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Sefat Emet: Bo I

The 5th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Aryeh Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, the Sfas Emes (1847-1905). Since his father, Rav Avraham Mordechai, died when he was 8 years old, Rav Yehuda Aryeh Leib was raised by his grandfather, the Chidushei Harim. He became Admore of Ger at the age of 23 in 1870. On 18 Elul 1901, his wife, Yocheved Rivkah, passed away. He then married Raizel, daughter of Rav Baruch of Gorlitz, the son of the Sanzer Rav. He fathered a total of ten children. Four passed away in childhood and the surviving children were: his eldest son the author of the Imrei Emes, Rav Moshe Betzalel, Rav Nechemia of Lodz, and Rav Menachem Mendel of Pavinezh. His two sons-in-law were Rav Yaakov Meir Biderman, dayan in Warsaw, and Rav Tzvi Chanoch HaKohen Levine, Rav of Bandin.

The Chidushei HaRim asks why it was necessary for God to bring specifically ten plagues upon the Egyptians. God could have accomplished His purpose with any number of plagues or with no plagues at all. Why ten? The Chidushei HaRim answers that the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from the ten commands with which the world was created and changed them fromעשרה מאמרות/ten commands to עשרת הדברות/ten commandments.

The Sfas Emes explains this enigmatic answer. God created the world withעשרה מאמרות/ten commands. These are stated clearly in the first chapter of Breishis. God constructed the Creation mechanism so that when He uttered the words of creation, the words themselves gave their creations existence. So, for example, when God said, “יהי אור/Let there be light,” those words gave existence to light. The life force behind everything in this world is those letters in the beginning of the Torah which describe the Creation. The letters are the means through which God extends His Will to create and continue the existence of the entire creation. This is a crucial concept. The Creation was not a one time act. It is a continuous.

Looking around us, though, it is not clear at all that the life force that gives everything existence is in the letters of these very commands. In fact, it is not obvious that there is a spiritual life force at all. The Godly life force in Creation is hidden. The purpose of the plagues that God wrought upon Egypt was to clearly reveal that the physical Creation owes its continuing existence to a Godly life force. It was to make it known that there is more to the world around us than our eyes perceive. Each plague revealed God in one aspect of the creation. Each plague removed a barrier preventing us from being aware of God in that aspect of nature referred to in one Creation מאמר/command. This is why God brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians; one plague for each of the ten commands by which God created the world.

What does the Chidushei HaRim mean, though, when he says that each מאמר/command changed to a דבור/utterance? The Chidushei HaRim is using a play on words. Although in Hebrew the root דבר/DBR means speech, in Aramaic it means leader. The Zohar uses this same play on words when it explains, “ודברת בם/You will speak about them.” The Zohar explains this as, “You will guide your actions according to the word of God.” דבור/Leadership symbolizes the revelation of God in the world. In the exile God’s truth is hidden. The Zohar describes this as the aspect of דבור/leadership being in exile.

We find this concept regarding Moshe Rabeinu’s speech impediment. When God asked Moshe Rabeinu to return to Egypt to speak to Pharaoh and begin the redemption process, he responds, “לא איש דברים אנכי/I am not a man of words.” When the Torah was given, however, the pasuk says, “אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה …/These are the words that Moshe spoke …” How did Moshe change from a man with a speech impediment to one who could speak and explain the entire Torah to the nation? The Midrash teaches us that after he merited receiving the Torah he was healed. In the exile Moshe Rabeinu was not a man of words. Moshe Rabeinu understood that in the exile God’s influence was far from apparent. But at the giving of the Torah, God’s leadership was clear for all to see. It follows that Moshe Rabeinu’s speech impediment, which symbolized God’s concealment, was healed.

As we’ve said, the ten plagues removed God’s concealment from theעשרה מאמרות/ten commands with which the world was created. As we and the Egyptians became more aware of God with each plague, each aspect of nature represented by one of the ten commands was changed to an aspect of God’s דבור/leadership. Finally, they were aware of God in all aspects of nature. This is why the Chidushei HaRim said that the ten commands which created the world changed to עשרת הדברות/ten aspects of (God’s) leadership.

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