Written by student
The plague of hail was the first plague, of the third group of plagues in Egypt. This third group included plagues taking effect in the heavens: hail, locusts (via the wind), and darkness. God wished to demonstrate His control in all areas of the universe.
God said, “I will send all my wonders to his heart” (Exod. 9:14) meaning, all subsequent plagues – commencing with hail – will have new effect. To what effect does God refer? Moses instructed Egypt to “send all animals into your house”. We learn that the plagues were not punitive measures. Moses offered Pharaoh and Egypt an escape route. “Those who feared the word of God” (ibid, 9:20) removed them from field. Those who “didn’t take to heart God’s word”, left his slaves and animals outside, and they were harmed. Moses’ warning prior to the plague teaches that the plagues were instructive, and not intended for harm.
We notice in these two verses, that the second, contrasting verse does not say, those who “didn’t fear God”…instead, it says, those who “didn’t take to heart” God’s word. Why isn’t the terminology consistent? Why isn’t fear contrasted to those who “didn’t fear”? We may also ask why we need to know that some Egyptians heeded Moses’ warning, and some didn’t.
We read further and find Pharaoh saying, “this time I have sinned, God is righteous, and I am my nation are wicked.” (Exod. 9:27) What may we derive form the Torah recording this response? Further, verse 9:30 reads, “You and your servants do not yet fear God.” Ramban interprets this verse as Moses addressing Pharaoh, “…it is only before the removal of the plague that you posses fear”. Meaning, once the plague is removed, you will again revert to your old, stubborn ways. What is Moses’ purpose in telling this to Pharaoh? And why even remove the plague if Pharaoh doesn’t truly maintain his fear?
“The flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was ripe and the flax was in its stalk. And the wheat and the spelt were not struck for they ripen later.” (Exod, 9:31,32)
Why does the Torah deem it necessary to narrate the devastation? Ramban says this is no narration, but the verses are a continuation of Moses’ dialogue with Pharaoh. If so, what is Moses telling Pharaoh by referring to the status of the grain?
I would suggest the following answer: The Plagues were not to save the Jews. If so, God could have saved them with one plague. The prevalent view is that the 10 Plagues were punitive measures. It appears from this plague, that this is not so. The plagues were “Chasdei Hashem”, “kindness of God”. Their purpose was to be a clear-cut, unequivocal demonstration of God’s power. For this reason, the plagues became progressively stronger. Teaching Egypt the fallacy of idolatry and the reality of the Creator was the purpose in each successive plague.
“For this time I will send all my wonders to your heart, and in your servants and in your people, in order that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the land.” (Exod. 9:14) The plagues were not a punishment, but rather, an education. The fact there were “fearers of God” teaches us that the objective was realized, some Egyptians did fear God through His education via the plagues. But those “who did not give heart to the matter” is to teach that there are none that “didn’t fear”, but only those who deny reality. “Didn’t give heart”, means that in order to oppose God’s absolute truths, they had to shut their hearts and minds from any investigation. It is not the absence of fear, but a more primary block: they denied any investigation into the plagues.
Moses never used the pressure of the plagues to obtain concessions from Pharaoh. The plagues’ purpose was to teach Egypt knowledge of God. Moses always removed the plague upon Pharaoh’s request, and Moses did not hold out on removing the plague until Pharaoh conceded to Moses’ requests. Moses wished that Egypt recognized God through wisdom, not coercion.
This explains Moses words: He informed Pharaoh that his superficial relenting to the plagues was worthless. Pharaoh merely swung between two emotional states, with no repentance: under the pressure of the plagues, he swore freedom, but once removed, Pharaoh reverted to obstinacy.
“The flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was ripe and the flax was in its stalk. And the wheat and the spelt were not struck for they ripen later.”
With these words, Moses directs Pharaoh to an analog: God is the source of both nature, and man: “God has been compassionate to you, (flexible crops) but at a certain point, this kindness will no longer be extended. When sin is matured, (stiff crops) there is no turning back, and you will snap as do stiff crops.” This was Moses’ message to Pharaoh. Man sins by nature, and therefore, God affords man opportunities to correct his ways. But once sin captivates the whole personality and values of any given man or people, God will destroy that person or people. This plague was a warning to Pharaoh - in the form of an analogy.
Man feels he may sin and repent later, but there may not be a later. The opportunity to repent is a Divine gift, and must be seized when presented, lest we lose the chance. There is a point of no return.
We learn of the compassion of God on His creations: on mankind. God allows man time to exert his free will to bring himself in line with truth. “Those who He loves, God rebukes”. The plagues were an attempt to remove Egypt’s false ideas, enabling them to embrace God’s absolute truths.