Parashat VaEra

Shemot 6:2 G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, "I am Hashem."

As we saw at the end of the previous portion, Moshe complained bittery to G-d. The Attribute of Justice (Middat HaDin) wanted to be angry at Moshe for speaking so harshly, but G-d knows every person's deepest motives. G-d knew that Moshe was neither complaining nor questioning G-d's justice, but merely pleading for his people because of his love for them.

Still, as a result of Moshe's complaining at this time, it was decreed that he would not enter the Promise Land. G-d therefore said to Moshe, "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh (6:1). Now, when I punish Pharaoh and bring My people out of Egypt, you will see My miracles. But later, when I punish 31 kings in the promise land, you will not see My great works."

Throughout the Torah, whenever G-d speaks to Moshe, the expression "Hashem (YKVK) spoke to Moshe, saying", is used. This is the only place where we find the expression, "G-d (Elokim) spoke to Moshe, saying". As is well known, YKVK denotes the Attribute of Mercy, while Elokim denotes the Attribute of Justice. [We thus see that at this time the Attribute of Justice was dealing with Moshe.]

G-d's initial words to Moshe, "I am YKVK," appear to be redundant. Moshe already knew that G-d's name was YKVK. But G-d's message to Moshe was, "I am YKVK, who exists beyond space and time. You can be sure that I will reward those who walk in My ways." (Shemot Rabbah; Rashi)

6:3, 4 I revealed Myself to Avraham, Yitzchak and to Yaakov as G-d Almighty (KEl Shaddai), but My Name, YKVK, I did not reveal to them. I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Kenaan, the land of their wandering, where they have lived as foreigners.

"It was not without reason that I sent you to Pharaoh, but to keep My promise to the Patriarchs. It is too bad that they are now gone and are not available. The loss of these tzaddikim is sorely felt, and there is no one to replace them. Even you are not like them.

"I revealed Myself to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov many times, but the only name I used was KEl Shaddai (G-d Almighty). I never revealed to them the mystery of My name, YKVK. Still, they had perfect faith in Me and never questioned My word.

"I could not reveal to them the true attribute implied by My name YKVK since it would have seemed false. My name YKVK implies that I exist in the future just as I exist in the present and am therefore certain to keep any promise that I make. But the Patriarchs could have had ample reason to suspect Me of breaking My promises.

"I told Avraham, 'Rise, walk the land, through its length and its breadth, for to you I will give it.' (Bereishit 13:17) But when his wife, Sarah, died, he did not even own enough of the land to bury her. When he needed a cemetery plot, he had to spend a great deal of money to buy one. (Bereishit 23:16)

"I told Yitzchak, 'Remain in this land ... for to you and your offspring I will give all these territories.' (Bereishit 26:3) Yet when he needed water, he could not even find land in which to dig a well. Whenever he dug a well, the natives would fight him for taking their water. (Bereishit 26:20)

"I told Yaakov, 'The land upon which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.' (Bereishit 28:13) Yet when he needed land upon which to pitch his tent, he could find none, and he had to purchase a plot for a hundred coins. (Bereishit 33:19)

"You see, I promised all the Patriarchs that I would give them the land, and they could have complained that I did not keep My promise. Still, they never even thought of questioning what I did.

"As many times as I demanded things of the Patriarchs, they never asked Me to reveal My name. But the very first time I spoke to you, you asked Me what My Name was. (Shemot 3:13)

"After all that, you complained that I was doing bad things to My people. (Shemot 5:22) How could you say such things when you know that I am YKVK? How could you have the audacity to even say such words?

"The Patriarchs are very precious to me, precisely because they never questioned what I did."

6:5 "I have also heard the groan of the Children of Yisrael, whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered My covenant."

"The Egyptians have made the Yisraelim do all kinds of impossible tasks. They even made them go out and trap lions and wolves, not because they need them, but only to torment the Yisraelim.

"If the Egyptians only made the Yisraelim do necessary work, it would not be so terrible. But the Egyptians are making them do things merely to degrade them as slaves. Their entire motive is to make them work in order to break their spirit.

"If the Egyptians had enslaved any other nation, it would not have been so terrible. Nations have always enslaved one another. But here it is an act of gross ingratitude. Yosef was the one who saved the Egyptians from extinction by famine, and they invited him to bring his family to Egypt. This is the way they show their gratitude!

"The Egyptians, whose lives Yosef saved, are now keeping his people as slaves. Yosef was their great benefactor, and they are only alive now because of him. If they have forgotten, I will remember. They have forgotten what Yosef did for them, but I will remember the promise that I made to the Patriarchs. I will redeem the Yisraelim even though they themselves might not deserve it."

6:6-8 "Therefore, say to the Children Yisrael. 'I am YKVK. I will bring you out from under the subjugation of Egypt. I will free you from their slavery. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to Me for a nation, and I will be to you for a G-d. You will know that I am YKVK your G-d, who is bringing you out from under the Egyptians subjugation. I will bring you to the land, regarding which I raised My hand [in oath] to give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. I will give it to you for an inheritance. I am YKVK.'"

Moshe was very frightened when he heard G-d's harsh words. He was concerned that he had done wrong and that his actions might have delayed the redemption. Perhaps the merit of the Patriarchs would no longer be enough, and the Yisraelim would be doomed to remain in Egypt forever. In order to reassure Moshe, G-d swore that He would free the Yisraelim, and He said, "Therefore, la-chen, tell the Yisraelim, I am G-d. I will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt." The word "la-chen" always indicates an oath.

"I am YKVK" was G-d's message to Yisrael. "I transcend space and time, and can be trusted to keep My word. I will free you from their subjugation so that you will not even have to pay them tribute. I will redeem you with such great acts of judgment that many Egyptians will want to keep you as hostages to escape My wrath."

G-d told Moshe, "I have also heard the groans of the Children of Yisrael" (Shemot 6:5). The word "also" appears to be redundant. It can be explained in terms of the following account.

In the time of the Talmudic leader, Shmuel (around 250 C.E.), there was no rain. He decreed a fast, but before the fast was begun it began to rain. When the people began to boast of their great merit, Shmuel told them not to consider themselves so great. He said, "Sometimes when a filthy slave comes in to the king, the king tells his men to give the slave whatever he wants just to get him out of his presence. The same is true of us."

It is therefore sometimes best when G-d hears a community's prayers after they have prayed. This shows that G-d considers them worthy.

G-d therefore said, "I have also heard the groans of the Children of Yisrael. Besides redeeming them, I have taken time to listen to their prayers. This itself is very significant, and it shows how highly I esteem them. If I had redeemed them only because I was bound by My promise to the Patriarchs, I would not have taken time to listen to their prayers. It would have been as if I had no desire to look at them."

One may question the order of the promises that G-d made to the Yisraelim. He said, "I will bring you out from under the subjugation of Egypt... I will redeem you with an outstretched arm." The order should have been, "I will redeem you ... and I will bring you out." If the Yisraelim were redeemed from slavery, it would no longer make any difference if they remained in Egypt. Furthermore, why did G-d leave the most important promise, "I will take you to Me for a nation," until the very last?

However, at this time, the greatest wish of the Yisraelim was to be let out of Egypt. The land was like a prison camp, and they felt that they would never be able to leave.

When the Patriarchs and the Yisraelim first went to Egypt, the Torah often uses the word Mitzraimah for the expression "to Mitzrayim" [rather than the more usual LeMitzrayim.] In the word Mitzraimah, both letters Mem are open. This indicates that the way to Egypt was open, both coming and going.

Here, in the account of the Exodus, however, the term Mitzrayim is used, where one Mem is open, while the final Mem is closed. This indicates that while the way into Egypt might have still been open, the way out was closed.

Using their knowledge of the occult arts, the Egyptian had placed all sorts of devices having the forms of animals at the gates of the city. If a slave attempted to escape, this form would cause all the dogs in the city to begin to bark. This would raise the alarm, and the slave would soon be caught.

G-d's first message to the Yisraelim was therefore that He would take them out of Egypt. This would be the most important for them since it was something that they considered impossible.

Once out, there was still danger that the Egyptians would recapture them. G-d therefore told them, "I will free you from their slavery." Still, the Yisraelim may have been concerned that they would have to struggle to live, and even after being freed would have to work just as hard merely to sustain themselves. G-d therefore said, "I will redeem you."

G-d concluded by saying, "I will take you to Me for a nation, and I will be to you for a G-d. After you are free, you will come to Mount Sinai and receive the holy Torah. You will then realize why I took you out of Egypt and freed you from your harsh labor. The main reason for the redemption from Egypt will be for you to receive the Torah and become My nation."

