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PARASHAT VA'ERA 5757
ALL BUT ONE
All the cattle of Egypt died, but from the cattle of the Jews not one died. Pharaoh sent [messengers to verify] and behold, there did not die from the cattle of the Jews even one ("Ad Echad"- lit. "until one"), and Pharaoh's heart hardened, and he did not send the people out [as he had promised]." (Shmot 9:6,7)
The expression, "Ad Echad," which is used to describe the number of Jewish animals that died in the Plague of Pestilence, is used again to describe the devastation of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea: "There did not remain from the Egyptians 'Ad Echad' (even one)" (Shmot 14:28). In that instance, the Midrash (Mechilta ad loc.) interprets the term "Ad Echad" to mean "*but* one," that is, one *did* remain alive -- Pharaoh, who Hashem let live that he may tell his tale to others and teach them to respect their Creator (see Da'at Zekenim ad loc.; see also Tehillim 59:12, "Do not kill the evildoers lest my nation forget..."). The words "Ad Echad" appear only once more in the Scriptures. When Cicero's Canaanite army's was decimated by Barak and his impromptu Jewish forces we are told that "there did not remain from the army of Cicero 'Ad Echad'" (Shoftim 4:16). This time, the verse tells us quite frankly that one person indeed escaped Barak's grasp, and that person was none other than Cicero himself, as the next verse relates. This serves as strong support for the Midrashic suggestion that "Ad Echad" may be taken to mean "*but one." (See also II Shmuel 17:22, "Ad Achad." The Midrashic interpretation may easily be applied there as well.)
This interpretation of "Ad Echad" is supported by the verse in our Parasha as well. If Pharaoh had found that not one Jewish animal died, why did does the verse conclude, "*And* Pharaoh's heart hardened?" It should have been, "*But* Pharaoh's heart hardened"! If, however, "Ad Echad" means "but one,", the verse may be telling us that this anomaly is what caused Pharaoh's heart to harden.
It remains to be explained, however, exactly why one Jewish animal did die. Besides, doesn't the previous verse state unequivocally that "not one of the Jewish animals died?" A number of answers have been proposed for these questions.
Shemen Hamor (Rav Mordechai Rubino, 1793, in Ma'amar Arubot Hashamayim Ch. 13), quoting one Rav Baruch Lifshitz, suggests that the cattle of "*Bnai* Yisrael" (v. 6) did not die, but an animal of "*Yisrael*" (v. 7) did die. What is the difference between the two expressions?
The Midrash informs us that out of all the multitude of Jewish women in Egypt, only one Jewess ever had marital relations with an Egytptiain -- Shlomit Bas Divri, who raised an illegitimate Egyptian-fathered child (Vayikra 24:10,11, and Rashi). The Ramban (ad loc.) maintains that a child born from a gentile before we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai was not considered to be Jewish even though maternally he was of Jewish descent. Shlomit's child may have appeared to all to be a Jew, since he was raised by his Jewish mother in her home, but in reality he was not. His cattle died along with the cattle of the Egyptians.
This is what the verse means by telling us that no cattle from "Bnai Yisrael" (sons of *two* Jewish parents) died. However, when Pharaoh found that one animal of "Yisrael" (those that he thought to be of Yisrael), *had* died, he hardened his heart, not aware that the child was really an Egyptian and not a Jew at all! (Koheleth Yitzchak, Parashat Emor; Gan Raveh; Pardes Yosef; Peninim Yekarim; see also Malbim)
Koheleth Yitzchak adds that this interpretation offers us insight into the cryptic statement of the Midrash (Shmot Rabba 32:5) that "Shlomit Bat Divri brought 'Dever' ('Davar'?) upon her child." According to the above reading of the verses, she indeed brought the Plague of Dever (Pestilence) upon her child's cattle, by bearing him from a Mitzri!
For all its brilliance, this explanation is still wanting. If the words "Ad Echad" mean "all but one," it ought to be referring to one *animal* and not one *person's* animals. Secondly, why was the plight of this pseudo-Jew not mentioned until except in this particular Plague? We must continue our search for a consistent interpretation of the verse.
