The Biblical term for midnight, the time Moshe (Moses) says God will slay the first born, is ka-hazot ha-lailah (Exodus 11:4). Different interpretations are given for the prefix ka, which gives us the key as to the true meaning of this term.
On its simplest level, ka, says Rashi, means “when.” From this perspective, ka-hazot is a delineation of time, i.e. that actual moment when the night was divided – midnight.
The Talmud sees it differently – ka means “approximately.” Although the plague actually occurred ba-hazi ha-lailah (Exodus 12:29) – precisely at midnight, Moshe says ka-hazot. This was because Moshe feared the Egyptians would make a mistake in calculation and believe midnight had arrived when it had not. The Egyptians would then accuse Moshe of being a false prophet (Berakhot 4a).
Or Ha-hayyim (Hayyim ibn Attar, 18c. Morocco) understands ka as referring to a moment in the past. The term refers to that midnight in the book of Genesis when Avraham (Abraham), the first patriarch, rescued his nephew Lot (Genesis 14). As Avraham was victorious at midnight, so would the Jews overcome the Egyptians at midnight.
Another approach can be suggested. Perhaps ka does not refer to the past, but to the future.
Consider the following: night in the Torah symbolizes suffering and exile. Hazi takes it a step further. It is not only night, but it is the night of the night — midnight, the time of the deepest suffering and exile, when the voice of God seems silent.
Hence, the Torah here states ka-hazot. As we were saved from Egypt, so will we in the future, survive other midnights – other times of pain and despair.
In the will of Yossele Rakover, a fictitious last testament left in the ruins of Eastern Europe, this idea of ka-hazot is expressed powerfully. There it states: “I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine. I believe in love, even when I am alone. I believe in God, even when He is silent.”
What is true about the nation of Israel is similarly true about individual lives. Often God intervenes precisely when one thinks there is no hope.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, reinforced this message in his comment on the sentence, “As for me, I trust in Your kindness, my heart will rejoice in Your salvation” (Psalms 13:6). He suggested that the Psalmist is telling us that our faith in God should be so great that we rejoice in His salvation even before we are saved – even when it is still dark.
May each of us achieve such faith in our personal and national experiences of ka-hazot.