This weeks’ portion describes the climatic final three plagues: Locusts, Darkness, and the Death of the First Born, and the Exodus from Egypt.
The 8th Plague: Locusts. Moses warns Pharaoh that he must release the Jewish people or face a swarm of locusts that will cover the land of Egypt and destroy all of its vegetation.
Hearing this, Pharaoh’s servants beg Pharaoh to agree, as Egypt stands on the brink of total destruction. Pharaoh attempts to negotiate a “partial release.” The men may leave, but the women and children must remain behind. He declares that religious services are for men, and that it is “not logical” to bring the entire population. (Such a tactic also cleverly leaves “hostages” on Egyptian soil, which would force the men to return) Moses rejects this request, stating that the entire Jewish people must be allowed to leave, and the plague of locusts sweeps into Egypt, consuming everything in its wake.
The 9th Plague: Darkness. Six days of darkness descend on Egypt without warning. The first three days turn day into night and cast an even stronger darkness during the night. After this, the darkness intensifies to the point where the Egyptians are unable even to move. During the entire plague of darkness, the Jews had light.
However, the Jewish people did not escape this plague unharmed. Millions of Jews who did not want to leave Egypt perished. G-d brought the darkness so that the Egyptians would not see the Jews burying so many dead and conclude that the Jews were also struck by the plagues.
In addition, the Jewish used these days to search through the Egyptians’ possessions in order to ask for them at the time of the actual Exodus. That, too, would be a fulfillment of the prophecy that the nation would leave Egypt with great wealth. Though they searched the houses, the Jews took nothing, which later brought honor to the nation in the eyes of the Egyptians.
Pharaoh summons Moses and states that the Jewish people may leave, the men, women, and children. However, he does not agree to send the livestock. This, too, was a tactic to ensure their return. Moses rejects this, stating that the livestock may also be needed as an offering to G-d.
Hearing this, Pharaoh ejects Moses from his presence, warning him not to return on pain of death. Moses declares he will indeed never appear before Pharaoh again. He then warns Pharaoh that the Death of the Firstborn will strike all of Egypt and that Pharaoh himself will personally beg Moses and the Jewish people to leave his country.
Prior to this last plague, G-d commands the Jewish people to mark Nissan as the first month of the Jewish year. On the tenth day of the month, they are to take a lamb, either from a sheep or a goat, and hold it for four days. On the 14th, they will sacrifice the lamb smear its blood on their doorposts, which will protect them from the Death of the Firstborn. The Jewish people are then commanded to eat the lamb roasted, along with matzah and bitter herbs, the first Passover Seder in history. Additionally, the Jewish people are commanded to remove all leaven from their households for a period of seven days, for all generations.
At exactly midnight on the 15th of Nissan, G-d strikes down every first born of Egypt. True to Moses’ prophecy, Pharaoh runs to Moses and Aaron, begging them to take the Jewish people and leave his country. Triumphantly, the Jewish people march out of Egypt, 600,000 men, along with women and children, the elderly, and a great mixed multitude of Egyptians.
The portion concludes the commandments to sanctify the first born of the Jewish people, whether a person or from livestock; to remember the day of leaving Egypt; and the commandment of tefillin.