The Plague of Mixed Animals
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
When studying the 10 Plagues, it is quite easy to get “distracted” by their miraculous features, thereby losing sight of the verses’ subtleties. More than anything, the Torah is intended to reveal God’s wisdom. To this end, millennia of Torah students, Sages and Rabbis have toiled in Talmud, Mishna and Scripture, training their minds, and as they learned the same areas year after year, they unlocked arrived at greater depths of God’s wisdom. We must be sensitive to what at first seems like unimportant data, and ask ourselves why God deemed “this” verse or idea to be included: “What is its lesson?” Let us take the plague of the mixture of wild beasts as an example (Exod. 8:16-28):
“And God said to Moses, ‘Arise in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he goes to the river and ay to him, ‘Send My people that they will serve Me. For if you do not send My people, behold, I will send unto you, unto your servants, and unto your people and into your homes the Mixture [of wild animals] and the Mixture will fill the houses of Egypt and also the land that they are on. And I will distinguish on that day the land of Goshen on which My people stand, that there will be no Mixture, in order that you shall know that I am God in the midst of the land. And I will place a salvation between My people and between your people: tomorrow this sign shall occur.’ And God did so, and the Mixture came heavy [on] Pharaoh’s house and his servants’ homes, and [in] the entire land of Egypt the land was destroyed due to the Mixture. And Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go sacrifice to your God in the land’. And Moses said, ‘This is not proper to do so, for it is an abomination to Egypt to sacrifice to God our God; for behold, if we sacrifice the abomination of Egypt in front of their eyes, will they not stone us? A journey of three days we will travel in the desert and we will sacrifice to God our God as He has told us.’ And Pharaoh said, ‘I will send you and you will sacrifice to God your God in the desert, however, do not travel too far, pray for my sake.’ And Moses said, ‘Behold I will exit from you, and I will pray to God to remove the Mixture from Pharaoh, from his servants and from his people tomorrow, however, let Pharaoh not lie, not sending the people to sacrifice to God.’ And Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to God. And God did as Moses’ word, and He removed the Mixture from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people…not one was left. And Pharaoh hardened his heart also this time, and he did not send the people.”
A number of questions arise:
1) Why did God deem the Mixture as one of the 10 Plagues? What is specific to this plague that it was perfectly appropriate for afflicting Pharaoh and Egypt? What were its lessons?
2) Unlike other plagues, here alone we see an emphasis of “sacrificing” to God, mentioned six times. Is this significant, and if so, how?
3) Why does God refer to this plague as (Arove) “Mixture”? Is this title significant?
4a) Pharaoh says, “Go sacrifice to your God in the land”. Moses said, “This is not proper to do so, for it is an abomination to Egypt to sacrifice to God our God: for behold, if we sacrifice the abomination of Egypt in front of their eyes, will they not stone us?” Besides the practical ramifications of shielding the Jews from Egypt’s attack, is there another idea Moses instills in Pharaoh, with his “own” address?
4b) In general, aside from God’s administering of the Plagues, we find Moses addressing Pharaoh in his own words. Was Moses instructed to do so? We certainly do not see so in the text. And if he was not instructed, why did he address Pharaoh? Another instance is Exodus 9:31 and 9:32, where Moses is about to pray to God to halt the Hail. But before he does so, he tells Pharaoh, “the stiff plants broke from the hail, while the softer plants survived”(paraphrased). Why this interruption, and again, why was Moses addressing Pharaoh? We do not read that God commanded Moses to address him, other than the announcement of the plagues, and their description as per God’s words. Why the additional address by Moses?
5) When commanding Moses to warn Pharaoh, God instructs him to say the following: “And I will distinguish on that day the land of Goshen on which My people stand, that there will be no Mixture, in order that you shall know that I am God in the midst of the land.” We wonder what is this rarely seen objective of “distinguishing” Israel from Egypt. Is this God’s primary goal with this Mixture of beasts, and that is why it is stated? If so, what is the underlying message? “Distinguishing” cannot be a lesson in itself. “Distinction”, by its very definition, is concerning some ‘area’ of distinction; as in a distinguished scholar, where his ‘knowledge’ is distinct from others. So we must ask, in what area did God distinguish the Jews via this plague? This question is compounded by the next verse where God states He will render a salvation for the Jews, not to be harmed by the Mixture. The distinction is made again. Why?
