How did that night of Yetzias Mitzrayim look, as the Jews sat in their homes, eating the Korban Pesach, and waiting for the promise of “chatzos halaylah” to be fulfilled?
The house was crowded. I saw my daughter Sarah standing in the front hall with her children, her shoulders tight. I wanted to catch her gaze, give her an encouraging smile, but the tumult in the small kitchen and the many people near the entranceway made eye contact impossible.
My eyes scanned the area in front of me, as I mentally counted the people there. My seven children and their children. Nearly 100 people in one home.
“Where is Avihu?” I whispered to myself as I looked for my son Matanyah’s third child. “Ah, there. And Yocheved?”
“Has anyone seen Yocheved?” I raised my voice.
“She’s here, Ima!” Evyasar yelled back.
“Quickly, let’s go, it’s almost bein ha’arbayim, dusk! Go out with the lamb, we need to slaughter it!” Matanyah shouted. “What a mess it is here! All these sacks of gold and silver from the Egyptians…” He nudged the sacks aside, then undid the knot that tied the lamb to the bed.
“Come to Pharaoh”
The noise and tumult were making me dizzy; my age and the excitement were taking a toll. I went to the side window and glanced outside. The normally quiet street was bustling. My eyes met those of my neighbor Rachel’s. She smiled at me, then raised her eyebrows and gestured behind her. I could see her grandchildren crammed into her small home.
Rachel raised her gaze to the blue sky, and put a tired hand on her heart.
“Are you afraid?” I asked.
Rachel shook her head. “I’m praying.”
I also put my hand on my heart, and looked into her eyes, eyes that held years of privation, hunger, and suffering. “I’m also praying,” I whispered as I turned away from the window, back to the noise and frenzy of my home.
“Ima! Did you meet Rabbanit Miriam today?” Sarah asked me.
“When did you think I could meet her? Don’t you see what’s going on here?!” I gestured at the crowded room. “But I met her a few days ago,” I said, knowing that this answer would draw the busy men into my small kitchen.
“What did the Rabbanit say?”
“Did Moshe and Aharon go to Pharaoh? What happened there?”
“What’s happening? Tell us!” my sons peppered me with questions.
“Rabbanit Miriam told me that Moshe Rabbeinu went to Pharaoh’s palace again, and—” I began.
But Evyasar cut me off. “That’s not unusual. It’s almost a ritual by now — Moshe and Aharon leave Goshen, enter Pharaoh’s city, walk to the palace, and despite the lions lying in wait at the entrance and the frightening guards guarding the entrances, the neviim merit to have the lions licking their feet, like little puppies, and the guards seem not to see them. Then Moshe and Aharon give Pharaoh the Divine message, Pharaoh refuses to listen, Mitzrayim is struck with a Makkah, and after a week, the king’s messengers come to the house on the corner and plead with Moshe to hurry to the king so the plague can stop.”
My sons smiled when they heard this brief but accurate description.
“If you let me continue without cutting me off, I can tell you what happened this time,” I said with a secretive smile. The children and grandchildren fell silent. “The last time Moshe left Pharaoh’s palace, he was accompanied by loud booing and shouting. That foolish king got so angry, he told Moshe that if he saw him one more time, he’d kill him on grounds of treason!”
“I don’t believe it! What chutzpah! That Pharaoh is really…” Evyasar’s voice trailed off as his older brothers glared at him.
I hid my smile. “Moshe bent his head in agreement, and said firmly: ‘May it be so — I will not see your face anymore.’ But a moment before he left the hall where the king was sitting, HaKadosh Baruch Hu appeared to him and told him to tell Pharaoh that there was one more Makkah waiting for Mitzrayim, one that was even more severe than all those that preceded it, and that by the time it ended, Pharaoh would be pleading for Klal Yisrael to leave his country.”
“Something doesn’t make sense to me, Ima,” Matanyah said somberly. “Moshe Rabbeinu never received nevuah in Pharaoh’s house. The palace is full of avodah zarah and impure objects!”
“You’re absolutely right,” I told him. “That’s exactly what I asked Rabbanit Miriam. But she told me that this is the first time that HaKadosh Baruch Hu revealed Himself to Moshe in the king’s palace — He did so because if Moshe would have left the palace, he wouldn’t have been able to return to issue a warning about the plague.”