The Egyptians had issued four harsh decrees against the Yisraelim:

1. They had appointed slave drivers over them and had forced them to build Pitom and Raamses.

2. They had given them backbreaking work and had made their lives bitter with harsh labor.

3. They had decreed that every male infant be drowned in the Nile.

4. They had stopped giving them straw, demanding the same quota of bricks as before.

Paralleling these four decrees, G-d announced that he would rescue His people in four different ways:

1. "I will bring you out from the subjugation of Egypt."

2. "I will free you from their slavery."

3. "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm."

4. "I will take you to Me for a nation."

G-d thus was indicating that He would deliver His people from all four decrees that the Egyptians had made against them. [It is also because of these four different steps of redemption that four cups of wine are drunk at the Seder] (Shemot Rabbah, p. 50c)

According to another opinion, however, Pharaoh issued seven decrees against the Yisraelim. (Zohar, Shemot. Cf. Zera Berach, Part 2, Shemot)

G-d said, "I will bring you to the land that I solemnly swore to give to the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov."

If G-d had said this, one may wonder why none of the men who participated in the Exodus actually entered the Promised Land. As we shall see, they all died in the desert. (BaMidbar 14:23, Devarim 2:14)

G-d had made this word conditional. He would bring them into the Promised Land only if they respected Him and remained aware of His greatness. Then they would be assured that they would inherit the Promised Land.

G-d's promise to the Patriarchs merely stated that their descendants would eventually inherit the land. No mention had been made regarding which generation would occupy the Promised Land. G-d told the people that if they were worthy, they would be the ones to whom G-d would keep His promise to the Patriarchs. If not, He would keep it to later generations.

G-d said, "I will give [the land] to you for an inheritance" (morashah). G-d had already given the land to the Patriarchs, and the Yisraelim were not merely inheriting it from them. Still, it was a Divine gift to the Yisraelim. If they were not worthy, it would be given to the next generation. (Olat Shabbat. Cf. Ibn Ezra; Kesef Nivchar)

6:9 So Moshe spoke accordingly to the Children of Yisrael; but they did not heed Moshe, because of shortness of breath and hard work.

Although Moshe came with a message of hope, the harsh labor had made the people despair so much that they could not accept it. (Rashi)

Also many Yisraelim had accepted the idolatrous rites of Egyptians as their religion, and they felt that they were gaining great spiritual insight from these practices. Although their physical condition was terrible, they felt that the spiritual edification made up for it. It was very difficult for them to abandon these spiritual practices to worship what was, to them, an unknown G-d. For many years now, these idolatrous religions had filled their spiritual needs.

True, when Moshe had first come to the Yisrelim and had said the key words, Pakod Pakad-ti, they had flocked to him. But on that occasion, Moshe had not said anything else to them, and had not told them to abandon their idolatrous practices. Now, however, he told them that G-d had said, "I will take you to Me for a nation, and I will be to you as a G-d" (Shemot 6:7), and they understood that this would mean abandoning the Egyptian g-ds. This would be a very difficult matter, and they did not want to listen. (Shemot Rabbah; Yeffeh Toar)

6:10-12 Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, "Come speak to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and make him let the children of Yisrael leave his land." Moshe spoke up before G-d, saying, "If even the Children of Yisrael will not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh listen to me? My lips are disabled."

G-d told Moshe to speak to Pharaoh with harsh words. People thus say, "One does not get anything from a fool unless one strikes him." (Shemot Rabbah)

Moshe replied, "The Yisraelim will not even listen to me. How will I ever get Pharaoh to listen? I am such a poor speaker."

Moshe then concluded his argument by saying, "I have a speech impediment. I am a very poor speaker."

Moshe's last words might seem somewhat surprising. G-d had already told him, "I will be with your mouth and I will instruct you what to say (4:12). Do not be concerned that you have impaired speech, since he will be your spokesman (4:16)." Why was he again arguing that he was not a good speaker?

An excellent answer to this was given by Rabbi Yehudah Kimchi. (Rabbi Yehudah Kimchi was rabbi in Constantinople around 1640) As discussed earlier, G-d did not cure Moshe of his stuttering, because He wanted Yisrael to know that he was truly a Divine messenger. If he had been a good speaker, people might have thought he had convinced the masses with his oratory.

Moshe therefore had a complaint. "The Yisraelim will not even listen to me. I can be certain that Pharaoh will not pay attention to me. Still, I have impaired lips! For what reason? If they had listened to me, my impairment would have had some benefit. But now, I must have this impediment for no reason."

6:13 G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon and gave them instructions regarding the Children of Yisrael and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to bring the Children of Yisrael out of the land of Egypt.

The next time G-d spoke, it was to Moshe and Aharon together. Since Moshe had complained that he was such a poor speaker, G-d made sure that Aharon was with him, so that he could be Moshe's spokesman. (Rashi)

Although Moshe had presented G-d with a logical reason why Pharaoh would not listen to him, G-d did not find it necessary to answer him. It was obvious that the Yisraelim did not pay attention to Moshe because they were so deep in despair. They had given up hope completely, and could therefore not accept Moshe's message. Pharaoh, on the other hand, sat in luxury, and would be able to ponder Moshe's words.

If Moshe had known the reason that the Yisraelim did not listen to him, he would never have asked the question. Until now, however, he did not know. (Mizrachi; Yeffeh Toar, MiKetz)

G-d gave Moshe and Aharon instructions regarding the Yisraelim. He told them to speak to them gently to have patience. G-d said, "My children are very stubborn. They will not be eager to accept your decisions. They are stubborn, hot-tempered, and often will be a bother. They are very skeptical of their leaders. Even when you judge them, they will be very independent. There will be times when they will berate you, and even stone you. But I am telling you now, you will have to have patience with them.

"Also never forget that Pharaoh is the king of Egypt, the greatest nation in the world today. Be careful to give him the honor due him if you want him to let My people leave Egypt. Although he is wicked, do not speak to him disrespectfully. Although he stubbornly refuses to let My people go, leave him to Me and I will do what is necessary. He is the king of Egypt; you are obligated to give him the honor due him." (Rashi; Shemot Rabbah)

6:14 Theres are the heads of their family clans: The sons of Yisrael's first-born, Reuven: Chanoch, Pallu, Chetzron and Karmi. These are the families of Reuven.

At this point G-d wanted to record Moshe's family history. Since this would include the entire tribe of Levi, it would be a slight to Levi's older brother if Reuven and Shimon were not mentioned. The Torah therefore begins enumerating the heads of the sub-tribes of Reuven. The people mentioned here were all the heads of their familes. (Rashi)

6:15 The sons of Shimon: Yemuel, Yamin, Ohad, Yachin, Tzochar, and Shaul, son of the Kenaani woman. These are the families of Shimon.

As we have discussed at length, the "Kenaani woman" here refers to Dinah. Since Shimon had married her after she had been taken by a Kenaani she was called a "Kenaani woman." (Midrash Mishli)

6:16 These are the names of Levi's sons by their families: Gershon, Kehat and Merari. The years of Levi's life were 137 years.

This in itself is an indication of Levi's saintliness and his dedication to his people. Although the tribe of Levi was not included in the subjugation, he wanted to include himself in his people's troubles. He therefore gave his sons names that would remind him of their hardship.

His first son was named Gershon, since each of his brethren was a foreigner (ger) in a strange land.

His second son was Kehat, because his teeth were set on edge (kahah) because of his people's troubles.

His third son was Merari, because the lives of his brethren had become bitter (maror). (Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit)

This teaches that one must empathize with the troubles of the community, even if he is personally exempt from them. A Jew does not feel secure when other Jews are suffering. When there is plague or famine, one should not enjoy himself, even though he may feel that they will not harm him. When others suffer, one should not think of his own pleasures until G-d has mercy.

It is very significant that of all Yaakov's sons, the Torah only discloses how long Levi lived. This is because Levi outlived all his brothers. As long as any of Yaakov's sons were alive, the enslavement could not begin, since the brothers were very highly respected by the Egyptians. (Rashi)

Levi lived to Moshe and Aharon. (Targum Yonatan [This is somewhat difficult to understand, however, since Levi died in 2331 or 2332, while Aharon was born in 2365 and Moshe in 2368. See Commentary on Targum Yonatan]; Seder Hadorot 2331)

6:17-19 The sons of Gershon: Livni and Shimi, by their families. The sons of Kehat: Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron and Uzziel. The years of Kehat's life were 133 years. The sons of Merari: Machli and Mushi. These are the families of Levi according to their chronicles.

The Torah specifies how long Kehat lived to indicate that he was a great tzaddik. He lived to see his great-great-grandson-, Pinchas [son of Eliezer, son of Aharon]. Pinchas is identified with Eliyahu. (Targum Yonatan)

6:20 Amram married his aunt, Yocheved, and she bore him Aharon and Moshe. The years of Amram's life were 137 years.

