January 2, 2014
Shemot Chap 12:30
30. And Pharaoh arose at night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great outcry in Egypt, for there was no house in which no one was dead. ל. וַיָּקָם פַּרְעֹה לַיְלָה הוּא וְכָל עֲבָדָיו וְכָל מִצְרַיִם וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה בְּמִצְרָיִם כִּי אֵין בַּיִת אֲשֶׁר אֵין שָׁם מֵת:
And Pharaoh arose: from his bed.
ויקם פרעה: ממטתו:
The final plague, the killing of the first-born Egyptians, strikes every home in Egypt. Pharaoh awakes in panic and finally is brought to his knees as he agrees to free the Jews. We read the following cryptic Rashi-comment. It is a subtle one-word comment that highlights the drama of the text.
At first glance this looks like a strange comment. On the one hand, this is such a mundane piece of information (that Pharaoh got up from his bed; after all, it was the middle of the night – where else would he be)
Why does Rashi trouble himself to tell us this?
What difference does it make?
We note that this is a very brief comment.
The Answer is that the word “Vayakam” in Hebrew literally means “and he rose up,” but frequently it is used to indicate the beginning of another action. As in Genesis 4:8, where it says: “And Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” Or in Exodus 2:17 when Moses meets Yisro’s daughters at the well, it says: “And Moses rose up and saved them etc.” In these, and many similar cases, the word “Vayakam” does not mean to rise up to a standing position, but rather to prepare to take further action.
How does Rashi know that in our verse the word is to be taken literally, actually to rise up?
Rashi points out that here the word is to be taken literally, i.e. that Pharaoh actually, physically, arose. Rashi, being sensitive to this use of the word, realizes that when the word “Vayakam” is not followed by another verb (as in the case of Abel, “and he killed him”), he then draws his deduction that here it means literally to stand up. Thus his brief comment.
From where did he arise? From his bed, naturally.
What about our second question: What difference does all this make?
The sense one gets when one pictures Pharaoh jumping out of his warm, secure, king-size bed in the middle of the night, is one of all-consuming panic and confusion. See the other Rashi-comments on this verse and we see clearly that Pharaoh was terror stricken by the outcry from all these sudden deaths. The Torah, with Rashi’s help, quietly conveys this message by mentioning that “Pharaoh arose from his bed at night…”
While literary style is not the Torah’s purpose, it certainly makes use of style in a most sophisticated way to convey its messages.
The Baalei Hamussar explain that Rashi is telling us that despite being told that all the firstborn males including his were going to die, he, nevertheless, in his stubbornness and cold blood went to bed to sleep!