“Is this the tenth Makkah?” one of the grandchildren asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Moshe Rabbeinu said that this will be the last one! It will be the hammer’s blow and after it we will leave this bondage.” Even as I uttered the words, I was struggling to believe them. Redemption? What was that?
Taste of Freedom
Neither I nor my father nor his father were familiar with the taste of freedom. I come from Shevet Levi, and in my younger years I didn’t suffer from the slave labor, because the descendants of Levi were not enslaved to Pharaoh. But ever since I married a man from Shevet Yehudah, I joined the ranks of the tortured and the suffering.
My children and grandchildren remained standing around me. I could feel their fear and confusion. We were all anxious about this unknown and terrible tenth Makkah.
“So what’s happening?” my young grandson asked. “What do we know right now?”
“Right now, we are fulfilling the commandment of the Zekeinim, as Moshe Rabbeinu told them. He heard it from HaKadosh Baruch Hu. That means we took a young lamb and tied it to the bed for four days. Now, we’re preparing to roast it. We will roast it whole, of course, because we’re not allowed to break any of its bones. As for the kitchen work, Ima,” my bechor, Yosef, said, turning to me, “you certainly heard that we mustn’t eat chometz from early evening until tomorrow night. So make sure to prepare matzos that have not yet become chometz, and also prepare bitter herbs.”
“As if you’ve eaten anything besides bitter herbs over the last few years,” his sister Sarah interjected. “Did anyone have time to prepare pots of chicken? Did you eat bread or cakes recently? With the bit of flour that we have, we knead matzos. They bake the fastest and satiate hunger for the longest time,” she said.
“You are right, but this time, it’s a commandment that we can’t eat chometz,” Yosef explained gently.
“All right, you go to the kitchen, and I’m going to paint the doorposts of the house with the blood of the lamb,” Evyasar said. He ordered his son to run outside and bring a bit of moss to serve as a brush.
“Why are you smearing the doorway with blood?” I asked.
My husband Avidan explained that the blood would differentiate between the homes of the Egyptians and the homes of the Jews. “You have to understand, tonight, all the firstborns of Egypt will die, from the oldest of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the families who operate the millstones! Even the firstborns of the animals will die. We all know that when permission is given for the destroying angel to destroy, he does not discern between the good ones and the bad ones. We must stay home!”
Avidan glanced at the rambunctious children running through the small room. “We’ll lock the door until the morning. No one goes out. We will sit here, wearing our shoes, our belts tied, our walking staffs in our hands, and we’ll eat from the lamb. We won’t leave it over to the morning. This is how we’ll sit and pray for a yeshuah from Hashem.”
A Great Cry in Egypt
The Jewish homes were locked and marked with the blood of the lamb. The homes were packed with families and the aroma of roasting meat wafted through the streets of Goshen.
We could feel the tension in the air.
The little children fell asleep on blankets we’d spread out. Avidan sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by our sons and their wives. “We ate the Korban Pesach hastily, and the meat of the lamb is finished,” I remarked with satisfaction.
Evyasar stood up and went to the window.
“Do you see anything?” someone asked.
“No, only darkness.”
“When is chatzos?” the grandson asked.
“Chatzos? I think it’s soon…” Avidan whispered, his eyes closed. I knew he must be thinking of all his friends who hadn’t merited to reach this moment, all those whose lives were taken by the harsh slave labor.
Yosef distractedly rubbed the stub of his hand. I winced at the sight; I remember that day when he returned, wounded and bleeding. At my horrified glance, he had only murmured, “The Egyptian… he said my hand is useless because I didn’t work enough.”
Avidan opened his eyes and looked at me questioningly. ‘Er’enu nifla’os,” I said softly.
“It’s chatzos,” Evyasar whispered.
“Do you see why Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh ‘Kachatzos halaylah,’ at about midnight, and not as Hashem said, ‘Bachatzos halaylah,’ at midnight?” Yosef smiled. “We cannot cut the night precisely in the middle. Only HaKadosh Baruch Hu knows how to do that, and so that the Egyptians wouldn’t come and say that Hashem did not meet His word, chalilah, Moshe slightly changed the wording that Hashem had told him.”