Yocheved was Levi's daughter, the sister of Amram's father, Kehat.

Although Kehat and Yocheved had the same father, they did not have the same mother. Since the Torah had not yet been given, she was allowed to marry Amram. If she and Kehat had had the same mother, they would have been forbidden to marry by the Seven Universal Laws. (Sanhedrin 58b)

Amram lived to see the sons of Rechavya, Moshe's grandson. (Targum Yonatan. [Rechavya was the son of Moshe's son Eli'ezer; 1Divre HaYamim 23:17)

6:21-23 The sons of Yitzhar: Korach, Nefeg and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Eltzafan and Sitri. Aharon married Nachshon's sister, Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav. She bore him Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.

The Torah notes that Aharon married the sister of Nachshon, son of Aminadav, who would later become the leader of the tribe of Yehudah (BaMidbar 1:7). This teaches us that when a man chooses a wife, he should investigate her brothers. A woman's children will often take after her brothers. Since Aharon married the sister of the leader of Yehudah, he would be assured that his children would be righteous. (Bava Batra 110a; Shemot Rabbah)

Shemot 6:24 The sons of Korach: Assir, Elkanah, and Avi'asaf; these were the Korchi families. 25 El'azar son of Aharon took for himself from the daughters of Puti'el as a wife, and she bore to him Pinchas; these were the leaders of the fathers of the Levi'im, according to their families.

[This Korach is the one who later led a rebellion against Mosheh (BaMidbar 16).]

Elazar's wife was a descendant of both Yosef and Yitro. However, it is not known whether her mother was from Yosef and her father from Yitro, or vice versa. (Ibid.)

Shemot 6:26 This was the Aharon and Mosheh to whom HASHEM said: "Take the B'ney Yisra'el out of Mitzrayim according to their legions."

It is obvious that the main intention of the Torah here is to provide the family history of Mosheh and Aharon. This being the case, one may ask why the Torah also includes Re'uven and Shim'on. The Torah should have listed only Levi's family.

Before Ya'akov died, he spoke very harshly to Re'uven and Shim'on. They did not protest or even try to answer him, showing him perfect respect. The Torah therefore also shows him respect, and lists their familes along with Mosheh and Aharon.

According to one opinion, all the tribes worshiped idols in Mitzrayim, except for Re'uven, Shim'on and Levi. They are therefore all counted togehter. (Shir HaShirim Rabbah)

Furthermore, all three of these brothers had positions of leadership in Mitzrayim. At first, Re'uven, the eldest, was the leader of his brothers. When Re'uven died, leadership went to Shim'on, and when Shim'on died, to Levi. (Ibid.; Tzeror HaMor; Kli Yekar. [According to this, Re'uven died before Shim'on])
When Levi died, the tribe of Yehudah wanted to assume leadership. A Divine voice told them, "Wait until your time comes. Once you assume leadership, you will never lose it." (Yalkut Chadash, s.v. Moshe 263, and there is no difficulty. [Yalkut Chadash indicates that this disputes the opinion that Levi was the last of the brothers to die, and states that they died in order of their age.]

This also shows that Mosheh and Aharon did not owe their postion to mere accident or Divine favoritism. Rather, their position had been carefully planned by Providence. The leaders of the Yisra'elis should have logically come from the eldest tribes, Re'uven or Shim'on. But when Elokim saw that no one in these tribes was worthy of leadership, He chose Mosheh and Aharon from the tribe of Levi.

The Torah therefore states, "This is Mosheh and Aharon." These are the ones who were fit for this mission. In all the other tribes, they had no equals.

It is for this reason that the rest of the tribes are not enumerated here. Once Mosheh and Aharon exist, there is no need to look further. In all the tribes, none like them will be found. (Akedat Yitzchak; Abarbanel. This is also found in the Zohar)

There is also another reason that the Torah enumerates teh familes of Re'uven and Shim'on. If only Levi had been mentioned, one might thing that Mosheh and Aharon had inherited their position from their great-grandfather, Levi. This was not true; they attained their position entirely on their own. The Torah mentions Re'uven and Shim'on to show that if leadership had come merely through inheritance, then it should have come to a descendant of Re'uven or Shim'on, both of whom were senior to Levi. (Bachya. See Olat Shabbat; Yad Yosef; Imrey Shefer)

Shemot 6:27 They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh, king of Mitzrayim, to take the B'ney Yisra'el out of the land of Mitzrayim; this was the Mosheh and Aharon.

This is Mosheh and Aharon. They are the ones whom Yokheved bore to Amram. They are the same Mosheh and Aharon whom Elokim told to bring the Yisra'elis out of Mitzrayim with their masses. They received Elokim's orders, and they obeyed them exactly, speaking to Pharaoh, the king of Mitzrayim. (Rashi)

They were always the same Mosheh and Aharon. They remained tzaddikim from the beginning to the end. (Rashi; Yeffeh Toar, p. 18)

As we saw earlier, right after Aharon was born it was decreed that all male infants be thrown into the Nile. The name Aharon therefore comes from the root , meaning "to throw." We have also seen that it was because of Mosheh that Pharaoh had made a decree to kill all male infants. Yokheved had placed Mosheh among the reeds, and Pharaoh's daughter, Bitya, had found him.

The Torah therefore states, "this is Mosheh and Aharon." The harsh decrees came in their time, and even because of them. But they were also the ones who were given the mission to rescue the Yisra'elis. (Chupat Eliahu)

Usually, Mosheh is mentioned before Aharon. However, there are some places (such as 6:26) where Aharon is mentioned before Mosheh. This indicates that they were both equal in saintliness. (Yeffeh Toar, loc. cit.) IN prophecy, however, Mosheh far exceeded Aharon. No one ever reached the prophetic heights of Mosheh.

In the case of Mosheh and Aharon, Mosheh was by far the greater in learning and wisdom, even though Aharon was three years older than he. Whenever the Torah mentions Mosheh before Aharon, it is speaking of a situation where wisdom and intelligence were more important. Otherwise, Aharon is mentioned before Mosheh, since he was the older brother. (Ibid. Cf. Shir HaShirim Rabbah on 4:5)

This verse also alludes to the teaching that if one looks at his master, he will have success in his studies. It is thus written, "Your eyes shall behold your master" (Yeshayahu 30:20). Even if one is far from his teacher, he should try to depict him in his mind's eye.

The Torah thus states, "This is Aharon and Mosheh" (6:26). In his great humility, Mosheh always considered Aharon his teacher, and he would always depict Aharon's image while studying. This ultimately benefited him. (Ibid.; Chupat Eliahu, quoting the Zohar)

According to one opinion, Mosheh and Aharon were only equal with regard tot he Exodus. Since Elokim had initially spoken only to Mosheh, the Torah states, "This is Aharon and Mosheh," to indicate that Aharon was equally worthy to receive Elokim's word. Similarly, even though Aharon actually equally qualified. The Torah therefore states, "They are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh...This is Mosheh and Aharon."

The Torah therefore places each one in the pre-eminent position when it would be least expected. This shows that even though one had pre-eminence, the other was equally qualified. (Yeffeh Toar)

Shemot 6:28 It was on the day when HASHEM spoke to Mosheh in the land of Mitzrayim.

Aharon then listened, and heard what Elokim said to Mosheh. (Targum Yonatan. Rashi's explanation is somewhat forced)

Orders to go to Pharaoh

Shemot 6:29 HASHEM spoke to Mosheh, saying, "I am HASHEM. Speak to Pharaoh, king of Mitzrayim, everything that I speak to you." 30 Mosheh said before HASHEM, "Behold! I have sealed lips, so how shall Pharaoh heed me?"

After the Torah interrupts to provide the family history of Mosheh and Aharon, it returns to the original subject. Elokim told Mosheh, "I am Elokim. I have the power to send you and to keep My word, no matter what I promise. Therefore you must be sure to tell Pharaoh all that I say to you." (Rashi)

Mosheh again demurred: "But I am not a speaker. How can I expect Pharaoh to pay attention to me?"

Elokim tells Mosheh what to expect

Shemot 7:1 Hashem said to Mosheh, "See, I have made you a master over Pharaoh, and Aharon your brother shall be your spokesman. 2 You shall speak to Pharaoh, that he should send the B'ney Yisra'el from his land. 3 But I shall harden Pharaoh's heart and I shall multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Mitzrayim. 4 Pharaoh will not heed you, and I shall put My hand upon Mitzrayim; and I shall take out My legions - My people the B'ney Yisra'el - from the land of Mitzrayim, with great judgments. 5 And Mitzrayim shall know that I am Hashem, when I stretch out My hand over Mitzrayim; and I shall take the B'ney Yisra'el out from among them."

