Why Plagues Before Redemption

On the holiday of Passover we celebrate our redemption as the Jewish people and celebrate our freedom from slavery.
 
(Exodus 10:1-2) “Then G-d said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know that I am G-d.”
 
We are constantly told that we are walking in the “footsteps of the Moshiach”. That the final redemption is just around the corner… Generations have heard this yearning prediction as if it awaits us just over the next metaphoric hill. The Talmud speaks of the seven days of creation as being the template for seven thousand years, citing Psalm 90 that a thousand years is but a day to Hashem!
 
Okay, that sounds like a ticking clock winding down as we are now more than three-quarters of the way through the sixth millennium. To make it seem even more imminent, our Sages suggest that the seventh millennium is to be like the seventh day — a Shabbos for the Earth. Finally, to make things even more confusing — yet hopeful — is the fact that whole numbers are often interpreted as a rounding off, and so the millennium of Rest could come anytime now!
 
In addition, there is another portion of the Talmud that suggests that the final redemption will be similar to the Exodus from Egypt, i.e., preceded by darkness, oppression, and even slavery. Yet, commentators spanning the centuries, including such divergent Torah giants, as the Vilna Gaon, Sfas Emes, Rav Eliyahu Dessler, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have instructed that “slavery” comes in many forms and so does idolatry. We can be slaves to the endless pursuit of money and worship materiality, or contemporaneously, worshipers of technology and slaves to social media and our smartphones.
 
When Moshe was sent to be Hashem’s instrument of deliverance, it was not to be immediate, although it could have been had that been the plan.  Rather, freedom of choice — which is really the ability to choose how to react to life and not simply the decisions we make — was given to Jew and Egyptian alike. This was through the vehicle of Ten Plagues. How long did the plagues last before we left Egypt?  Estimates range from five months to one year, and they were not back-to-back. The plagues were released in groups of three, and then the last and final blow — death of the firstborn to be a midda knegged midda (measure for measure) retribution for the methodical drowning of the firstborn Jewish males by Pharaoh. Each group of plagues had a purpose:  the first three “by this you will know that I am G-d” (Shemos 7:17); the second three “in order that you will know that I am in the midst of the land” (Shemos 8:18), and the last three “in order that you will know that there is none like me in all the land” (Shemos 9:14).
 
Within each set of three — the first two plagues came with warnings and the third without. Each plague also gave Egypt the opportunity to surrender to Hashem and let the Israelites leave. However, these plagues, in sets of three and in their totality, were also designed to transform and elevate the Israelites who had spent centuries in physical, backbreaking and spiritual killing bondage, who had assimilated in great numbers, who had lost touch with their heritage and beliefs, and who were reluctant to leave their host country. The Midrash informs that when we finally left Egypt only 4/5th of our people departed. The balance chose to stay and die in Egypt, mostly during the plague of Darkness.
 
Therefore, the Ten Plagues were spaced out, were of increasing intensity, and were displays of different aspects of the Divine, ending with the power over life and death itself. At the end of Parsha Shemos, Moshe had to be reminded by Hashem that deliverance would come not through Moshe and Aaron’s words or actions, but rather through the Signs and Wonders, the Hand of G-d.  At the end of the Ten Plagues, Egypt and its self-proclaimed deity, Pharaoh, had to be shown that there was none other than Hashem.  However, it should not be ignored or forgotten that Jews too had to be reminded, cleansed and elevated out of the darkness into which they had fallen. Not all heard or saw, because they chose not to hear or see.
 
If the Final Redemption is to come in the same manner as the generation of the Exodus from Egypt, then as we find ourselves more and more isolated, more and more alienated from our own spiritual links that connect each and every one of us to each other and ultimately to Hashem, we need to choose once again. The signs are there — we only need to choose freedom and redemption.
 
“In Shemos Hashem ‘heard’ and ‘remembered’ only when we no longer waited for acceptance through assimilation… and only when we realized that no one would bring us salvation but Hashem. It is when we cried out that the Redemption began.”
 
Our psalms and songs mouth the desire that the Moshiach comes “speedily in our days”, but is this authentic and heartfelt? Do we hold onto our Age with all its comforts and temptations, secretly wanting it to continue indefinitely?  In Shemos Hashem “heard” and “remembered” (really an anthropomorphism) only when we no longer waited for acceptance through assimilation, wished for a new Pharaoh, and only when we realized that no one would bring us salvation but Hashem. It is when we cried out that the Redemption began.
 
As we enter the holiday of Pesach and open our Haggadahs, reminding us that we were THEN slaves and we are NOW slaves, we may tap into the energy of Hashem’s promise to us, and if we believe it, if we yearn for it, and if we choose to see and hear, we may merit the coming of the Moshiach speedily in our days. Chag Sameach!

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