Office of the Chief Rabbi

Bo: Seeing the best in everything

The Chief Rabbi’s weekly insight for Parshat Bo.

Transcript

Where in the Torah do we find a lesson about nitpicking?

It’s in Parshat Bo. The Torah tells us how, immediately prior to the 10th and concluding plague, Moshe brought the word of Hashem to the attention of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. “Koh amar Hashem,” – “Thus says the Lord,”

“Kachatzot halayla ani yotzei betoch Mitzrayim.” – “At about midnight I will go into the midst of Egypt.”

Now notice that Moshe said, “kachatzot” – “at approximately midnight,” and not, “bachatzot” –  “at midnight.”

Surely, Hashem should have told Moshe that it would be at midnight? God doesn’t do things at approximate times. He knew exactly when he would perform his deeds! Furthermore, surely if Moshe had given the precise time, then the plague would have had a greater impact? People would have said, ‘He said it would be midnight and sure enough it was exactly at the stroke of midnight!”

Astrologers

Rashi brings the words of our sages from the Gemara, Masechet Berachot, which tells us that Moshe was concerned about the astrologers and their calculations.

You see, the Egyptian astrologers might have made a mistake when they calculated midnight. The slaying of the first born could have taken place exactly at midnight but then the astrologers might nevertheless have said to the people, “Actually it wasn’t such a great deed. It was two or three minutes before midnight or two or three minutes after midnight.”

Now is that really something that Moshe had to be concerned about? Was this not a most tragic event that transpired within every single Egyptian home? If you’re looking for impact, surely that would enable the entire nation to recognise the one true God Who wanted to save his people?

Nitpickers

But actually by bringing these words of our sages, Rashi indicates to us that even at the beginning of his tenure as leader of the people Moshe had learned that sometimes you find individuals who will always ‘nitpick’. Regardless of the impact and the incredible success or phenomenal occasion that might take place, the only comment you’ll hear from them will be, “Yes, but something or other went wrong.”

It could be a most wonderful simcha, but they will say, “But the hors d’oeuvres was a bit too salty.” Or you could be speaking about a most extraordinary leader and they’ll say. “Yes, but have you noticed his grammar is not always perfect?” Whatever it might be, they always nitpick. Moshe was concerned that with regard to this plague, perhaps that’s what the astrologers in Egypt would be like. That’s why he said, “Kachatzot,” – “Approximately midnight.” Nobody would be able to criticise the deeds of Hashem, and they would have the desired impact.

Appreciation

From here I believe there’s a very important lesson for each and every one of us. Let us not be amongst the nitpickers. Let’s not try to point out a gap here or a fault there. On the contrary, let’s appreciate success. Let us warm to the wonderful nature of great people, and most importantly of all, let us recognise how extraordinary the Almighty is. With His help we were redeemed from Egypt and thanks to Him, Am Yisrael chai – the Jewish people live on.

Shabbat shalom.

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