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In Shemot 11:4, Moshe tells Pharaoh that the plague of the 1st born will begin at approximately midnight.

Rashi explains that the reason Moshe said "approximately" is that if Moshe said exactly at midnight, and the astrologers calculate it differently, they would think that Moshe was a false prophet.

I read Sifsei Chachamim's explanation as to why Moshe would care what others thought. I still don't get it, though.

G-d is trustworthy, and He knows exactly when He will do things. I also assume that Moshe had full faith in G-d. So, with all these factors, why doesn't Moshe just state outright that the plague will happen exactly at midnight knowing full well that if the astronomers erred, they would just be mistaken?

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Because the Egyptians were looking for any excuse to say that the plagues were not of divine origin. If they were not of divine origin then the Egyptians wouldn't feel the need to let the Jews go.

If they saw any reason, no matter how slight, to say that they were not from G-d, they would jump on that opportunity.

Moshe did not want to give them that opening.

  • whenever I post answers like this with no source I get downvoted. Shows there is definite favourtism here. Not to mention the fact that the question was posted when it was around 4am where I am – CashCow Jan 20 '15 at 14:03
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    @CashCow, It's hard to know the reason for particular downvotes or upvotes. Are you sure that the reason for the downvotes you're talking about is due to some characteristic shared by this answer? I suggest bringing your concerns up, with specific examples, in Meta or Chat. Regarding this answer (as well as the previous one on the same question), I definitely agree that it would be more valuable if it cited a source. – Isaac Moses Jan 20 '15 at 14:34
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The explanation that I once heard for this was that the makkos were intended to teach a lesson to Pharaoh, and a very specific lesson. Pharaoh believed in gods with powers. Seeing something paranormal wasn't the end of the discussion for Pharaoh. What fascinated Pharaoh was absolute power - Pharaoh believed in a pantheon of gods, and one G-d with absolute power was outside the realm of his belief system.

One example of how this played out was in your case. If the plague of the 1st born would have been at exactly midnight, but the Egyptian astrologers would miscalculate it to be a few seconds off, and report as much to Pharaoh, then Pharaoh would see a very powerful god. But he wouldn't see the G-d who has absolute control over everything.

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