L’ilui nishmat my father, Aryeh Chanoch ben Asher Yaakov z”l
“The flax and the barley were struck; for the barley is in the ear, and the flax is in the stalk. And the wheat and the spelt were not struck; because they ripen late.” (Shmot 9:31-32)
The Rashbam teaches:
“[This comes] to inform you that what the hail did not break, the locusts ate. Hail destroys that which is hard, and locusts eat that which is soft.”
At the end of Parshat VaEra, we learn that Barad (the Plague of Hail) ravages the crops, the trees, and the produce. Nevertheless, the Torah explains, some of the grain remains standing. Yet, in Parshat Bo, during Arbeh (the Plague of Locusts), the rest of the crops are wiped out.
Egyptgoes through a terrible period. The water supply is polluted; the animals and livestock die during Arov (the Plague of Wild Animals), Dever (the Plague of Pestilence), and Barad; and now the food is eradicated as well. Although at this point, there has not yet been any human loss of life, the once mighty Egyptian Empire, which flourished for centuries (on the backs of its Jewish slaves), is suddenly on the verge of collapse.
A study of Egypt’s glorious past and its immense wealth reveals that one specific occurrence transformed it from a prosperous nation into the leader of the Ancient World. As a result of Par’oh’s dreams, Yosef’s interpretations, and Yosef’s economic plan, Egypt becomes a global center for food distribution. Many people from all over Canaan and Egypt ask Yosef to feed them. Initially, Yosef collects money, and within less than a year, the supplicants are left with nothing. Once their money runs out, the people are forced to cede their livestock and then their land. Thus, eventually, every Egyptian becomes a vassal of the royal family.
At the end of his life, Yosef has Bnei Yisrael swear that when:
“God will surely remember you, and you shall take up my bones out of here.” (Breishit 50:25)
Why does Yosef want Bnei Yisrael to wait until the Exodus from Egypt to bring his remains to Canaan? Why does he not instruct them to bury him in Eretz Yisrael immediately – as he himself did with his father Yaakov? And what happens to Yosef’s bones during the long centuries while Bnei Yisrael are in Egypt?
At the beginning of Parshat Beshalach, we learn that Moshe takes Yosef’s remains with him. The Gemara (BT Sotah 13a) explains that when Bnei Yisrael leave Egypt, everyone else is busy “taking advantage” of Egypt – trying to grab as much stuff as possible. However, Moshe Rabbeinu uses the time to locate Yosef’s coffin in order to fulfill the oath.
Today, we all know where the Avot are buried (Hevron); where Yosef is buried (Shechem); and where many rabbis are buried in Israel and around the world. Similarly, logic dictates that Yosef, who saved Egypt from certain devastation and starvation, would not be buried in an unmarked grave. After all, the ancient Egyptians had developed one of the world’s most elaborate burial cultures – especially when it came to the royal family. Moreover, the Gemara notes that the Egyptians considered Yosef to be a symbol of plenty and blessing, and therefore, they placed his coffin in the Nile. Chazal teach that Yaakov did not want to be buried in Egypt, because he was afraid that the Egyptians would worship him as a god. And in fact, this is precisely what happened to Yosef:
“Egypt prepared a casket of metal for him and set it in the Nile River, so that they would be blessed with its waters.”
“A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know of Yosef.” (Shmot 1:8)
And thus it all begins – the terrible slavery, the slaughter of innocent babies, and the humiliation of an entire family/nation. The new king does not “know of Yosef”. In other words, he no longer recognizes Yosef’s massive contribution to Egypt. Although the whole Egyptian empire and economy are based on Yosef’s work, the current king ignores this fact. Instead of admitting that Bnei Yisrael are responsible for Egypt’s success, he depicts them as parasites who threaten Egypt’s security.
The Ten Makot (Plagues) serve many purposes: strengthening Bnei Yisrael’s faith; punishing the Egyptians for Bnei Yisrael’s suffering; refuting the myth of the Egyptian gods; and more. Yet, perhaps we can suggest one additional reason.
As a result of the Egyptian king’s ingratitude and lack of appreciation for all that Yosef had done for the Egyptian empire, Egypt no longer deserves to benefit from Yosef’s work. Thus, one after another, everything that Yosef had given the Egyptians is destroyed. First, the river – the source of Egypt’s bounty – is affected and can no longer serve as a water supply. Next, the animals – apparently, the distant offspring of the livestock which Yosef had purchased from the people whom he had fed – are harmed. Afterwards, the entire Egyptian agricultural system is ravaged – the very same agricultural system which Yosef had established. And finally, Yosef himself is removed from Egypt, when Bnei Yisrael leave “with an upraised hand.” (Shmot 14:8)