וידבר א-להים אל משה
And God spoke to Moses
The Midrash ילקוט שמעוני (Exodus 176) writes concerning this verse:
This refers to the verse (Psalms 50:7): “שמע עמי ואדברה ישראל ואעידה בך א-להים א-להיך אנכי” (Hear, O, My people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against you: God, I am your God). [Note: The Midrash understands the verse to read “I will testify that you are God, I am your God”] The Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moses, “because I have called you God,” as it is written (Exodus 7:1): “ראה נתתיך אלהים לפרעה” (See I make you as God to Pharaoh) “א-להיך אנכי” (I am your God). That is why it is written, “וידבר א-להים אל משה” (And God spoke to Moses) [instead of “‘וידבר ה”].
This Midrash seems incomprehensible.
Our master explains that the Midrash is addressing the question why the mission of Moses, at first, failed to achieve its objective, but, instead, provoked Pharaoh to intensify the enslavement of the people, causing Moses to cry out (Exodus 5:23), “ומאז באתי אל פרעה לדבר בשמך הרע לעם הזה” (since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done worse with this people). How is it that God did not respond to this complaint?
The answer to the question of the Midrash can be understood by referring to what the ילקוט שמעוני (Exodus 178) says in discussing the verse (Hosea 2:1) “והיה במקום יאמר להם לא עמי אתם יאמר להם בני א-ל חי” (and it shall come to pass that, in the place where it was said unto them: ‘you are not My people,’ it shall be said of them, ‘you are the children of the living God’). Concerning that verse the ילקוט שמעוני offers a parable about a king who, after becoming angry at his wife, sends for a scribe to write a bill of divorce. But before the scribe arrives, the king and his wife are reconciled, so that, when the scribe arrives, the king says, “shall I just let this scribe leave empty-handed? Since he has come, let me double the value of her marriage contract.” Similarly, the messengers of the Deity are not sent out in vain; if messengers of anger are sent to cause destruction, but those who were to be destroyed repent from their evil ways, the messengers of evil are transformed into angels of mercy to bestow immeasurable blessings.
The Sages accordingly say about the waters of Noah — described as both “rain” and “flood” — that God had, at first, caused rain to fall with the intention that, if only the people would repent, the rain would be, not a curse, but a blessing. However, when they persisted in their rebelliousness, the rain became a flood to destroy all flesh. So it is with the good. If God sends His messengers to do good, but the intended recipients turn away to do evil, God changes the blessing into a curse, so that His messengers shall not have been sent out in vain.
Now, as Rashi explains in commenting on the verse (Exodus 5:1), “ואחר באו משה ואהרן” (and afterward Moses and Aaron went), the elders of Israel sinned, by not appearing before Pharaoh with Moses, instead slipping away, one after another, from behind Moses and Aaron on the way to confront Pahraoh. The Elders were themselves punished for this at Sinai, when only Moses, but not the Elders, was allowed to approach the Lord. It was this sin, at any rate, that caused the redemption of the Children of Israel to be delayed, God turning the heart of Pharaoh against the Children of Israel, causing him to intensify their enslavement, in order that the appearance of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh should not have been for naught having no effect whatsoever.
It was to this event that the Midrash referred in citing the verse: “שמע עמי ואדברה” (Hear, O My people, and I will speak). Even if I speak harshly to your enemy, be careful that you do not sin in the meantime, thereby causing me to turn my anger from your enemy unto you, so that my messengers shall not have been sent in vain. The Midrash relates the passage “א-להים א-להיך אנכי” to Moses, who was moved to ask profoundly “למה הרעתך לעם הזה” (why have You done evil to this people?) after having previously been told “נתתיך א-להים לפרעה” (I have made you as a God to Pharaoh), meaning that Moses had been commanded to administer a harsh judgment upon Pharaoh only to be told “א-להיך אנכי” (I am your God), meaning that, owing to the sin of the Elders, mercy had been transformed into adverse judgment. This is why the Scripture says: “וידבר א-להים אל משה” (and God spoke to Moses) rather than “וידבר ה’ אל משה” (and the Lord spoke to Moses). (שביבי אש)
וידבר משה כן אל בני ישראל ולא שמעו אל משה מקוצר רוח ומעבודה קשה
And Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage
But below (Exodus 6:12) it says: “הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה” (Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me). Many have asked in wonder, was it not because of their broken spirit (קוצר רוח) and cruel bondage (עבודה קשה) that the people of Israel did not listen to Moses? If so, how does their failure to listen to Moses prove that Pharaoh certainly would not listen attentively to his words?
And our master explains that the Sages say in the Midrash that the reason the people of Israel did not listen to Moses was that they did not want to turn away from idolatry. The Sages apparently inferred this reason for not listening, because Moses’s words to the people of Israel began and concluded with “אני ה’” (I am the Eternal), suggesting that the Scripture meant to say that they did not listen to Moses when he said “I am the Eternal,” implying that they refused to accept the Deity. The Scripture explains this refusal with the words “מקוצר רוח” which suggest that they did not listen to Moses because they were too ignorant and simple-minded to reflect on the Deity. And the words “עבודה קשה” refer to their worship of the idol בעל פער, meaning that it was difficult (קשה) for them to separate themselves from idol worship. Moses was, therefore, correct to say that if the people of Israel would not listen to him and have faith in the God of their fathers, how would Pharaoh, who had not heard of God, listen to him and obey God’s command? (שביבי אש)
ועתה שלח העז את מקנך ואת כל אשר לך בשדה כל האדם והבהמה אשר ימצא בשדה ולא יאסף הביתה וירד עליכם הברד
Send therefore now, and gather your cattle, and all that you have in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die
It may be asked if God wished to kill them and destroy them, why did He warn them to be gathered into their homes. If someone wishes to hit his friend with his fist, does he tell him: “hurry, run away and hide from me”?
But our master explains that God rained down hail and fire only to destroy all their crops in the field and their food supply, thereby causing them to perish from hunger. The plague of hail was therefore more severe than any disease or any other plague that God brought upon them. Thus, Rashi comments on the verse (Exodus 9:14) “מגפותי אני שולח את כל” (I will send all my plagues) that this plague outweighed all the other plagues, the reason being that those who die by the sword are better off than those who die from hunger. So, if most of the Egyptian cattle and much of the population of farmers and peasants had been killed in the field by the heavy downpour of hail, the hail would not have caused so great a famine, because the city dwellers would have been able to survive on the food remaining in the field after the hail stopped. But if the hail did not destroy the farmers or their cattle in the field, then the remaining food would not be adequate to support the whole population, so that many would then perish from hunger. That is why God said: “Send therefore now, and gather your cattle, and all that you have in the field; for upon every man and beast which shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.” (שביבי אש)