We find a fascinating commandment in Parshas Bo, at this crucial moment, Hashem tells Moshe that He is bringing these plagues upon the Egyptians: “…so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt…that you may know that I am Hashem” (Shemos 10:1-2). G-d commands us to relate the story of the plagues, because in seeing the power of the plagues, we will have a greater recognition of Hashem.
However, one could ask: Why now? Still three more plagues have yet to come, yet the Torah is now telling us of the obligation to recount the plagues. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell us to recount the story after all the plagues have finished? It seems logical that at the conclusion of the plagues, we would have a clearer perspective of Hashem’s Power. Yet, we are told to recount the miracles in the middle of the story! Why?
Perhaps from the Gemara in Yevamos (79a) we may find an approach to our question:
שלשה סימנים יש באומה זו, הרחמנים והביישנין וגומלי חסדים
There are three attributes to this [Jewish] nation: Mercy, Modesty, and Charitable Giving
It’s in our nation’s D.N.A is to be merciful. And while mercy can be a praiseworthy quality, it can act as a double-edged sword. Sometimes it causes us to be too merciful of others in a situation that does not call for mercy.
With this in mind, we can now answer our initial question:
The most appropriate time for the commandment to recount the episode of the plagues was specifically in the middle of plagues, to prevent “misplaced mercy.” Egypt was in-effect desolate, literally standing on one crippled foot, about to crumble. For anyone with a semblance of a heart it would be near impossible to not feel some sort of mercy at this point, even with Egypt’s long history of abuse of the Jews. This is a natural response from any human, but all-the-more so for the Jewish people.
In order to forestall this innate response, Hashem chose a time in the midst of the punishment to state the obligation to recount the plagues. For through recounting the story, we remind ourselves of the reasons why Hashem is doing this to Egypt – the pain they caused, and the evil decrees they enacted upon us. To feel sorry for Egypt would have been wrong here, as it would have been רחמנות במקום אכזריות – Misplaced Mercy. Now was the time for Hashem to glorify Himself for all generations, and for this our nerves needed to be steeled. Now we could not allow ourselves to feel their pain.
This does not mean that we should never have any mercy for the Egyptians. On the contrary; on Seder night, when we recount the story of the redemption, we spill wine and detract from our own happiness in recognition of the fallen Egyptians. However, this act comes at a time when we can look back as free people, from the perch of history, where we can see everything come together to form the beauty of the redemption.
This is not misplaced, for here the mercy is not stemming from an automatic emotional response. Instead, on this most joyous of nights, when we are free men of royalty – בני חורין, despite our feelings of superiority we still relate to the pain of others, even that of our enemies. In this way, we show that we are masters over our own mercy, a sign of true freedom.
So as we sit at the Seder as true masters over ourselves, let us pray for the last remnant of servitude upon us to be broken with the bringing of the Geulah Shleimah B’karov. Amen
Chag Kasher Ve’Sameach