Elokim said to Mosheh, "Do not be afraid. I have made you as a el to Pharaoh. You will be judge and court, imposing harsh penalties upon him. Aharon, your brother, will be your spokesman. (Rashi)

"You complain that you are a poor speaker. This is only true, however, when you speak to man. You have unique spiritual qualities. Your mouth is very holy, since you have spoken to the Divine Presence, and it is therefore not fitting that you be the one to speak to Pharaoh. Therefore, you will speak to Aharon, and he will be your spokesman to Pharaoh. (Sifetey Cohen)

"I considered giving man two mouths, one for mundane speech, and one for studying My Torah. I did not do so because I saw that with two mouths, peope would say twice as many bad things about their neighbors.

"You will therefore not be cured of your stuttering until after I give you My Torah.

"I have made you as a divine power to Pharaoh. Every nation is administered by a spiritual power, except for Yisra'el, which I alone oversee. Now, I have taken the divine power that was over Mitzrayim and have cast it aside. Instead, you, Mosheh, shall be the divine power of Mitzrayim and Pharaoh. From this day on, they will be subjugated to you. Even their food, and their very lives, will be directed by your hand, through the influx that I grant you. Whatever you parcel out, that will be what they receive.

"As long as Mitzrayim was directed by an malakh, you could have reason to fear Pharaoh. But from this day on, you have as much power over him as el. (Chupat Eliahu)

"Pharaoh claims that he is a el. He has gone so far as to claim that he created himself. I will therefore show him that he is nothing, and if anything, you are more like a el than he. I will degrade him so much that compared to him, you will like a el. He will fear you like he fears his g-ds. Ultimately, all the world will mock him for his false claims. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah p. 60)

"I will harden Pharaoh's heart and he will consistently refuse to let My people go. I will then be able to increase the number of My signs and wonders in Mitzrayim."

Here one can raise a strong objection. If it was Elokim who was hardening Pharaoh's heart and making him stubborn, how could Pharaoh be held responsible for his actions? Why was he punished so harshly? This will be discussed at length in the Portion of Bo, Chapter 1.

"Pharaoh will not pay attention to you." Said Elokim. "I will then direct My power against Mitzrayim, and bring My armies out of their land."

Elokim speaks of Yisra'el as "My armies" (tziv'otai). This is because the twelve tribes of Yisra'el parallel the twelve signs of the zodiac. Just as the stars are His armies, so are the Yisra'elis. (Toledot Yitzchak. Cf. Ibn Ezra; Alshekh)

"How will You bring the plagues on Pharaoh?" asked Mosheh. "Will You bring them all at once in order to terroize him, or will You bring them one after another? In what order will You bring the plagues? Which one will be first, and which one will be last?"

Elokim replied, "Look at the staff in your hand. I have given it to you as a el for Pharaoh. Your staff will have much power over Pharaoh as any spiritual being. And if you look at the letters engraved on your staff, you will understand exactly how I will send the plagues against the Mitzrayim." (Shemot Rabbah, p. 60)

Shemot 7:6 Mosheh and Aharon did as Hashem commanded them; so they did. 7 Mosheh was eighty years old and Aharon was eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.

It is from here that we see that Aharon was three years older than Mosheh. Miryam was similarly three years older than Aharon.

The custom now was just as it had been long ago in the time of Yosef. Since Pharaoh did not speak Hebrew, the speaker would say his piece in a normal voice, and his interpreter would announce it in Mitzrian in a loud voice for all to hear. In this case too, Mosheh would speak quietly, and Aharon would translate his words for Pharaoh. This gave Mosheh the high degree of respect that was due him as Elokim's ambassador. (Ibid.)

The staff turned into a serpent

Shemot 7:8 Hashem said to Mosheh and Aharon, saying: 9 "When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, 'Provide a wonder for yourselves,' you shall say to Aharon, 'Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh - it will become a snake!'"

"I know that Pharaoh will ask you for some sign to prove yourselves genuine. Therefore, the first thing that you must know is how to verify your credentials. (Shemot Rabbah)

"When Aharon throws down his staff before Pharaoh, it will become a snake. This is symbolic of Pharaoh. A snake may shed its skin, but it is still the same snake. Pharaoh may seem to change his ways, but he will always remain the same.

"Furthermore, when Aharon grasps the snake, it will turn into a wooden staff again. Although Pharaoh now seems as deadly as a viper, when you grasp him he will also be no more powerful than a wooden stick. (Targum Yonatan. Cf. Kli Yekar)

"Pharaoh does not believe in the First Cause and does not even admit to My existence. I will therefore use a symbol to show him his error. The first sign will be the staff to show that I will beat him like a dog. Since he is a king, it will not be proper to tell him this openly. But let him see the staff transformed into a snake, and he himself will understand." (Yeffeh Toar, p. 62)

Shemot 7:10 Mosheh came with Aharon to Pharaoh and they did so, as Hashem had commanded; Aharon cast down his staff before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a snake.

Here Mosheh went before Aharon. Although Mosheh was younger than Aharon and was extremely humble, he went first. Mosheh was Elokim's ambassador, and if he was not concerned about his own honor, he had an obligation to be concerned about Elokim's. Besides, Mosheh had grown up in the palace, and he was respected more highly by the Mitzrayim than Aharon.

Furthermore, Mosheh had to take the pre-eminent position since he was the speaker and Aharon was merely his interpreter. Elokim Himself had decreed that Mosheh should give the order to Aharon, and there was no way that this could be changed. (Ibid.)

In saying that "Mosheh and Aharon came," the Torah uses the singular form for "come" (va-ya-vo), rather than the plural form (va-ya-vo-u). Literally, the verse should therefore be translated, "Mosheh came, and Aharon." That is, Mosheh went in to Pharaoh first; he was followed by Aharon. (Ibid.; Abarbanel)

The Torah is careful to point out, "They did this just as Elokim had instructed." Mosheh wanted to honor Aharon by having him go first, but he could not because this is what Elokim had commanded. He also waited until Pharaoh demanded a sign before telling Aharon to throw down the staff just as Elokim had told him. (Shemot Rabbah)

Elokim had an important reason for using the symbolism of a rod turning into a snake. When a person bows before Elokim, he must bow deeply so that all his vertebrae bend. When he bows down, he must bow straight with his back straight like a stick, but when he rises, he must do so little by little like a snake rising. As we have seen, this is how one must bow in the Amidah. (Berakhot 12b top; Orach Chaim 113:6)

Pharaoh had denied Elokim and had said, "Who is Elokim that I should listen to His voice?" (Bereyshit 5:2) He was therefore shown a sign that a staff was transformed into a snake. It was as if to say, "This is how you are going to bow to Elokim. You will bend down like a staff and rise like a snake. This will be a sign that you are totally subjugated to Elokim. (Chupat Eliahu, explaining Berakhot 12b)

Shemot 7:11 Pharaoh, too, summoned his wise men and sorcerers, and they, too- the necromancers of Mitzrayim - did so with their incantations. 12 Each one cast down his staff and they became snakes; and the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs. 13 The heart of Pharaoh was strong and he did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken.

Seeing Aharon's sign, Pharaoh began to laugh. "Is this the best trick you can do?" he asked. "You think that you are bringing some valuable new merchandise to Mitzrayim. Merchandise such as yours is very common here. Even children can do tricks like that. If that's all your Elokim can do, I feel sorry for him."

With that, Pharaoh sent for a number of young children who were just beginning to learn the occult arts. Each one threw down his magic wand and it became a snake. (Shemot Rabbah)

Of course, the rods were not really snakes. It was merely an optical illusion, involving a type of hypnosis known to the ancient Mitzrayim. Such tricks did not even require a great deal of skill. (Bachya. His words are somewhat difficult to comprehend)

Two of Mitzrayim's greatest occultists, Yochni and Mamre, watched this scene with scorn. "You are trying to sell hay in a field full of straw," they said to Mosheh. "Have you come here to try to show us magic? Don't you know that Mitzrayim has the greatest occultists in the world?"

