had not arrived. Therefore Moshe, at the splitting of the Sea, sang, "Hashem will reign, in the future, forever." This declaration was then followed by, "When Pharaoh's horses came with their chariots..." These were the horses of those who had indeed feared God and had sheltered their horses during the Hail. Pharaoh couldn't handle a full-time commitment to fear of Heaven. While he recognized the reality intellectually, it never entered his heart.

Nothing is random. The October 7 massacre was perpetrated on Shabbat. The alarm of the suspended Hail fell and shook us awake. We began seeing how we could improve, how we could unite under the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us move forward to merit the final redemption, to a time when the peace and tranquility of Shabbat permeate Eretz Yisroel, Bnei Yisroel, and the world.