I believe Moses address to Pharaoh teaches us a number of ideas. One idea stated by a Rabbi, is that Moses was necessary for the plagues, but not that God could not perform them without Moses. The Rabbi taught that Moses was necessary, so as to communicate the deeper ideas contained in each Plague. God did not merely plague Egypt with arbitrary miracles, but with signs and wonders which addressed certain flaws in Pharaoh and the Egyptian culture. They were intended to reveal insights necessary for their potential repentance and perfection. Without someone as wise as Moses, the perception of the plagues’ underlying ideas would be missed.
Purpose of Prophets
This also teaches that God desired that Pharaoh realize another concept: there is immense wisdom out there, and it can only be arrived at through the mind. God needs no emissary, but God sent Moses as a primary lesson to Pharaoh that man (Moses) arrives at true knowledge only when using the mind…as Moses portrayed to Pharaoh.
This is quite a fascinating idea to me. We are so ready to accept Moses’ leadership and role as emissary, but we overlook the very basic question: Why did God desire to send Moses, or send prophets in general? God could have accomplished the plagues on His own. This is a Torah and Maimonidean fundamental: Prophets were sent, not because God needs anyone or anything, but because God wishes to teach man at every turn. And with the sending of prophets, man must realize that a great level of wisdom is required to understand our reality…God’s created reality. The prophet is being sent, for he – to the exclusion of others – is fit to understand God, and teach man. This was a primary lesson to Pharaoh: “Your life of idolatry is based on the absence of reasoning, and you require education, through Moses.” The most basic lesson to Egypt, and to all cultures today that are idolatrous, is that the mind is not being engaged. If people did use their minds, even to a small degree, they would wonder why they are bowing to stone gods, and deifying men like Jesus.
Moses too understood this; he understood his role and that is why he addressed Pharaoh: to explain the underlying messages, and have the effect on Pharaoh and Egypt desired by God. In the plague of the Mixture of beasts, Moses tells Pharaoh that sacrificing to God in Egypt will get the Jews stoned to death. Moses means to address the very concept of animal worship. I believe this explains why God – in this plague alone – mentions the word “sacrifice” six times, for it is this plague that was sent to address the very problem of animal worship: sacrifice is the antithesis of animal worship! So the repetition of “sacrifice” in this plague alone indicates that sacrifice is central to the purpose of the plague of the Mixture. (God uses word repetitions in other Torah instances too, as subtle suggestions of an underlying Torah theme.)
Now, as Egypt deified animals, Moses directed Pharaoh to recognize this flaw. He told Pharaoh the Egyptians could not stand idly by as animals were sacrificed. For this reason, the Jews were required to offer the Paschal lamb to earn God’s salvation: they had to demonstrate their disregard for animal deification, and their trust in God’s salvation from any stoning, and His deliverance of the nation to Israel.
But how did this plague attempt to correct Egypt’s animal deification? It was through psychology. God sent multiple species of beasts that destroyed Egypt, included snakes and scorpions as Rashi stated, the very beasts we find on Pharaohs’ headdresses. Thus, the Egyptians should no longer deify that which causes them much grief. When a person is alarmed at some phenomenon, he tends to no longer gravitate towards it, and this I believe was one of the objectives in this plague: to sever ties between man and animal.
Why were a “mixture” sent, and not a single species? A mixture was used as it generates a feeling of disdain toward animals “in general”, not just a single class, which would allow the Egyptians to retain their deification feelings for all other beasts. This explains why this plague was called “Mixture” (Arove). For the Mixture targeted this concept of diluting the Egyptian deification of elevated species, by generating disdain for animals in general.
One last question is why God desired to distinguish the Jews in this plague, in the “land of Goshen.” The Rabbis answer (Ibn Ezra 9:1) that God displayed His control over all creation: Earth, the heavens…and all that occurs in between, such as man’s actions. Blood, Frogs, and Lice emanated from the Earth. The Mixture, Animal Deaths and Boils occurred “on” the Earth. And Hail, Locusts and Darkness occurred in the air or the heavens. God successfully displayed His control over all creation, by categorizing the plagues in this manner. (Nothing else exists but Earth, heaven, and all events) Of course, God also wished to smite the Egyptians’ god, the Nile River with Blood, and there are many other facets to these plagues that we have not begun to detect or examine. As we stated at the very outset, God’s wisdom is never ending. But man’s is…so I will end with one last question: Why was the next plague Animal Deaths? Was it to act as a follow-up some how to the Mixture?