"That is why we are doing it here," replied Mosheh and Aharon. "If we did this elsewhere, people would think that it is merely a great feat of magic. But soon enough, you will know that it is very different from anything that you can do with your occult arts." (Shemot Rabbah, p. 62; abarbanel, Shemot. Also see Menachot 85a top)

This also explains why the first signs that Elokim told Mosheh and Aharon to perform were acts that the Mitzrayim would be able to duplicate. If Mosheh had begun with miracles that the Mitzrayim could not duplicate, they would not even have tried, saying, "We have no desire to copy your tricks. If you want, you can try to copy ours." But now that the Mitzrayim had already duplicated several of Mosheh's signs, they would have no excuse when they were unable to duplicate the rest. (Derashot Yeshenim)

When Elokim told Mosheh to demonstrate a sign before the elders of Yisra'el, He told him to throw down his own staff. He wanted them to know that they were committing the sin of malicious speech. But now, Elokim told Mosheh to have Aharon throw down his staff. Elokim did not want Mosheh's staff to be used because the sign would be duplicated by young children. Even though they did it through trickery since it appeared that they were duplicating the miracle, it would be degrading for Mosheh. In order not to reduce Mosheh's status, Elokim told him to have Aharon use his staff. (Abarbanel; Original)

Pharaoh had made a great show. Not only had the Mitzrian occultists transformed their staffs into snakes, but this trick had also been performed by their young apprentices. The floor of the throne room was literally crawling with snakes.

Very carefully, Aharon grasped the snake that had been his staff, and it immediately became a staff once again. Then he set the staff down on the floor again. As Pharaoh and his courtiers watched, Aharon's staff began to move about the floor. Every time his staff encountered one of the other "snakes," it swallowed it up. (Shabbat 97a; Rashi)

If the staff had swallowed up the other snakes while it was still a snake, it would not have been so great a wonder. But Aharon's staff swallowed the others after it had reverted to a staff. The Torah therefore says, "Aharon's staff swallowed their staffs." (Shemot Rabbah; Tanchuma; Zohar)

However, this does not mean that the other "snakes" had turned back into rods. When Aharon's rod swallowed them, they still had the form of snakes. This was all the more wondrous: an inert rod swallowing living creatures. The Torah says that "Aharon's staff swallowed their staffs" because the other "snakes" were never anything but staffs. They might have looked like snakes, but this was merely an optical illusion. (Tzedah LaDerekh)

As the staff swallowed the other snakes, a second more tangible miracle became apparent. Although Aharon's staff swallowed the many snakes on the floor, it did not change at all. It did not become any thicker, and there was no evidence whatever that there was anything inside Aharon's staff. (Shemot Rabbah. Cf. Yad Yosef)

This second phenomenon frightened Pharaoh. If Aharon's staff had such power, it could even swallow Pharaoh and his throne without leaving a trace. Pharaoh was thus ready to accede to their demands, but as soon as Mosheh and Aharon left, he began to plot how to kill them instead. He said to his retainers, "If that Mosheh comes back here, I will have him burned. I will hang him! I will decapitate him!'' But as soon as Mosheh returned, Pharaoh became as impotent as a dead stick.

This was the symbolism of the staff. Although Pharaoh was now as dangerous as a snake, as soon as Mosheh and Aharon grasped him, he would become as helpless as a dead stick of wood. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer 40)

Mosheh later returned to Pharaoh and performed the second sign, placing his hand inside his shirt and bringing it out white with leprosy. This was also duplicated by the Mitzrian wizards. Pharaoh remained stubborn and refused to let the Yisra'elis leave. (Ibid. 48)

Warning for the first plague

The Torah now describes the Ten Plagues that Elokim sent against Pharaoh and the Mitzrayim. Each plague was a specific punishment for some evil that they did to the Yisra'elis.

Elokim had told Avraham, "Your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. [The others] will enslave them and torment them for four hundred years. Then I will judge the nation that enslaves them, and they will leave with great wealth." (Bereyshit 15:13,14) When Elokim said that He would "judge" that nation, He meant that He would give them a fitting punishment. Each plague would be a specific punishment for a wrong that they had committed. (Yeffeh Toar, p. 63)

Shemot 7:14 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Pharaoh's heart is stubborn, he refuses to send the people.

"Pharaoh's heart is stubborn (kaved). It is like a liver (kaved); the more it is roasted over fire, the tougher it becomes." (Ibid., p. 62

Elokim then told Mosheh the following parable:

A number of animals were traveling together. Among them were a lion and a fox. Along the road they came to a toll gate manned by a donkey. Seeing the party approach, the donkey demanded the toll before he would let them pass.

"Fool!" said the fox. "How dare you ask us to pay a toll? Don't you see that the lion, the king of beasts, is here with us?"

Before the donkey had a chance to reply, the lion sprang on him and killed him. The lion then told the fox to prepare the donkey as their meal.

Carving up the donkey, the fox took the heart and ate it himself. When the lion later requested the heart as his rightful portion, the fox replied, "What heart? If this donkey had had a heart, would he have asked the king of beasts to pay a toll?"

"The same is true of Pharaoh," said Elokim. "If he had had a heart, would he ever have said, 'Who is Elokim that I should listen to His voice?' (Shemot 5:2) Would he have complained to you and Aharon that you did not bring him an idol like all the other ambassadors? Would he ever have forgotten how he was attacked by rats? Pharaoh might have a piece of flesh in his chest, but not a true heart. That is why he still remains so stubborn." (Yalkut Shimoni; Sifetey Cohen; Imrey Noam)

Shemot 7:15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning - behold! he goes out to the water - and you shall stand opposite him at the River's bank, and the staff that was turned into a snake you shall take in your hand.

Pharaoh was considered a god by the Mitzrayim. He therefore did not have any bathrooms in his palace even in a hidden place. As a g-d, he would have no need for such a mundane facility. But every morning, he would "go out to the water" to a hidden place along the Nile. Even his closest advisors were told that he was going there to meditate. But while on the bank of the Nile, he would relieve himself. In all Mitzrayim, no one knew of this. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 63; Tanchuma; Rashi) The entire area around the Nile was restricted during the morning hours. Pharaoh did not want anyone to discover his secret. (Paaneach Raza)

Pharaoh had once had a secret bathroom in his palace. But after he was attacked by rats there, he closed down this emergency bathroom. (Shemot Rabbah)

After attending the call of nature, Pharaoh would engage in solitary meditation on the banks of the Nile. He was a master occultist and would draw power from the Nile while meditating on its banks. (Rashi, Moed Katan 18a, s.v. Amgushi. See Shabbat 75a)

"Go to Pharaoh in the morning," said Elokim. "That is when he is alone on the banks of the Nile. You yourself will then see how false are his claims of divinity. Take in your hand the staff that turned into a snake. When Pharaoh sees it, he will remember the sign that Aharon performed with it, and he will fear you." (Cf. Tzeror HaMor)

Shemot 7:16 You shall say to him, 'Hashem, the Elokim of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Send out My people that they may serve Me in the Wilderness - but behold, you have not heeded up to now.' 17 So says Hashem, 'Through this shall you know that I am Hashem; behold, with the staff that is in my hand I shall strike the waters that are in the River, and they shall change to blood. 18 The fish-life that is in the water shall die and the River shall become foul. Mitzrayim will grow weary of trying to drink water from the River.'"

Mosheh got up early in the morning, entered the restricted area, and found Pharaoh in the middle of attending a call of nature. Tapping Pharaoh on the shoulder, he said, "Hashem, Elokim of the Hebrews, has sent me to have a few words with you."

Pharaoh was startled at the intrusion. Again this man had gotten through his tight guard. Totally confused, he said, "Can't you at least wait until I'm finished? Then I'll let you say your piece." Totally humiliated, Pharaoh hurriedly finished. Mosheh respectfully waited while he arranged his clothes. Then Moses said, "You have asked, 'Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?' (Shemot 5:2) This is Elokim's message: 'Through this you will know that I am Elokim.' (Yalkut Shimoni; Sifetey Cohen)

"Normally, when one wishes to take revenge against an enemy, he strikes without warning so as not to give his enemy a chance to escape. But Elokim is now sending you a warning. There is no way that you will be able to escape from Him." (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah)

"I am going to strike the surface of the river with this staff, and the water will be turned into blood. The fish will die, and the Nile will stink so badly that the Mitzrayim will no longer be able to drink from it. They will do everything they can to purify the water, but they will not be able to." (Rashi)

Mitzrayim is not irrigated by rain. Every year the Nile rises and waters the land and through this the Mitzrayim are able to raise crops. Totally dependent on the Nile, the Mitzrayim worshiped it as a g-d. Elokim therefore struck out at the Nile first; later He would punish its worshipers.

The Nile is a long river flowing down to Mitzrayim from the interior of Africa. When the river was struck, the entire Nile did not turn into blood. The upper reaches of the Nile served other innocent nations, and there was no reason for them to be punished with this plague.

The plague could therefore not be dismissed as a natural phenomenon. Until the water reached the borders of Mitzrayim, it was perfectly pure and clear. But as soon as the water crossed the Mitzrian border, it immediately turned into blood. Similarly, as soon as the water left Mitzrayim and poured out into the Mediterranean Sea, it once again became pure water.