Suddenly, we heard a chilling shriek that sent a jolt of electricity through my body. “What was that?!” I shouted. I’d never heard such a sound in my life. But before I could finish my questions, more terrible wailing filled the air. The little children woke up, and sat frozen in fear. “What’s going on outside?”
“Just think about what’s happening in the cities of Egypt…” Evyasar said, his eyes wide open. “These screams aren’t human! There’s something catastrophic happening to the Egyptians!”
But the wailing was very human. As I listened, I cried, remembering how I’d seen Rachel, the granddaughter of Meshuselach, collapsing in the desert as a terrible cry emerged from her body. Her wails joined the cries of the enslaved Bnei Yisrael who were working so hard to meet their quota of bricks, which had doubled, even though they didn’t receive any more straw with which to make them. Bnei Yisrael would gather the straw in the desert, loading it onto their camels, and as the straws poked at their feet, their blood would mingle with the mixture.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the children nearing the window. I ran toward him and tugged at his arm. “Stay here!” I said firmly. As I moved away from the window, I could hear the wind whistling through the streets.
Chills ran down my spine. I would later learn that HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself descended to Egypt with 90,000 harmful angels, taking the souls of the firstborns.
I shivered. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the presence of the Angel of Death — throughout the years of slavery, we had buried many of our brethren. But this time was different.
“Is Hashem angry?” Yocheved asked, fear in her eyes.
Avidan went over and hugged her tightly. “On the contrary, my dear! The opposite! Hashem is skipping over the houses of the Jews, and is striking the firstborns of Egypt. Can you imagine how much love and compassion there is in this skipping over?
“We are witnessing the mercy of a Father for His son, especially because the Middas Hadin is reigning, and shouting ‘Why are these different from those?’ And still, Hashem chooses us! Their firstborns are killed — ours are redeemed.”
I sat on the small stool, and suddenly Yosef sat up, raised his hands Heavenward, and called loudly, “Rabbosai!! The time for your Geulah has come!!!”
Without understanding the deep meaning of his words, I burst into terrible weeping. The tears tore away the impurities that had adhered to my soul. My entire being was a scream of desire to be close to Hashem and to be loved by Him. I hugged my daughters and daughters-in-law, and we tearfully purified the recesses of our souls.
“At these moments, the Geulah has begun! When will we leave Mitzrayim? I do not know… But there is no doubt that we have been already redeemed tonight! The crucial part of the Geulah is happening now,” Evyasar cried. Emotionally, he stood up, but from the dazed look in his eyes, I wondered if he really understood the significance of his words.
The children burst into cries of joy and clapping, and their excitement was contagious. We found ourselves thanking and praising Hashem — “Kel nekamos Hashem, Kel nekamos hofia!”
“I don’t know when we’ll leave, but we needed the time here to absorb the tremendous change that is taking place in our hearts. It’s a change that is fitting to occur within the home, in a warm, protected, setting,” I told Avidan.
“That is surely what Hashem, in His great mercy, meant to happen,” my husband agreed.
“He instructed us to perform the mitzvos of Pesach with our family, and this way we’re in a place that gives us strength and power. How good is Hashem!”
My eyes filled yet again.
“Hashem is now repaying His pledge,” Yosef said, and we all listened. “The exile of Mitzrayim began at the Bris bein Habesarim, when Avraham Avinu asked, ‘How will I know that I will inherit the land?’ And now the time has come to fulfill that pledge, and to compensate Avraham’s children for the slavery.
“Are all the firstborns dying now?” little Yocheved asked me.
“Yes, all the firstborns — male or female. They’re all dying. Even those expecting a firstborn son are dying, and their babies are dying with them. Six hundred thousand people will die, aside for Batyah the daughter of Pharaoh, who is a firstborn, but who will be spared in the merit of her saving Moshe.
“Do you understand, my child? Bitya found herself a good defender — Moshe! Do you remember what I once told you, how Batyah saved Moshe Rabbeinu 80 years ago when she opened the box in the water, and she saw that he was good? She didn’t know then that she had chosen herself the best defender for the day of judgement…”
Freedom of the Soul
I saw Sarah pleading with her son to go to sleep. “Leave him be,” I said. “Tonight will be remembered for generations. It’s a night that will be fundamental in the emunah of Am Yisrael. Let him stay awake, let him absorb these moments in his neshamah. Let him breathe the emunah!
