January 9, 2015 – כ”ח טבת תשע”ו
In this week’s Parsha, the country of Egypt is inflicted with seven plagues, a harbinger of the three to come next week, sent by G-d in order to induce Pharoah to free the Jews. The third plague, that of lice, is brought down by Aharon striking the dust of the ground, turning it into the pests. Following the advent of the insects, the Egyptian magicians attempt to do the same, but fail, prompting their admission that this plague can only be by the finger of G-d. The verse tells us that: “וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים בְּלָטֵיהֶם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת הַכִּנִּים וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ וַתְּהִי הַכִּנָּם בָּאָדָם וּבַבְּהֵמָה-And the necromancers did likewise with their secret rites to bring out the lice, but they could not, and the lice were upon man and beast.” (Shemos 8:14). The commentators raise the issue: what exactly were the magicians attempting to accomplish?
Rashi offers a possibility on the basis of the p’shat of the verse: clearly the magicians attempted to do the same as Moshe and Aharon and summon lice. After all, the verse states וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן, and they did the same. However, Chizkuni, another commentator, takes a different approach. He explains that it is very obvious that the Egyptian magicians were not trying to create more lice: did the Egyptians not have enough lice? Who would want more lice? Therefore, he concludes, the magicians were attempting to remove the lice from the land but failed, for various possible reasons given by the commentators.
We can learn a very valuable lesson from the exegesis of Chizkuni. The magicians had an opportunity to impress Pharoah and his court with their craft by emulating and duplicating the feat of Aharon, much as they did with the first two plagues. However, because they knew that creating more lice would only hurt other people as well as themselves they refrained, and instead tried to solve the problem. We can apply this lesson in our own lives. If the magicians of Pharoah, whose court was filled with opulent corruption and rampant immorality, could pass up an opportunity for self-aggrandizement in order to avoid causing suffering, how much more so should we always look at our intentions to see if they are truly beneficial and not simply selfish self-serving actions that may lead to more negative consequences than good.