How God Teaches Man II: The 10 Plagues


Moshe Ben-Chaim



We recently studied how God informed Moses of his error in his perception of his role, sending some type of serpent to afflict him, near-death. This taught Moses that he was in fact “dispensable” in God’s plan to redeem the Jews.


God uses precise wisdom in each and every one of His actions. From the very creation of the universe, through His miracles, His revelation at Sinai, His prophetic discourses with man, and His rewards and punishments, each and every instance is orchestrated with exact precision, and with definite reason. By examining each case, we may come to understand exactly why God related to one man in this way, and another in a different manner. We can learn why in one case God would speak to a man, while in another, an event is used to educate another individual. In Moses’ case, he required to learn that his role was unnecessary for God’s plan: God may achieve His objectives through many means, and man, any man, cannot become indispensable. Therefore, God’s method of instructing Moses of his dispensability was just that: God brought Moses near death. What better method to teach of one’s dispensability?


God did not desire to simply destroy Pharaoh and Egypt. As the Medrash states, “God said to His angels, ‘You wish to sing while the works of My hands are drowning in the Red Sea?” Meaning, God desires that all humankind recognize Him, and benefit from the best life, as outlined in His Torah. God created man and woman - not “Jew” and “Gentile”. Other religions are mankind’s corrupt inventions which Judaism in part seeks to correct. God desires all members of mankind enjoy the best life. When the Egyptian army required extermination, it was not God’s original plan for these men, those who could have lived a life of wisdom. It was for this reason that God sent a host of plagues: each one carrying a unique lesson aimed at extricating Egypt from its philosophy of sub-deities, replacing their fallacy with truths about God. As the Egyptians’ flaw was the belief in powers other than God, God responded by displaying that He alone controls every object and law in the universe. The first three plagues displayed God’s control of the Earth; the second three, events on the Earth; and the last three, His control of the heavens. God displayed His complete an absolute control over the heavens, the Earth, and all between them. No stone was left unturned. Egypt realized that their assumed gods were in fact imaginations, and that the God of the Hebrews was in fact the true, One and only God. Again we see that God’s response perfectly addressed man’s corruptions. For this reason we also read that God judged the Egyptian gods, melting metal idols, and rotting the wooden ones. (Rashi on Exod. 12:12) Through witnessing the very destruction of their carved and molten idols, Egypt was forced to recognize their gods as useless, and something else – God – is in total control.


Whatever the circumstances are, and whatever the need of that person or people, God’s response will match perfectly. We also cited the words of God’s prophet Malachi, “I am God, I do not change…” (Malachi, 3:6) This teaches man that as God is without defect, He remains this way – nothing can affect Him. But this also teaches that God’s methods of instructing humankind do not change: He continues to employ precise wisdom as the fabric that woven through all of His actions, which are truly to educate us. Therefore, we must not forfeit any precious chance to educate ourselves by studying His actions. As God worked in the times of the Bible, and in previous generations, He continues to work.


But we also learn that God teaches man by way of subtle indication, in place of outright clarity, because God does not desire that mankind simply “hear His word”, and respond, without thinking. For this reason, Revelation at Sinai was a one-time event, “A great voice that did not continue.” (Deut. 5:19) This outright, undeniable proof of God’s existence was necessary. However, not being present at Sinai, we, the future generation, would require intelligence to derive this proof of God’s existence. God does not wish to create miracles always, and thus writes, “A great voice that did not continue.” Miracles are not God’s plan for mankind’s approach to Him.


God’s plan for mankind is to observe the universe, and with his intellect, understand the nature of things. Study of God’s created world and Bible (Torah) is man’s sole objective. To enable Moses to accomplish this, God did not communicate his sin in words, but displayed his sin – through an event – which afforded Moses the opportunity to “study God’s relationship to the world.” Without an event, Moses would have lost the opportunity to engage his mind. Only by witnessing the very real operation of the world, does man acknowledge a “reality” to God’s methods. This is how man attains wisdom. God’s methods of interacting with man are cryptic. Otherwise, there would be nothing compelling us to seek deeper wisdom. We would be at a dead end as soon as we exhausted our study of the limited, physical characteristics of the world. But God’s knowledge has no limits. He therefore created a system of “cryptic indication” which on the surface gives us one message. But if we seek additional understanding through analysis, much more wisdom and information will disclose itself. Both, the physical world and His Biblical and Prophetic words are designed in this manner. In both arenas, much knowledge awaits us…but only if we engage the mind – the only tool capable of unveiling God’s wisdom.