“It’s so clear to us now that Hashem is the Almighty, and there is no one besides Him! In the merit of this night, every Jew will recognize his Father, even if he never knew Him before — just as every child knows from birth that he has a father, even if he never saw him. This night will imbue within us an understanding of Hashem’s unconditional love.”
Sarah nodded slowly. “You’re right, Ima. The night is split in two, and the years of bondage and exile have been shattered. The power of Egypt has collapsed, and their status has dissipated. The burden of the galus has been eased, the ropes of bondage loosened. From this moment, I’m a free person. We’re staying in Egypt until the morning only because we choose to, because we don’t want to leave like thieves in the night.” Sara hugged me tightly.
I hugged her back and whispered: “You put it so well, my dear. You just forgot to add that we are no longer slaves of Pharaoh; now we’re the servants of Hashem. We’ve repelled the bondage of our body and we’ve chosen freedom of the soul.”
We heard a tumult outside. We carefully approached the window, and rubbed our eyes in shock. “Am I seeing right? Is that not the royal carriage?” I gasped.
“It’s Pharaoh’s carriage!!” Benayah shouted, pointing to the mighty stallions. I broke out in a cold sweat. Decades of suffering screamed inside me.
“What is this brutal man doing here? Hasn’t he done enough to us already?” Sarah whispered.
The carriage drew closer, and I could hear the calls of the soldiers that marched around it, and the cries of Pharaoh: “Where does Moshe live? Where is Moshe?” But the Jewish homes remained locked, upon Divine command. No one went out to the street, and Pharaoh’s carriage was compelled to ride through all the Jewish streets.
What does he want to tell Moshe? I wondered. What kind of new decree will he cast upon us now? He’s probably very angry; after all, his only son must have died tonight…
“Pharaoh probably came to beg Moshe to have us all leave Egypt now,” Evyasar chuckled. “Moshe probably told him that we’re not going to disappear in the night. We will leave as free men, when we want, not when he orders us to!”
“We have no idea what’s happening outside because we’re not allowed to go out until the morning. When morning comes, we will know,” Avidan stated, staring after the carriage.
But we didn’t have to wait until morning to find out why Pharaoh had come. After a short time, we heard Pharaoh’s voice throughout the land, shouting, “Bnei Yisrael, you have free will! Get up and leave my land!” Miraculously, Hashem had raised Pharaoh’s voice, so that everyone could hear what he was saying.
And Pharaoh’s voice made it clear that we had emerged from the darkness of galus to light.
Joy and Light
The first rays of sunlight filtered into the house, and a quick glance at the table showed me that the matzos I’d baked yesterday were almost finished. I hurried to knead a dough for the day’s meal. I knew that I had to bake the dough quickly, for we weren’t allowed to eat chometz.
As I passed by the window, I caught Rachel’s gaze. I saw joy and light that I can’t describe. “You don’t look like you’ve been up all night,” I said, hoping that my face looked like hers. Rachel laughed.
“Do you have any idea what’s happening?” she asked.
“Look at those beautiful carriages that the Egyptians have parked outside our homes…They’re pushing us to get out of here,” I said, pointing to a row of luxurious carriages standing in the street. “The boys have gone to the homes of Moshe and Aharon… I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
Before I could wait for Rachel to reply, I heard my grandchildren babbling excitedly as they raced down our street. To my surprise, I also saw my husband and sons running and waving their hands. “Come! Quickly!! We’re leaving!!” they shouted.
I almost stopped breathing. “What leaving? Where leaving? When?” I looked at them in confusion. I couldn’t move.
“Come, Ima, come! We’re leaving Mitzrayim!” Evyasar pulled me, picked up his two sons, and hurried out the door.
“Wait, what will be with food for the way?” I called after him.
“We’re leaving Egypt, Ima, who cares? You’re always so worried… Stop worrying! Let’s leave Mitzrayim!!” Sarah cried to me. She picked up the sack of gold objects she’d taken from the Egyptian neighbors over the past week and rushed to the door.
