הִפְלָה: separate, distinctive
There are foolish people who have gone down to Egypt to find evidence that the miracles of the plagues really happened. They found evidence in hieroglyphics, and then they tried to explain away how all the phenomena could have happened naturally, by cause and effect. They explain that some disease affected the waters in the rivers, which caused the fish to die, the frogs to come out, the lice, etc.
Fools! The real wonder פֶּלֶא/wonder, the peleof Pesach, was how Hashem separated us from the Egyptians; the blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn born did not affect us. We were handpicked for life and they for punishment, to show the whole world the greatness of Hashem — וְהִבְדִילָנוּ מִין הַטוֹעִים/that He separated us from the ones that stray.
פֶּלֶאis a wonder. When we are children, life is full of wonder; a baby can be mesmerized for hours by a plastic cup, seeing things for the first time, examining them, analyzing their textures, shapes, colors, and function. But slowly, as we get older, we get used to things and we lose the aspect of wonderment.
Rivkah, when she saw Yitzchak for the first time, fell off her camel:וַתִּפֹּל מֵעַל הַגָּמָל. The sages say this was because she saw him coming out of Gan Eden upside down. She was in wonderment, and the word used to describe this action is lashonנְפִילָה/falling.
Why do we fall? Sometimes, when we are struck by wonder, it can be so powerful that it can knock us off our feet. We lose our balance and we fall from our ordinary state of seeing the world. Instead, we are in a state of amazement, literally “knock your socks off!”
The Gemara in Brachossays: הַרוֹאֶה פִּיל בְּחַלוֹם פְּלִאוֹת נֶעֶשׂוּ לוֹ/if one sees an elephant in his dream, it is a sign that wonders will happen to him.1פִּילis called so because it is the biggest animal and in the times of the Greeks was used in warfare like a tank, causing the enemy to flee and fall.
תְּפִילָהis not only called so because we fall down and pray, but it is also related to wonderment. How can it be that when we open our hearts to heartfelt prayer we see transformations happen in our lives? It should leave us awestruck in wonder.
הִפְלָה: Separate, Distinctive
If you survived a plane crash where everyone on board died except you, your wife, and your children, or you were thrown into the lion’s den like Daniel, or thrown into a pit full of snakes like Yosef, or into a fiery furnace like Avraham, and survived, would you not be in wonder?!
Coming back to our exodus from Egypt, in the plague of wild animals, thepasuksays: וְהִפְלֵיתִי בַיּוֹם הַהוּא אֶת אֶרֶץ גֹּשֶׁן אֲשֶׁר עַמִּי עֹמֵד עָלֶיהָ לְבִלְתִּי הֱיוֹת שָׁם עָרֹב לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה’בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ/and I will separate on that day the land of Goshen where my people are, a place without wild animals, in order that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.2
וְהִפְלָה ה’בֵּין מִקְנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבֵין מִקְנֵה מִצְרָיִם/and Hashem separated between the cattle of the Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians.3
וְנִפְלִינוּ אֲנִי וְעַמְּךָ/and I will niflinu, I and your people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth.4Rashi comments that the word niflinuhas a connotation of “and you will be separate in this matter from all the people,” just like Hashem separated the cattle herds of Israel and Egypt.
נִפְלָאֹת/And behold I am cutting a brisopposite all your people, and I will make wonders that have not existed in all of the land and all of the goyim, and the people will see that you are within the deeds of Hashem, because awesome is my dealings with your people.5Rashi explains lashonnefilahas being separated from all the nations of star worshippers in that the Divine Presence will not rest upon them.
In all the above pesukimwe see a common thread: that the real נִפְלָאֹת/wonders that Hashem performed in Egypt were how He separated us from thegoyim. They worship the stars and are influenced by them, whereas Hashem compares us to the stars. We are above mazal, we are above the stars in that we arethe stars. We are the chosen nation,אַתָּהבְחַרְתָּנוּ, who shine Hashem’s presence in the world, a light among the nations.
שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי— We bless Hashem in the morning with the brachahthat He did not make us a goy. A friend of mine told me that when he was coming out of the mikvehone Shabbos afternoon, there were two Chassidim dancing and singing who appeared to be in an extreme state of joy. As he drew closer, he was able to make out the words they were singing and dancing to:שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי…שֶׁלֹּא עָשַׂנִי גּוֹי. In the prayerעָלֵינוּ לְשַׁבֵּחַ, wepraise Hashem that He did not make us like the goyim,who bow down to vanity and emptiness and to a god that doesn’t hear them. We bow and acknowledge before the King of Kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
This should be our kavanahwhen we make Havdalah. Just like Hashem has made a separation between holy and profane, between light and darkness, so too Hashem has separated us, the Jewish Nation, from the other nations. Just like the sunrise, which separates light and darkness, leaves us in a state of wonderment, so too Havdalah, the separation that Hashem made between us and the goyimin Egypt and continues to do throughout history, should leave us in no less a state of wonderment. The difference is literally light and darkness.
Leaving Egypt is a state of mind. It is to know that we have been set aside by Hashem from all of the nations, using the lashonof pele/wonder. The fact that we are still here, a lone sheep among seventy wolves, is a wonder. The goyimhate us — yes, there might be a few righteous non-Jews here and there, but en masse they have proven many times over who they really are. If not the Egyptians, then it was the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Spanish, the pogroms, the English in York, the Germans, and now the whole world in the guise of the United Nations.
וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ,שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ,אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ,וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם
And it has stood for our fathers and us that not only one has stood against us to annihilate us, but in every generation they stand against us to annihilate is, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu saves us from their hands.6
“And it makes me wonder.”