The Plague of Hail
In Parshas Vau-Ayra, at the end of the ninth chapter, we find Moses (Moses) not only responding to Pharaoh’s plea to halt the plague of hail, but also giving Pharaoh rebuke: Exod. 9:30, “And you and your servants, I know that you have yet to fear God.” Why, during the plague of hail, unlike other plagues, does Moses suddenly rebuke Pharaoh? Is there something we may derive from this story that may explain Moses’ behavior? It doesn’t appear that God instructed Moses to rebuke Pharaoh, so Moses’ words here could be his own. What did Moses see in this plague, and what was his purpose in this dialogue?
We must understand that each plague was not randomly selected, but God carefully designed each one. Each one contained some unique idea. Moses understood better than any man, the depth that can be discovered by studying God’s creations, including these plagues. I am certain Moses pondered each plague, but saw something unique in hail.
After Moses says “And you and your servants, I know that you have yet to fear God”, these two verses follow, “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.” There is a question as to who said these two verses. Ramban says Moses spoke these words. I agree, and would like to offer my own interpretation, based on Ramban.
God intended to awaken the Egyptians and Pharaoh to His unique distinction as the Creator of heaven and Earth, Exod 9:16, (God instructing Moses what to tell Pharaoh) “However because of this have I sustained you, on account that I shall show you My strength, and that you shall declare My name throughout the land.” God desired not only to show His might, but also to counter obstacles in this society’s corrupt nature so they may arrive at the truth.
What obstacle did Pharaoh have? Moses said, “You and your servants have yet to fear God”. Pharaoh’s obstacle was obstinacy. Moses was first telling Pharaoh his exact flaw in recognizing God. Moses then viewed the hail, and pondered the different affects it had on various crops. Moses saw that stiff plants broke, while flexible ones survived. He then thought to himself why God created a plague with such a characteristic of affecting plants in two manners. Perhaps Moses gained insight into this specific plague and into God’s approach in reprimanding the Egyptians. God designed the specifics of each plague. But we may question whether these specific plagues were pre-designed from the outset, or did God design each plague in line with what was needed at each juncture, depending on Pharaoh’s current response.
Pharaoh was now being obstinate, as Moses pointed out to him “you have yet to fear God”. Obstinacy had to be pointed out to Pharaoh if he was to understand Moses’ next statement, which was in direct response to his character. Stripping Pharaoh of his defenses would be the best method for him to finally recognize God. Perhaps God included other messages in the plagues for Moses to derive through his own keen analysis of their unique properties. Moses therefore intimated to Pharaoh his character flaw via a parallel: “The flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was ripe and the flax was in its stalk.” Meaning, “you Pharaoh are going to be broken” as you are stiff like the flax and barley. “And the wheat and the spelt were not struck for they ripen later.” Again a parallel, “you Pharaoh would be spared if you were flexible”, as are the wheat and spelt.
Moses attempted to teach Pharaoh this: “this current plague was designed as a parallel to you”. The goal being that Pharaoh repent and follow God, as God wishes this for all mankind, “For I do not desire the death of the dead (the wicked) says God, but (in his) repentance and in his living.” Moses was teaching Pharaoh that there is in fact a God Who knows all man’s thoughts. Hopefully Pharaoh would be impressed and acknowledge the Creator.
This taught Pharaoh an essential lesson about God: He not only recognizes man’s thoughts and actions, but He “interacts” with man. How else could God design a plague to address a single man’s (Pharaoh) specific nature? This is a great lesson.
The proof that this was a central theme in God’s plagues is Moses’ and Aaron’s initial address to Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:1-3, Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh for the first time: 1) “So says God, the God of Israel, send My people that they may celebrate Me in the desert. 2) And Pharaoh said, ‘Who is God that I should listen to His voice, to send Israel, I do not know God, and Israel I will not send.’ 3) And they (Moses and Aaron) said, ‘The God of the Hebrews called unto us, let us go a journey of three days in the desert and we will sacrifice to God our God, lest we be afflicted with plague or the sword.” Pharaoh responds in verse 2, and then in verse 3, Moses and Aaron attempt to clarify something to Pharaoh. What point is repeated in verse 3? They now state “The God of the Hebrews called unto us...” This reiterates their initial address of “So says God, the God of Israel...” Moses and Aaron wished to communicate a new idea to Pharaoh: the Jewish God “calls” to man. He is unique, and far above the lifeless Egyptian gods. However, Moses and Aaron saw that their initial attempt to deliver this novel concept to Pharaoh was ignored. They repeated their words, but now with more clarity, “God called to us”. This time, in verse 3, they did not use the passive “God said” as in verse 1, but the active “(God) called to us”. The God of Israel actually communicates with man. This was what Moses and Aaron wished to impress on the leader of a culture, whose idols were lifeless stone and metal. A “knowing” and “powerful” God was Moses and Aaron’s message. Thus, if they disobeyed, this “powerful” God would bring plague or death (sword). Moses and Aaron wished to teach Pharaoh the two most primary concepts that distinguish God from all other deities: He is omniscient and omnipotent, all-knowing and all-powerful. God’s system of reward and punishment is also based on this idea, and Pharaoh was taught reward and punishment through God’s distinction between the Jewish and Egyptian livestock. Only the latter were plagued. We see a theme permeating the plagues.
Returning to the metaphor used by Moses about the stiff and soft crops, why did Moses tell Pharaoh this through metaphor, and not directly? When someone is faced with a self-realization that conflicts with his ego, he will not be able to tolerate such a stark reality, and he will deny it in defense. To allow Pharaoh a path to accept this idea, Moses used a method, which does not evoke a strong, defensive response, but one wherein the listener may ponder. Moses used a metaphor, which can, after time, appeal to the person more casually, thereby avoiding a direct onslaught of the person’s self image. A direct approach would only result in Pharaoh’s reluctance to hear God’s message, and the loss of any good for Pharaoh.
We see a clear proof against those self-righteous Jews who falsely assume they have more purpose than Gentiles. If this were so, God would not be so concerned with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, that they obtain knowledge of God. God told Moses at the very outset that Pharaoh will not hearken to him. Yet, God instructs Moses to perform the plagues, “on account that I shall show you My strength, and that you shall declare My name throughout the land.” God is concerned that all nations recognize the truth of His existence.