The hustle and bustle in the street and the joyous cries managed to pull me out of my stupor. I stood up, and a moment before I crossed the threshold of the house, I grabbed the dough I’d kneaded. “What kind of grandmother am I… I didn’t have time to prepare food for the way,” I said to Avidan, who simply laughed out loud with joy.
When we joined the thousands of people walking in the streets as they sang and danced, I asked Avidan what the rush was. After all, haste is generally not a good thing. “This haste is specific to the Geulah of Mitzrayim,” my husband explained. “We’re leaving hastily so that the Geulah of Mitzrayim should be inferior to that of the ultimate Geulah of Mashiach. Besides, we so much want to see the face of the True King that we’re leaving quickly. Egypt is so impure that HaKadosh Baruch Hu cannot reveal Himself to us here.”
The Nature of Freedom
With masses of Bnei Yisrael, we went out to the streets, heading for the Egyptian border. On the way, we stopped in the homes of Egyptians to take silver and gold items and clothing, just as Hashem had promised Avraham: “And then they will leave with great wealth.” Each one of us took 90 donkeys loaded with loot!
In a minute, we became fabulously wealthy — but I know that we all felt this money had been earned over our 86 years of slavery. Why, we’d been enslaved ever since the birth of Rabbanit Miriam!
“What beautiful weather! The spring is causing the flowers to bloom more quickly! Hashem is so good to us for taking us out in this season,” Sarah said. I smiled.
“If you think about it, Ima, I don’t understand why HaKadosh Baruch Hu didn’t take us right out into the idyllic blooming spring, into a world filled with light and joy. Why did the Geulah start with such a painful blow, with the cry that filled Egypt and the trumpets of war, with blood, fire, and pillars of smoke?”
I was silent for a few moments, thinking about her question. Finally, I answered her. “My dear, we will have other exoduses from exile, amidst much pain. Each and every individual will still face difficult situations and challenges. Now we’re learning about the nature of Geulah. We cannot be redeemed without the compassionate Hand of HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He’s the One who takes us out to freedom and redemption.
“But at the same time, coming out of exile hurts! Breaking the force of impurity, the yetzer hara — is painful. The galus of the neshamah is like the galus of the body. If a person thinks he prevailed over a bad middah and doesn’t feel the blow, the blood and fire that are a byproduct of the battle, he should know that it isn’t a true victory.”
The streets filled with millions of Jews. “I never knew that so many fellow Jews suffered with us in Egypt!” my grandson cried.
“Six hundred thousand men, besides the women and children,” Evyasar called back. “There are about 20 million Jews who did not assimilate among the non-Jews, who kept their names, language, and mode of dress!”
Suddenly, I heard Moshe Rabbeinu’s voice. “Bnei Yisrael who live in this place, in these borders, will gather and come here,” he called as he organized the millions of people into groups and sections.
“Why take the basket?” Sarah asked when she saw the wooden basket on my head.
I shrugged. “It has the dough I prepared,” I explained. “I’ll bake it as soon as we leave the city, and if I see that the dough has already become chometz, I’ll just throw it out.”
We continued to walk toward the end gates of Egypt, even though I knew that there was no chance we’d actually cross the borders that day. The fact that we were no longer enslaved was enough.
“Ima, Yocheved is complaining she’s hungry,” Sarah said.
I took the basket with the dough off my head, planning to bake a few matzos for the children. To my surprise, I discovered that the dough had miraculously been baked by the sun, and it hadn’t become chometz, even though naturally it should have.
It was exactly 400 years after the decree of the galus was cast in the Bris bein Habesarim. It had been 116 years of bitter enslavement — from when Levi, the last of the Shevatim passed away — but “lechol tichlah ra’isi keitz, ugvul samta bal ya’avorim.” Every blow and every exile had a specific time limit, a specific measure from Hashem as to how long it must last. Now, as we left Egypt, HaKadosh Baruch Hu also emerged with His legions from Egypt, because He was with us in our exile and pain.
I looked ahead and saw the land sparkle with promise under the bright sun. We were finally leaving that land of impurity, the land that had broken our bodies and tried to take our souls as well. At long last, we were finally on our way to redeem our promised land.
I knew that we had a long journey still ahead, but my heart sang, “Nodeh Lecha al geulaseinu v’al pedus nafsheinu.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)
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