During the plague, the Mitzrayim heard that there was fresh water available in the upper reaches of the Nile, and they even sent out expeditions to bring back fresh water. But as soon as the barrels of water passed through the borders of Mitzrayim even that water turned into blood. There was no way that the Mitzrayim were able to drink even a drop of water from the Nile. ([Rabbi Avraham (ben Levi) Conki] Avak Sofrim, Amsterdam, 1704)

The First Plague: Blood

Shemot 7:19 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Say to Aharon, 'Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Mitzrayim: over their rivers, over their canals, over their reservoirs, and over all their gatherings of water, and they shall become blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Mitzrayim, even in the wooden and stone vessels.'"

The first of the Ten Plagues was blood. There would be blood in the rivers, in the irrigation canals, in the reservoirs, and in any water stored in a container. Even water stored in wooden barrels and stone jugs would be affected. (Rashi)

Obviously, Aharon could not touch all these bodies of water with his staff. But as soon as he touched the Nile, all these bodies of water were transformed into blood. (Zohar)

"Tell Aharon to strike the Nile with his staff," said Elokim. "You yourself cannot harm the Nile. When you were an infant, the Nile protected you when your mother placed you in a basket and let you float on its waters. (Shemot Rabbah; Rashi)

"The Nile also protected you from the Mitzrayim. Their astrologers had predicted that the redeemer of Yisra'el would meet his end in water. Indeed, this was the reason that a law was made that Yisra'eli infants should be thrown into the Nile. But as soon as you were placed in the Nile, the astrologers and occultists assumed that you were dead and ceased to search for you. Since the Nile once benefited you, this plague should be initiated by your brother, Aharon." (Alshekh)

Shemot 7:20 Mosheh and Aharon did so, as Hashem had commanded. He held the staff aloft and struck the water that was in the River in the presence of Pharaoh and in the presence of his servants, and all the water that was in the River changed to blood.

Pharaoh was alone when Mosheh warned him about the first plague. The plague, however, was not executed by Aharon until later when Pharaoh returned with his courtiers.

One reason for this plague was that the Mitzrayim had not allowed the Jewish women to immerse after their menstrual periods. Since they kept this law even before the Torah was given, the women could not have any physical contact with their husbands. As a result, very few children were born to the Yisra'elis. The transformation of the water into blood was a fitting punishment, a reminder of the menstrual blood that could not be purified because of the Mitzrayim. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah)

Another reason for this plague was because Pharaoh had slaughtered three hundred Yisra'eli infants every day in order to immerse in their blood. (Sifetey Cohen)

Furthermore, the Mitzrayim had shed blood by drowning the Yisra'eli infants in the Nile. Elokim now made this blood visible for all the world to see. (Abarbanel)

A nation's water supply can have a profound effect on its populace. Some water improves the health while other water can enhance intelligence. This is because of the chemical composition of the water as well as the creatures that live in it. The waters of the Nile were particularly effective in giving those who drank it mystical and occult powers. But after the Nile was transformed into blood and all the life in the water died, the river ceased to have this unique property. (Zohar)

Shemot 7:21 The fish-life that was in the River died and the River became foul; Mitzrayim could not drink water from the River, and the blod was throughout the land of Mitzrayim.

When Yisra'eli children were thrown into the Nile the guardian malakh of the Nile should have interceded and tried to stop this nefarious practice. Since he did not, all his waters were transformed into blood. (Sefer Chasidim)

When the Great Flood came in the time of Noach, even though all life on land was killed, the fish were not harmed. Here, however, the fish were killed.

There was an important reason for this. Before the Great Flood, sexual misconduct was rampant. Even animals and birds mated incorrectly, often with strange species. This is the reason that even animals and birds were killed by the flood. Only the fish did not crossbreed, so they were spared.

Now, however, the fish had also participated in the crime. When Yisra'eli infants were drowned in the Nile, their bodies were eaten by the fish. Because of this, the fish deserved to die. (Toledot Yitzchak; Derashot Yeshenim)

The fish also died to show that the water had actually turned into blood and that it was not merely an illusion such as the Mitzrian magicians were able to perform. When Aharon struck the Nile, the water turned into real blood, not just blood-colored water. It had the taste and smell of blood as well as the same chemical and physical composition. This was evidenced by the fact that all the fish in the water died; a mere illusion would not kill them.

The death of the fish also showed that the blood was more than just surface deep. Since the fish died, it was obvious that all the water from top to bottom had turned into blood. (Bachya; Kesef Nivchar; Kesef Mezukak)

There was blood in all the land of Mitzrayim. Even if an Mitzri had water in his mouth, it turned into blood.

Regarding this, however, there is a dispute between two Talmudic sages, Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nechemia. One maintained that only the waters of the Nile turned into blood, while the other held that all the water in Mitzrayim was transmuted.

The whole land was filled with blood. Even the Mitzrian idols became covered with blood. Jars of food were polluted with blood. The beds of the Mitzrayim were found to be soaked with blood. When an Mitzri sat on a chair, he would find himself sitting in a puddle of blood. The Mitzrayim walked around with all their clothing soiled with blood. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah)

Many Yisra'elis profited from this plague. Only water belonging to an Mitzri turned into blood; at the same time, the Yisra'elis had ample supplies of fresh pure water. If an Yisra'eli and an Mitzri were partners in a barrel of water, the Yisra'eli would be able to draw out pure water, while if the Mitzri drew, he would end up with a dipper full of blood.

The Mitzrayim tried to force the Yisra'elis to give them water, but as soon as an Mitzri put such water to his lips, it immediately turned into blood. Finally, the Mitzrayim had no other choice but to buy water from the Yisra'elis, for whatever price the Yisra'elis asked. Since this plague, like all the others, lasted seven days, many enterprising Yisra'elis were able to amass large sums of money.

The plague of blood began on a Thursday. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer 9. [See Radal ad. loc. 9:27. The fish were created on the fifth day, and now they died on the fifth day])

Shemot 7:22 The necromancers of Mitzrayim did the same by means of their incantations; so Pharaoh's heart was strong and he did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken.

The Mitzrian wizards had the Yisra'elis bring pure water from Goshen, and they showed Pharaoh that they could also transform water into blood. The occult art that they used involved communion with demons (shedim) and was a lower level than true sorcery. (Yeffeh Toar, p. 63; Targum Yonatan. See Bachya; Kesef Nivchar; Toledot Yitzchak)

According to another opinion, Aharon only transformed surface water into blood. Subterranean water remained pure, and using their magic tricks the Mitzrian wizards were able to make this water look like blood. (Ibn Ezra)

Of course, the wizards could not come close to duplicating Aharon's feat. Aharon had caused all the water in Mitzrayim far and near to turn into blood. The Nile was transformed into blood for a forty-day journey upriver. The waters of the Nile turned into blood as soon as they crossed the upper Mitzrian border. Furthermore, the water remained blood for seven days. The wizards, on the other hand, could only transform small bottles of water into blood. Still, the fact that they could do it at all convinced Pharaoh that Mosheh and Aharon had done nothing more than a skillful magic trick.

Shemot 7:23 Pharaoh turned away and came to his palace. He did not take this to heart either.

Pharaoh had seen true miracles. He had seen a staff turn into a snake, and then, after it had reverted to a staff, swallow all the other staffs. He had seen water transformed into blood, and blood into water. Still he was not impressed. Since he did not want to believe, he said that Mosheh and Aharon had done nothing more than entertain him with a few good magic tricks. (Rashi; Avak Sofrim)

The fact that the Yisra'elis were profiteering from this plague also made a bad impression on Pharaoh. He saw that if the Mitzrayim bought water from the Yisra'elis, it remained potable. If this were the case, he certainly had enough money to buy all the water for his own needs. (Kesef Mezukak)

Shemot 7:24 All of the Mitzrayim dug roundabout the River for water to drink, for they could not drink from the waters of the River.

According to some, even the water they obtained by digging turned into blood. The only water they could use was the salt water from the Mediterranean Sea. (Bachya; Kesef Nivchar; Ibn Ezra)

Shemot 7:25 Seven days were completed after Hashem struck the River.

At the end of seven days the water returned to normal. Still, because of the dead fish, the water was highly polluted for many days and could not be used. The only water available to the Mitzrayim was that from the wells they had dug on the banks of the Nile. (Ibid)

The Second Plague: Frogs

Shemot 7:26 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Come to Pharaoh and say to him, 'So said Hashem; Send out My people that they may serve Me. 27 But if you refuse to send out, behold, I shall strike your entire boundary with frogs. 28 The River shall swarm with frogs, and they shall ascend and come into your palace and your bedroom and your bed, and into the house of your servants and of your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls. 29 And into you and your people and all your servants will the frogs ascend.'"