Hagaon Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin suggests another approach to the verse in question. One of the taxes kings were accustomed to levy was an animal head tax of one in ten animals from every herd. Presumably, Pharaoh also collected such a tax from the Jews. When the Plague of Pestilence ravaged the Egyptian flocks, it would have been fitting for Pharaoh's portion in the *Jewish* cattle to die as well. However, if one in ten Jewish animals were to die, Pharaoh would certainly collect his dues from the remainder of the flock -- the Jew would be the only one to lose out.
If, however, the Jew had a number of cattle that was exactly divisible by ten, Pharaoh would indeed be the one to lose out through the death of a single animal. For instance, a Jew had 30 heads of cattle he would expect to give 3 heads to Pharaoh in payment of the tax. If the thirtieth dies leaving the Jew with only 29, he will only have to give Pharaoh *two* heads, not three -- it is Pharaoh who takes the loss. Perhaps in such situations Hashem killed one Jewish animal, so that Pharaoh would not be able to claim an extra animal when collecting his taxes.
The verse may now be read as follows. "All the cattle of Egypt died, but from the cattle of the Jews..." i.e., the head-tax animals whose death would cause a loss to the Jews, such as those in the odd-numbered flocks, "not one died". Since Pharaoh lost all of his cattle, he sent messengers to the Jews to collect the animal-taxes. "Pharaoh sent [messengers] and behold," the tax collectors found that, "there did not die from the cattle of Yisrael but one ('Ad Echad')" -- only one per flock, i.e. in the flocks with round numbers of animals. Nevertheless, "Pharaoh's heart hardened..." since he could still collect the rest of the tax, "...and he didn't send the people out!"
We may lend support to Rav Diskin's interpretation from the Midrash (Shmot Rabba 11:4) which asserts, "What does 'Ad Echad' mean? Even if an animal was partially owned by a Jew and partially owned by an Egyptian, it did not die." The king's share of the Jewish flocks did not die in order that the Jews would not incur a loss!
It is also interesting to note that the "Echad" which remained in the other two verses quoted above (section I) was a king. The word "Echad" is often used to refer to a king (see for example Rashi to Bereishit 49:16; 26:10), because he evokes singular respect among his people (see also Bamidbar 28:4 and Megilah 28a). According to Rav Diskin's interpretation, the "Echad" of our verse also refers to the animals of a *king* -- the taxed animals that Pharaoh did not succeed in collecting from the Jews!
We may suggest yet another manner to the decipher the "Ad Echad" of our verse. Ba'alei Hatosefot and Chizkuni translate the verse, "All the cattle of Egypt died but from the cattle of the Jews not one died" in a rather unconventional manner. They read the verse as, "All the cattle [that] died, [were] from Egypt, but from the cattle of the Jews, not one died".
Extending their suggestion a bit further, we may translate the following verse ("Behold, there did not die from the cattle of the Jews even one -- "Ad Echad") in a similar manner: "Behold the cattle [that] did *not* die, [were] from the Jews, 'Ad Echad' -- all but one." That is to say, but one of the Egyptian animals survived! Which one was that? Why Pharaoh's, of course. The Midrash Hagadol (14:23) tells us that Pharaoh had a singularly beautiful royal horse, which led all the other horses of his army into the sea -- apparently it had survived all of the Ten Plagues! (It was common practice for a top-quality horse to be set aside as the royal horse -- see Esther 6:8, Mishnah Sanhedrin 22a.)
This may be why Moshe warned Pharaoh that Pestilence will strike "your cattle *which are in the field*" (Shmot 9:3). All of the Egyptian animals were kept in the fields, as the Ramban (ibid.) asserts -- except for Pharaoh's roayl horse, which undoubtedly was kept in a special stables in the king's palace!
When the cattle died, Pharaoh sent messengers to check out the welfare of his personal horse. When he found it still alive, although every other Egyptian animal had died, "Pharaoh's heart hardened, and he didn't send the people out."
The "Ad Echad" of the verse can now be read exactly as the "Ad Echad" of the other verses. It is hinting at one that *did not* die, and referring to *royalty*!
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