Note #2: Even if I understand a Hebrew term, I don't always know how to best translate it. So the original Hebrew terms are occasionally included below.
Doing True Teshuvah
The Kli Yakar mentions a running theme through his commentary on the Torah: the importance of improving yourself out of love and a sincere desire to change, and not out of fear.
The teshuvah (repentance) that a person does out of compulsion is not complete teshuvah because when the compulsion is removed, the person will go back to turning away [from the correct path].
This is an incredible example of Moshe Rabbeinu’s exalted spiritual level because Pharaoh was not part of the nascent Jewish nation nor was he remotely a decent person, yet Moshe Rabbeinu still concerned himself with not only getting Pharaoh to do the right thing (which would benefit Moshe Rabbeinu’s people), but to do so for the right reason, which would be for Pharaoh’s benefit.
How to Handle Threatening Stars and Planets
Rashi, citing a Midrash, explains Ra’ah to be the name of a star that Pharaoh saw via astrology, which was rising toward the Jews in the desert and was a sign of blood and slaughter.
The Kli Yakar concurs, but identifies Ra’ah as Mars.
Going according to the Sages in Masechet Shabbat who realized that anyone born under the sign of Mars has a tendency to shed blood, the Kli Yakar cites their recommendation that such a tendency be channeled positively via becoming a shochet (kosher slaughterer) or a surgeon.
Why do we need to channel such things rather than just hope for the best or pray for it to change or be nullified?
The Kli Yakar explains that Hashem does not completely change the natural order with which He created the Universe.
Instead, Hashem does the following for those who fear Him and think about His Name.
At a time when there is an indication (hora'ah) of anything bad in the star system (ma'aracha), Hashem arranges the constellations (panei hama'aracha) in an advantageous manner toward another thing that is similar for one who keeps the mitzvot.
Thus, he will not experience anything bad (lo yeda davar ra).
And the laws of the star system are still maintained.
(And yes, the parsha gives an example of a star’s potentially harmful astrological influence over people, while not that the star itself astronomically causes harm.
But still. The point is that Hashem is in charge and can move stuff around.)
Heavenly Assassinations: As in Heaven, So on Earth
The Kli Yakar notes that here it says that Hashem will go into Egypt, but later, the Torah says, “Every firstborn died in the land of Egypt.”
He explains that here, Egypt (Mitzrayim) refers to the Egyptian nations heavenly representative (sar) or guardian angel.
According to the Kli Yakar, by the time the tenth plague came about, Egypt was already a lost cause; Hashem had already killed its sar in Heaven.
Then the Kli Yakar says that the word used here “yotzeh—go out” indicates that Hashem leaves His Throne of Mercy to go sit on His Throne of Judgment.
Eventually, he explains, Hashem will do as prophesied in Yeshyahu 34:5—“My Sword has drunk its fill in Heaven” and later “it shall descend against Edom.”
The sar of Edom will first be killed in Heaven, and then Hashem’s “Sword” will descend against Edom.
But when that happens, who will know?
The Egyptians had no idea that their sar was destroyed and that their end had already come. Sure, they had all the plagues as warning, but they didn’t really search for the message behind all the chaos.
Will Edom be any different? It seems not…
How Hashem Crushed Faith in the Sign of Aries
The Kli Yakar explains that the Egyptians believed that Aries (the Ram) was the “shepherd” of all the other constellations, and therefore, the most influential.
The Hebrew month of Nissan is considered the first month of the year (including by the Egyptians who considered this month to also have added power due to its being “firstborn”) and its astrological sign is Aries.
So Hashem commanded the Jews to slaughter the “paschal lamb” and to do so at the height of Aries’s influence (the tenth of the month) in order to show that this sign truly has no influence and cannot even save its earthly symbol.
Furthermore, the Plague which killed the Firstborns of Egypt also proved Hashem’s Mastery over the world in that the firstborn constellation could not protect its firstborn worshipers.
And through this, they will recognize and they will know that there is a God High Above than anything else considered “high.”
The Kli Yakar notes a significant difference between the Redemption from Egypt and the final future redemption:
Egyptian Redemption: God went out before the Jewish people—“And Hashem went before them” (Parshat Bo 13:21).
Because Egypt was filled with occult symbols and brimming with spiritual impurity, the Shechinah needed to leave as soon as possible and thus the Jewish people needed to leave in haste in order to “catch up,” so to speak, and receive the Divine Presence.
Future Redemption: God will be both in front of AND behind the Jewish people.
“Therefore,” says the Kli Yakar, “they will not need to go in haste after the Shechinah because that would look as if they are running away from the Shechinah that is behind them.”
He bolsters this opinion by quoting Yeshayahu 52:12: “Because it is not in haste will you go out and in flight you will not go, but Hashem goes before them and the God of Yisrael is your rear guard.”
Uncharacteristically Harsh Words from the Kli Yakar
“And it was at the end of 430 years….” (12:41)
This is why it says [in the previous verse] “who settled in Egypt,” meaning those of Bnei Yisrael who settled themselves into a permanent settlement as permanent residents of Egypt, were the cause of the 430 years [of Exile].
Because of them, the End was delayed until, finally, at least one-fifth showed a willingness to leave.
(It must be that the Kli Yakar's residence outside of Eretz Yisrael stemmed from a genuine inability to make aliyah, and not from a lack of emuna.)
Yet despite how generous and warm he is throughout his entire commentary and despite the fact that he himself never managed to come to Eretz Yisrael, he comes down very hard on the Jews featured within the Torah itself who showed reluctance about coming to Eretz Yisrael for lack of emuna.
In this verse, he censures the nation as a whole for not wanting to leave earlier.
Again, here it is:
"...the End was delayed until, finally, at least one-fifth showed a WILLINGNESS to leave."
"...nitarach haketz ad sheh l'vasof, nitratzu latzet chelek chamishi l'fachot."
(In fact, the Kli Yakar censures an entire generation of Jewish men in Parshat Pinchas for this reason.)
Presumably, the Jews wanted their brutal slavery to end, but did they also want to take their spiritual growth to the next level and come to Eretz Yisrael?
The Kli Yakar says no.
And unless I’m misunderstanding his words, it was only at the end that one-fifth developed a willingness (nitratzu) to take the next step.
The implication here is that the persecution bothered them, but living in Egypt did not.
I didn’t really get that until now.
The Power of Tefillin
The Kli Yakar describes the order of tefillin: First, one put tefillin on the hand and then the head.
But afterwards, the tefillin of the head is removed first and then that of the hand.
This is because there are three instruments of sin:
- the seeing eye
- the covetous heart
- the means or tools by which one carries out the sin
Because the hand is closer to the majority of those instruments of sin (the heart and the hands, which hold the means to carry out the sin), then the tefillin needs to stay on the hand longer than on the head in order to grant it greater protection.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.