A Taste of Torah in honor of Shabbat
from Rabbi Avi Weiss
January 22-23, 1999/ 6 Shevat 5759
The Biblical term for midnight, the time Moshe (Moses) says God will slay the first
born-is ka-hazot ha-lailah (Exodus 11:4). Different interpretations are given for
the prefix ka, which sheds light on the meaning of this term.
On its simplest level, ka says Rashi, means "when." From this perspective,
ka-hazot is a delineation of time, i.e. when the night was divided - midnight.
The Talmud sees it differently-ka means "approximately." Although the plague
actually occurred ba-hazi ha-lailah (Exodus 12:29) - precisely at midnight, Moshe says
ka-hazot. This was because Moshe feared the Egyptians would make a mistake and
believe midnight had arrived when it had not. The Egyptians would then accuse Moshe
of being a false prophet. (Berakhot 4a)
Or Ha-hayyim (Hayyim ibn Attar, 18c. Morocco) understands ka as referring to the past.
The term, refers to that midnight in the book of Genesis when Avraham (Abraham),
the first patriarch, rescued his nephew Lot. (Genesis 14) As Avraham was victorious at
midnight, so would the Jews overcome the Egyptians at midnight.
Another approach can be suggested. Perhaps ka does not refer to the past, but to the
Consider the following: Night in the
Torah symbolizes suffering and exile. Hazi takes it a step further. It is not only
night, but it is the night of the night -- midnight, the time of extraordinary suffering
and exile, when the voice of God seems silent.
Hence, the Torah here states ka-hazot. As we were saved from Egypt, so will we in
the future, survive other midnights - other times of pain and despair.
In the will of Yossele Rakover, a
fictitious last testament left in the ruins of Eastern Europe, this idea of ka-hazot is
expressed powerfully. There it states: "I believe in the sun, even when
it does not shine. I believe in love, even when I am alone. I believe in God,
even when He is silent."
What is true about the nation of Israel is similarly true about individual lives. Often
God intervenes precisely when one thinks there is no hope.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, reinforced this message in his comment on the
sentence, "As for me, I trust in Your kindness, my heart will rejoice in Your
salvation." (Psalms 13:6) He suggested that the Psalmist is telling us that our
faith in God should be so great that we rejoice in His salvation even before we are saved
- even when it is still dark.
May each of us have such faith in the
message of ka-hazot.
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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