Hailstorm: More than Meets the “Eye”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
God tells Moses to address Pharaoh concerning the plague of hail:
“If you continue to subjugate my people and do not send them, I will cause it to rain at this time tomorrow, an exceedingly great hail that there was never like it in Egypt from the day it was established, until now.” (Exod. 9:17,18)
And when the hail commences, we read the following:
“And the hail was fire mixed inside the hail, exceedingly great, there was never like it in all the land of Egypt, from the time it became a people.” (Exod. 9:24)
Let’s start with a basic question: what was a major objective in God’s Ten Plagues? Clearly, it is as God says Himself concerning hail: “…for you shall know there is none like Me in all the land” (Exod. 9:14)
God desired to educate the Egyptians away from their false beliefs in astrology, idolatry, the occult, and mysticism, et al. God’s method, is how it has been from literally Day One: creation of the Earth was God’s kindness to a planned creature later called man, enabling him to uncover tremendous knowledge by studying all that God created before his arrival on the world’s stage. As the Rabbis taught, “God set the table (created Earth) and then invited man.” (Paraphrased) Man arrives only after all is ready for his intelligent ponderings. We learn from this that God desires man to use his unique gift of intelligence, granted to him, and no other creation. What this in turn teaches is that God wishes this act of intellectual observation and reasoning, to be man’s exclusive means of determining truth. Had God wanted man to live without proofs, and follow anything he felt in his heart, intelligence would not be necessary.
Astrology for example is a belief in matters not observed. All that is observed are objects, not the claimed relationship: heavenly spheres and man’s personalities are seen, but not any relationship between the two. Foolish people then attempt to correlate similar personality types with similar months, saying, “all born in August are type A personalities.” But their error lies in their ignoring God’s intentional gift of intelligence: there is no observable relationship between stars, and human personality. Astrology is an assumed notion, without basis. It is unlike the proven and observable laws of friction, which produce heat. We clearly see how one objects relates through contact and motion with another, generating sparks or flames. We would not say friction exists when we separate two objects from contact. If for example, my friend stands 20 feet away from me attempting to light a match by moving it ‘towards’ the direction of the matchbook cover, but never touches the strip, the match never ignites. Astrologers will agree to this truth. Why then do they say that stars that are much more distant, can ‘ignite’ a personality on Earth with certain traits? The contradiction is clear; astrologers are exposed as in error.
It is this method that God used to correct the flaws of Egyptian astrologers, Pharaoh, and their nation. God delivered proofs – observable in nature – that clearly demonstrated that Moses was in contact with Earth’s Creator – the only One who could suspend the very laws at work. Moses predicted with exact precision “what” would occur, and “when” it would commence and end. There was no parallel in the Ten Plagues to astrology. Astrology offers no evidence of its claims, whereas every plague God sent was observable. Intelligence demanded the Egyptians agree that Moses spoke on behalf of He who controls nature…they saw nature change. No belief was required, just simple observation.
Why did God record in His Torah the failed attempt of the astrologers to reproduce lice? This was to teach that the human hand couldn’t control something too small. As Saadia Gaon says, the way the Egyptians reproduced blood was with dies. They reproduced frogs by spilling chemicals into the water that frogs repel, so the frogs leaped from the river, appearing as a plague duplication. But since lice are too small for tactile dexterity, the astrologers admitted it was “the finger of God”. This was recorded – in my opinion – for one reason, to expose to us what Saadia Gaon taught: man manipulates only by sleight of hand…and even this is only up to a point. However, magic does not exist. That is Saadia Gaon’s lesson.
Magic and astrology are “beliefs in physical relationships, without physical contact”. This violates natural law, and natural law is observable and proved. Therefore, we reject astrology, magic, talking to the dead, mysticism, and all notions that are not observable. It’s easy – and for many comforting – to accept mystical beliefs. It requires no thought or proof, it can be done quickly, and it comforts one with pleasant lies. One who follows Torah now understands why all these practices are forbidden, as Ibn Ezra says, “The Torah prohibits lies, not truths”.
So we conclude: God gave man intelligence precisely so man uses intelligence “alone” to determine what to accept as truth. Anything not proven through observation and/or reason must not be accepted. This must be clear to you.
But this was only one aspect of the Ten Plagues. Why did I commence with those three verses above at the start of this article? Read them once more. Then return to this paragraph.
External & Internal Worlds
Besides making undeniable displays of God’s control of nature, there existed an obstacle that required God’s address.
As a wise Rabbi taught, at first, God exposed the false nature of the idols and astrologers. He did this by displaying His exclusive control over “all” parts of existence: He controls all “in” Earth: blood, frogs and lice were created from the substance of the Earth’s soil and water. He controls all that occurs “on” Earth: mixture of wild beasts, animal deaths, and boils. And finally, He controls all “above” Earth, in the heavens: hail, locusts and darkness all occurred in the skies. This is one lesson. But what might impede the success of God’s plan?
The internal world of man works to incubate foolish fantasies and wishes. For many people, reality is not tolerable. They don’t want to work to make the necessary changes in their personalities and actions so as to remove their problems. They want quick fixes in the forms of astrology, Kabbalistic nonsense, and mysticism. But again: God gave us only one thing – intelligence – as the “only” means of determining what is true and false. And since the observable world does not support all these mentioned practices, God does not desire we dupe ourselves. But the internal world also includes psychology…
The Egyptians – and all peoples – have two lines of defense that produce a false security: their land, and their people. These two elements forge a strong national identification that can bind them, and blind them from reality.
God says he will bring hail to the “land” of Egypt. Then, when the hail commences to rain down, God describes the hail as unmatched for as long as Egypt was a “people”.
With hail, God desired to remove additional, internal obstacles from the Egyptians’ acceptance of His Ten Lessons. Although the plagues were amazing, the Egyptians may have bonded together by feeling a sense of unity as both a “people”, and as a “land”. They sensed that they can “overcome God together”. Their ego emotions made them feel they, and their land, were greater than all else. Therefore, to preempt this failure to His plagues, God expressed in His Torah verses how hail undermined these two lines of defense: hail was greater than anything they experienced as a “people”, or as a “land”. Greater then these two elements, was God’s control. Thereby, God eliminated what psychological factors might impede the plagues’ success.
Reading the plagues, year after years and on Passover, we lose the novelty of the story. However, if we can take the time to “let the words speak to us” as a Rabbi stated, God’s Torah contains clues to His infinite wisdom. I read this story many times, and never once saw these ideas before this week. I hope this one example of the required sensitivity to the Torah’s words will act as an instruction for your future pondering of the generous nuances God has embedded in the Torah’s words…helping you arrive at a great enjoyment in Torah study as I have.