l'ilui nishmat R' Avraham ben Yona Ya'akov
“And the locusts came up on all of the land of Egypt and rested on all the borders of Egypt.” (10;14)
According to the explanations of the verses, the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived was not affected by any of the plagues except for the plague of locusts. The reason is that the Israelites were about to leave Egypt in the very near future, and G-d did not want their crops to remain for the Egyptians to eat. This is implicit in the words “on all the borders of Egypt” – even in Goshen.
“And there was darkness” (10; 21)
Rashi in the name of the midrash asks, ‘why did G-d bring the plague of darkness on the Egyptians?’ and he gives two answers. Why did the midrash feel the need to ask the reason for the plague only about the plague of darkness and not about any of the other plagues?
It seems that the reason that they asked only about this plague is because in all the other plagues the Egyptians could see that only they were smitten, and the Israelites were not affected. Therefore each plague was clearly miraculous. But in the plague of darkness, when the Egyptians couldn’t see anything they may have thought that it was a natural phenomenon which affected also the Israelites. Therefore the midrash asks why G-d brought this plague on them, since the miraculous nature of the plague itself was not as obvious as in the others, and the Egyptians would have been able to doubt its Divine origin.
“Each person asked from their ‘fellow’ (re’eihu)” (11; 2)
As is well known, the Talmud learns many times from the word re’eihu ‘fellow and not non-Jew’. Therefore it is very odd that the Torah here uses the word re’eihu to mean the Egyptian non-Jews.
Perhaps we can say that all of those drashot in the Talmud only apply to the times that the word re’eihu that is written after the giving of the Torah. From then there was a separation between the Jews and non-Jews in terms of specific Mitzvot. This is what it says in parshat kedoshim “I will separate you from the nations”. In our prayers we say “You have separated and sanctified Your nation Israel”.
We find a similar logic in parshat beshalach regarding the Song of the Sea. We may not sing a ‘song’ outside of Israel (Erechin 10b), and for this reason we don’t say Hallel (which is a ‘song’) on Purim because it recalls a miracle which happened outside of Israel. So how did we sing at the splitting of the sea which occurred outside of Israel?
The answer must be that the sanctity of Israel only began from the time that the people of Israel entered into it. Then it became sanctified, but not before.
There is also a similar reasoning in the Agadot, that the sanctity of Mount Sinai began only from the time that the Torah was given upon it. Before that it had no advantage or preference over any other mountain.
Another similar idea is found in Chulin (101b) ‘We were not called B’nei Yisrael until Sinai’. Only from that time were we titled with this name. Look there at the Talmud and what they point out about this.
In Zevachim (112b) it states ‘Until Yerushalayim was sanctified all the countries were suitable for sacrifices. From the time that the Ark came to Yerushalayim all of the other places became forbidden’. Look further there at similar ideas.
Until the time that Aharon became a Cohen all of Israel could have been cohanim, and only after him did everyone else become forbidden, since it says about him “An eternal covenant of priesthood for him and his children after him.”
Similarly with the kingship of David. Before him, everyone was suitable to be the king. From his time onward the kingship was given only to him and his descendents.
Regarding our original question of re’eihu and the drasha to exclude non-Jews, I have already written to explain this matter that the drasha only applies to the nations of that time (the time of the sages of the Talmud). This is because they did not keep the seven Noachide laws that all non-Jews are commanded to keep. The seven laws are well known – they are to set up courts or law (to judge civil matters), cursing G-d, serving idols, sexual immorality, murder, theft and eating a limb from a living animal. All of these mitzvot are built and founded on the fabric of the existence of the world, civilisation and safety of life and property. In addition they engender feelings of compassion and mercy on every creation and the path of life in general.
The non-Jews at that time were acting totally counter to those mitzvot. They had no laws or justice, they cursed G-d the creator of the universe, they worshipped idols, and acted immorally, they murdered, stole and ate from living animals. Therefore it was appropriate and obligatory to treat them as a wild, animalistic nation who tried to destroy the world and its inhabitants. This was to prevent the total destruction of the order of the world and those who dwell upon it.
All of these matters were mentioned by the Sages in terse terms when they explained the laws of the Mishna (Bava Kamma 38a) that the owner of an ox owned by a Jew that gores an ox owned by a non-Jew is exempt from payment. This is because it is written in the Torah “When a man’s ox gores the ox of his re’eihu” (Mishpatim) and they learn re’eihu and not a non-Jew. They based this on the verse in Habbakuk (3; 6) “He stood and measured the earth, he saw and nullified the non-Jews”. What did He see? He saw that they were not keeping the seven mitzvot. Therefore He stood up and gave away their money. These few words are the basis of everything that I have written.
The Rambam in his explanation of that Mishna writes that the owner of an ox owned by a Jew that gores an ox owned by non-Jew is exempt. These are his words there: ‘Don’t be surprised about this, just as you should not be upset by the fact that we are permitted to slaughter animals, even though the animals have not sinned. Someone who does not have the perfection of human character traits is not truly part of humanity, and the purpose of his existence is only for other people. According to what we have written you can understand his words clearly.
But in places and times when the non-Jews are acting appropriately, and they keep their mitzvot as commanded, they are certainly included in re’eihu, at any time and in any place. We find when Moshe sent the messengers to the king of Edom he said “thus says your brother Israel” (Bamidbar 20; 14). Chiram the king of Tyre called Shlomo his brother (Melachim 1 - 9; 13) and there are many other similar examples. In the Talmud (Shabbat 150a) it states: A person should not say to their friend to hire workers for him. The Talmud asks ‘isn’t this obvious?’ and answers that we are talking about a non-Jewish friend. Also Ya’akov called the shepherds of Padam Aram “My brothers” (Bereishit 29; 4).
We should add here the concept from the Talmud (Makkot 8a) that every word or idea in a verse that has two meanings should be explained according to both meanings. Look also at Yevamot (102b).