"The entire land will swarm with frogs. The biggest ones will attack your palace, causing great damage. They will be in you and in your people, croaking inside your bodies. The plague will begin with you since you are the one who led the persecution of My people.

"You claim to be a g-d, the creator of the Nile. I will show you that the Nile belongs to Me alone. I hereby decree that it should spawn countless frogs. The Nile will do My will even though it will be to your harm." (Yeffeh Toar, p. 65)

The Mitzrayim had forced the Yisra'elis to catch frogs and other reptiles for them with their bare hands. The Mitzrayim were therefore punished with frogs. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah, p. 66a)

Pharaoh was also punished for extinguishing the sound of the Torah. The Yisra'elis would get up early in the morning to worship and study. In the attempt to destroy the Yisra'eli nation, the Mitzrayim were trying to shut off this sound of worship and Torah study, Instead, the Yisra'elis were raising their voices in terror, crying out because of their harsh labor. Because of this the Mitzrayim were punished with frogs that croaked and made noise without stopping. It was a fitting punishment. (Zohar)

Furthermore, when the Hebrew women gave birth, they could not scream out since if they did their infants would be taken away by the Mitzrayim. When one is in pain and cannot even cry out, his agony is all the worse. Since the Mitzrayim did not let the Yisra'eli women cry out, they were now assaulted by the cries of the frogs. (Zevach Pesach; Kesef Nivchar)

The Yisra'elis also screamed and cried out when they saw their children thrown into the river. These cries now came back to Mitzrayim when the Nile spawned loudly croaking frogs. (Abarbanel; Mevakesh HaShem)

Elokim said to Mosheh, "Say to Aharon, 'Stretch forth your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals and the reservoirs, and let the frogs come up over the land of Mitzrayim.' Here, too, you cannot be the one to initiate the plague. The plague will involve the Nile, and the Nile once protected you. You must therefore tell Aharon to use his staff to begin the plague."

Shemot 8:1 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Say to Aharon, 'Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals, and over the reservoirs, and raise up the frogs over the land of Mitzrayim.'"

"Here, too, you cannot be the one to initiate the plague. The plague will involve the Nile, and the Nile once protected you. You must therefore tell Aharon to use his staff to begin the plague." (Shemot Rabbah)

Shemot 8:2 Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Mitzrayim, and the frog-infestation ascended and covered the land of Mitzrayim.

Every drop of water in Mitzrayim swarmed with frogs. Even if an Mitzrian was drinking a cup of water, it suddenly became filled with frogs. (Shemot Rabbah) When the Mitzrayim perspired, every drop of sweat turned into a tiny frog. (Sefer HaYashar)

Actually, the Torah does not say "the frogs (tzefardim) came up," but literally, "the frog (tzefardea) came up," in the singular.

Rabbi Akiva taught that a single large frog hopped up out of the Nile. The Mitzrayim began to beat it, and each time they hit it, it gave forth frogs. The more the Mitzrayim tried to kill the frogs, the more they increased.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah agreed that there was initially only one frog. This frog began croaking in such a loud voice that it attracted other frogs from all over the world. (Shemot Rabbah; Zohar. See also Sanhedrin 67b) Actually, as we have seen, every species in the world has a specific guardian malakh that oversees it. The guardian malakh of the frogs cried out, and frogs assembled from all over the world. (Alshekh; Sifetey Cohen. Cf. Yeffeh Toar, p. 91d)

Whenever an Mitzri drank a drop of water, it would turn into a frog in his stomach. (Shemot Rabbah, pp. 65d, 66a)

Many of the wealthy had marble palaces, and they sealed them shut so as to keep out the frogs. But the frogs began to burrow under the ground and they pushed up the floor tiles, entering the houses at will. (Ibid.; Midrash Tehillim 79, 105)

The Torah thus says that "the frogs went up." That is, they burrowed under the ground and then "went up" into the houses through the floor. (Sifetey Cohen)

Therefore, try as they would, the Mitzrayim could not shut the frogs out of their houses. An Mitzrayim could seal all his doors and windows, but still the frogs came up through the floors. They even came into the Mitzrian's bedrooms and jumped all over their beds. (Alshekh)

Many Mitzrayim dug bunkers under the ground and tried to hide in them from the frogs. But no sooner were they situated than the frogs burrowed after them. (Baal HaTurim)

Worse yet, the frogs got into the Mitzrian's clothing and attacked their genital organs, castrating many of the men. Voices were heard telling the Mitzrayim that they were being castrated for preventing the Yisra'elis from having children. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 91d)

The frogs inside the Mitzrian's bodies remained alive there and continued to croak in a loud voice. There was nowhere an Mitzrian could go to find quiet. (Ibid., p. 66b)

Many of the Mitzrayim lay on the ground in agony, driven half-mad from the confusion and tumult. The frogs made so much noise that it was impossible to hold a conversation even into the next person's ear. Many pregnant Mitzrian women died during this week of terror.

Many Mitzrayim tried to kill the frogs by beating them or stamping on them. But whenever a frog was struck, it would burst and a dozen new frogs would come out of its belly. Fighting the frogs thus only served to increase their numbers.

In this plague, Pharaoh was singled out for special punishment. Long before, an earlier Pharaoh had taken Sarah and had fallen in love with her. (Bereyshit 12:15) When he saw that he had to let her go without even touching her, he had a lifelike mannequin made looking exactly like Sarah. Pharaoh kept this mannequin in his room and would often take it to bed with him. After the earlier Pharaoh died, his successors made similar use of the beautiful mannequin. Pharaoh was punished by having his bedroom and bed filled with frogs. (Zohar)

When the plague of blood struck, the Torah says, "Pharaoh turned and went to his palace, not paying attention even to this." (Shemot 7:23) He went into his bedroom and amused himself with this mannequin, making himself forget about the blood. Whenever he played with this mannequin, he was able to forget all his troubles.

Now, however, the frogs came into Pharaoh's bedroom, not letting him amuse himself with the mannequin. They crawled all over his body, croaking loudly so that he could not even get near his fetish. (Sifetey Cohen. Cf. Toledot Yitzchak, Bo)

Whenever an Mitzri tried to bake some bread to eat, frogs would jump into the oven. Any food the Mitzrayim prepared would thus be covered with frogs. (See Pesachim 53b)

When frogs jumped into a hot stove, they would explode into hundreds of tiny frogs. The frogs baked into the bread would come to life when they were swallowed and begin to croak and kick in the Mitzrian's stomachs, causing many Mitzrayim to die. (Zohar)

This was a punishment for the Mitzrayim for not allowing the Yisra'elis to wash before eating. The Yisra'elis had to eat while filthy with the mud used to make the bricks. Now all the food that the Mitzrayim ate was defiled by the frogs. (Sifetey Cohen)

Whenever a frog saw an Yisra'eli, it would flee from him. But when a frog saw an Mitzri, it would immediately jump on him. (BaMidbar Rabbah, Naso, Chapter 9)

If one examines this section carefully, he will notice that the word "frogs" (tzefardim) appears ten times in this section. This indicates that the plague of frogs in itself was as bad as ten plagues. (See Sifetey Cohen. [Actually, the word tzefardim in the plural appears ten times. Not counted is the word tzefardea in the singular in 8:2])

According to one opinion, the animals involved in this plague were not frogs but crocodiles. (Toledot Yitzchak. [Toledot Yitzchak, Abarbanel, and our author all use the word Tamsach or Timsach, the arabic word for crocodile]) The crocodiles that attacked normally lived in salt water, and were particularly ferocious. (The only salt water crocodile known today is the Estuarine Crocodile [crocodylus porosus], a notorious man-killer. Abarbanel writes that the species of crocodile that attacked Mitzrayim was originally a tropical salt water reptile, but after this plague it remained in the Nile. This is the significance of the statement, "Only in the Nile they will remain" [8:7])

In the Portuguese Empire there is an island known as "Crocodile Island." In earlier times, crocodiles would frequently come up from the sea and invade this island, preying on man and beast alike. People living on this island would have to constantly be armed because of the danger of these reptiles. It took much effort to rid the island of these crocodiles. Many of the islanders' children were eaten by the beasts. (Abarbanel writes that it was to this island that the king of Portugal exiled close to a thousand Jewish children around the time of the 1492 expulsion from Spain, and that the island is right on the equator. From this, it is simple to identify the island as Sao Tome (St. Thomas), off the western coast of Africa on the equator. This uninhabited island was first discovered in 1470 by the Portugese navigators, Joao de Santarem and Pedro de Escobar. It is known that in 1493, King John II of Portugal sent some 700 Jewish children, along with a number of convicts, to this island in an unsuccessful attempt to populate the wild territory. Sao Tome and Tamsach are phonetically similar)

This opinion, however, is not generally accepted. From the Torah text it seems that the frogs were not particularly dangerous animals. It was only Elokim's word that had made them uncommonly bold. (Toledot Yitzchak; Abarbanel)

Elokim had literally told Pharaoh, "I will plague (nogef your borders with frogs." (Shemot 7:27) Our sages have a tradition that together with each of the Ten Plagues there was also a plague. (Shemot Rabbah)

The plague of frogs only struck areas where the Mitzrayim lived. In Goshen, where the Yisra'elis lived, there were no frogs. (Kesef Mezukak)

Shemot 8:3 The necromancers did the same through their incantations, and they brought up the frogs upon the land of Mitzrayim.

