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    Just about right – Bo

    The Israelites are groaning under the pressure of enslavement. Ten plagues have to hit Egypt before the slavery can come to an end.

    The tenth plague is the slaying of the first-born. Moses announces when it will take place – “about midnight” (Ex. 11:4).

    We wonder why he isn’t more precise. “About midnight”? Why not “at midnight”? Indeed, why “midnight” at all – why not some other time, morning, afternoon or evening?

    The word “about” might indicate that human calculations of time are rarely 100% and the Egyptian magicians, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe points out, might think they knew exactly when midnight had arrived and if the plague did not befall Egypt at davka that moment they might mock the Israelite God when all that had happened was that they were slightly off in their calculations.

    When the Torah writes that at the time of Creation God worked on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2), it is reporting a human perception; God Himself does not make a mistake and knows precisely when the sixth day ends and the seventh commences.

    There is a deeper question – why link the tenth plague to midnight at all?

    It may be something to do with the nature of the plague. The slaying of the first-born was not just to show that Egypt was not as invincible as might have been thought, but to mark the beginning of a new era, the recognition that HaShem is in charge of the world and the old age was over.

    In that sense the right time for the plague was on the cusp of the two eras, the Pharaoh era and the HaShem era: “Thus shall you know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:17).

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