The Wisdom of the Plagues

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Did God select all Ten Plagues as an absolute plan...or were the plagues selected and administered based on Pharaoh's actions? Interesting question.

Exod. 7:23: Blood

We must appreciate that each Torah verse has great meaning. For example, after Pharaoh's astrologers mimicked the plague of blood, Exod. 7:23 says, "And Pharaoh turned and came to his house...". Why must this necessarily be taught? Do I really need to know Pharaoh "turned" and "came to his house"? The answer must be 'yes', since it's in the Torah. But what is the vital lesson of this seemingly unnecessary verse?

Why did the plague of frogs follow the plague of blood? We also learn that the frogs infested every square inch of Egypt, not mentioned by the other plagues. I believe our first verse teaches why frogs had to be sent next.

Rabbi Reuven Mann once taught that Pharaoh's turning aside after the blood plague was an act of denial. Based on this, we can suggest that Pharaoh found enough justification in his astrologer's sleight of hand to reject Moses' miracle of blood. But Pharaoh sensed some truth in Moses, that is why he went home...a place of escape. Therefore, the next plague did not allow Pharaoh any escape, for the Torah teaches that the frogs infested every room of every home. This was in direct response to Pharaoh's action, not necessarily planned from the outset. The frogs emerged from the very location that Pharaoh initially rejected – the Nile – forcing Pharaoh to reconsider his original dismissal of the plague of blood. The frogs also croaked, and I am sure quite loud. Again, offering Pharaoh no psychological escape from the reality of God's miracles. 

If the astrologers were able to duplicate the frogs, why does Pharaoh call Moses to remove them? Ask the astrologers to do so! We must say that Pharaoh realized a difference in Moses, that only he could remove the frogs. God was teaching Pharaoh that his astrologers were frauds. Eventually, God sent boils to completely eliminate all credibility of the astrologers. But God takes small steps, not deploying a death blow until necessary. God originally desired Pharaoh to use his mind to discern the difference between his fraudulent magicians, and Moses. 

This was God's plan: to force Pharaoh – a mystic – to start engaging his mind. For only if Pharaoh would switch gears and "think", would he be able to see the true God, and the nature of Moses' miracles as supreme to his astrologers. Yes, God could have made any miracle He desired that would have been undeniably clear...but that would not engage Pharaoh's mind. Pharaoh would – in such a case – be forced by his emotions to release the Jews, but not to any credit of his intelligence. God wants man to use his mind.

Exod. 9:18 and 9:24: Hail

Barad intended to break down Egypt's last lines of defense; as a "country" and as a "people". By creating severe weather never witnessed even before the "country" or the "people" were around, this undermines their permanence, as there was a time where both never existed. This stripped Egypt of their feeling of permanence, as they were not always around. The world existed "without you." This in turn enables one to accept the One Authority. 

Exod. 9:11: Boils

"And the astrologers could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt." (Exodus 9:11) But boils – a malady of the skin, not bones or muscles – does not affect posture. Why mention that "all Egyptians" had boils, if the verse's message concerns only the astrologers' inability to stand?

The astrologers attempted to reproduce the plagues, only to expose their inabilities. This is significant, since God records their feeble attempts. So significant is this point, that it appears from the very few words concerning the plague of boils, that the objective of this plague was precisely to disarm their claims to superiority through astrology and magic. Torah verses are selective in their messages, not merely recounting every single historical occurrence. Our verse means to teach that boils purposefully targeted the astrologers. "And the astrologers could not stand before Moses because of the boils; for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt." This refers not to posture, but to their ability to sustain their dignity...they could not "appear" before Moses who outperformed them. They were ashamed. But why were they any more ashamed during the plague of boils? The answer is the second part of the verse: "...for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt". They were no better! They could not defend themselves from boils. What type of powerful astrologer allows painful blisters to afflict them over days? It is the liar who allows this to happen, since in fact, he has no more defense from boils than any other Egyptian. It was this diminution of status, now unveiled as equal to all Egyptian commoners, that was their embarrassment, and why they could not "appear" before Moses, "...for the boils were on the astrologers and all of Egypt." The astrologers we equal to any commoner.

If we allow our ears to become sensitive to nuances and distinctions of each of the plagues, we will continue to uncover more hints like these, and a greater appreciation for God's ways.