The Mitzrian occultists were also able to produce frogs by gaining control over demons. They assumed that Mosheh had also brought the frogs through sorcery.

Shemot 8:4 Pharaoh summoned Mosheh and Aharon and said, "Entreat Hashem that He remove the frogs from me and my people, and I shall send out the people that they may bring offerings to Hashem."

Here we see how much the Mitzrayim suffered from the frogs. Although the plague of blood was also very serious, Pharaoh did not beg Moses to pray that it be removed. In the case of frogs, however, he did ask. The frogs were causing the Mitzrayim great physical pain. Besides, now they believed that this was a plague from Elokim.

Pharaoh himself was suffering terribly. The frogs were in his body like internal parasites, biting him and making him suffer so much he thought he would die. Their croaking day and night was so loud that he could not find a moment's rest. (Yeffeh Toar)

He sent word to Mosheh and Aharon saying that he would like to speak to them. When they arrived, he asked them to offer prayers to Elokim to get rid of the frogs. He promised that he would let the Yisra'elis leave and offer sacrifice as Elokim had instructed.

Shemot 8:5 Mosheh said to Pharaoh, "Glorify yourself over me - for when should I entreat for you, for your servants, and for your people, to excise the frogs from you and from your houses? Only in the River shall they remain." 6 And he said, "For tomorrow." He said, "As you say - so that you will know that there is none like Hashem, our Elokim. 7 And the frogs shall depart from you, and from your houses, and from your servants, and from your people; they shall remain in the River only.

"Try and show off to me," said Mosheh. "Show me how you can outsmart me. Try and ask me to do something that I cannot do. Name the time that you want the frogs to leave, and it will be done." (Rashi)

When Pharaoh made the request that a prayer be said, he had done so in the plural indicating that more than one person should pray for him. He assumed that for such a great plague as the frogs, it would at least take the combined prayers of Mosheh and Aharon to remove it. But Mosheh replied, "when should I pray for you," indicating that his prayers alone would be sufficient.

Whenever Mosheh prayed that a plague be removed, he only prayed that it should not do any more damage. He did not, however, pray that any damage done should be repaired. The Mitzrayim deserved it as punishment for what they had done to the Yisra'elis. Moreover, the plagues usually subsided little by little. The only exception was this, the plague of frogs, which could only be removed all at once. Mosheh therefore prayed that the frogs should die all at once, so that they would do no further damage. (Bet Elokim 1:18)

Each of the Ten Plagues lasted seven days. Even when the Mitzrayim regretted their deeds the period of the plague was not diminished. But when Pharaoh displayed his stubbornness, the plague could last even longer until he begged for its removal.

"Give me a time," said Mosheh. "Tell me exactly when you want me to pray for the frogs to leave. I cannot do so today since it is now only the seventh day of the plague, and the plague must last at least seven days. But anytime after that, as soon as I pray the frogs will be gone. (Shemot Rabbah p. 67)

"You, your officials, and all your people will be rid of the frogs. There will be none left, except in the Nile. You will therefore know that the Nile is not a god. The Nile cannot even protect itself; how can it be expected to protect others? (Tzedah LaDerekh) You will hear the frogs croaking in the Nile, and you will remember what Elokim did to you when you refused to listen to Him." (Sifetey Cohen)

According to one opinion, Pharaoh told Mosheh to pray for the frogs to leave the next day because his astrologers had calculated that the frogs would leave on the day he was speaking to them. Pharaoh said to himself, "If Mosheh asks when he should pray, he will certainly assume that I will say that he should do it today. He will then pray, and everyone will think that his prayers caused the frogs to leave. But I will ask him to pray that they should leave tomorrow. Even though I am suffering, it is worth it to show that Mosheh is a fake."

Mosheh therefore said, "Try to outsmart me if you would. If you wish, I will pray that the frogs leave tomorrow. Just set the time. If you wanted, I could have rid you of the frogs immediately. If you want to suffer until tomorrow, let it be as you say." (Ibn Ezra; Ramban; Bachya. Cf. Paaneach Raza; Sifetey Cohen; Toledot Yitzchak)

Shemot 8:8 Mosheh and Aharon left Pharaoh's presence; Mosheh cried out to Hashem concerning the frogs that he had inflicted upon Pharaoh.

Mosheh left Pharaoh and immediately prayed that the frogs should leave the next day. (Rashi)

It is significant to note that in the case of the frogs Mosheh actually cried out to Elokim, something that he did not do in the case of any of the other plagues.

Mosheh had told Pharaoh to try to show off to him and set a time when the frogs should leave. Mosheh wanted to use this as a sign that he was truly Elokim's emissary, Since Mosheh had given this as a sign of proof, if the frogs did not leave the moment Mosheh designated, he would be branded a liar. Of all the plagues, this was the only one in whose removal Mosheh had a personal stake. Besides, if Mosheh's exact words did not come true, Pharaoh might find reason to doubt Elokim's power; Mosheh therefore cried out and begged Elokim to remove the frogs at the precise time that Pharaoh had designated. (Toledot Yitzchak; Abarbanel; Raanach; Yad Yosef)

Shemot 8:9 Hashem carried out the word of Mosheh, and the frogs died - from the houses, from the courtyards, and from the fields. 10 They piled them up into heaps and heaps, and the land stank.

Each Mitzrian made four huge heaps of frogs. Others say that each one made ten piles. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 86; Baal HaTurim)

The frogs began to decay, and the whole land stank. This is a fitting punishment since the Mitzrayim hated the Yisra'elis so much, they treated them like pariahs. The Mitzrian men would turn up their noses at even the most beautiful Yisra'eli woman, just as one turns up his nose at a stinking corpse. (Yalkut Shimoni; Midrash Tehillim 28)

The frogs in the fields, courtyards and houses decayed and stank. There were, however, other frogs that did not decay. These were the frogs that had jumped into the ovens, willingly sacrificing their lives for Elokim. (Ibid. See Pesachim 53b)

For this reason, Elokim caused the frogs to die and did not merely make them leave, as He later did to the wild beasts and the locusts. He wanted to show that those who sacrifice themselves for Elokim's sake survive, while those who do not, die in another manner. The frogs that did not go into the ovens died anyway. (Kli Yekar)

It was from the frogs that Hanania, Mishael and Azariah learned that they must allow themselves to be thrown into a fiery furnace for Elokim's sake. (Pesachim 53b)

The Mitzrayim did gain one advantage from the plague of frogs. Until then there had been a dispute between Mitzrayim and Ethiopia as to where the exact border between the two lands lay. But now, the border was clearly demarcated. Any place where the frogs came was clearly Mitzrian territory, and the rest belonged to Ethiopia. Elokim had therefore said, "I will plague all your borders with frogs." (Shemot 7:27) (Shemot Rabbah, p. 65)

As a result of the frogs, Mitzrayim was determined to be a square, approximately 600 miles on a side. The dispute was resolved, and for the first time in many years there was peace between the two countries. (Alshekh)

Shemot 8:11 Pharaoh saw that there had been a relief, and kept making his heart stubborn. He did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken.

In the case of the other plagues, no trace remained after the plague was gone. Therefore it might not be surprising that Pharaoh forgot about it and hardened his heart. But in this case, even after the plague was over decaying piles of dead frogs remained, making the whole country stink. So stubborn was Pharaoh, however, that he chose to ignore this all too tangible evidence of the most recent plague. Even though he could smell the dead frogs even in his palace, as soon as there was a slight respite he once again made himself stubborn. (Kli Yekar)

The Third Plague: Lice

Shemot 8:12 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Say to Aharon, 'Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land; it shall become lice throughout the land of Mitzrayim.'"

"Tell Aharon to initiate this plague. You cannot do it because you once benefited from the ground. When you killed the Mitzri, you hid him in the sand and the ground concealed his body. (Shemot 2:12) Since you once benefited from the soil, you should not be the one to make it into something destructive. Therefore tell Aharon to do it." (Shemot Rabbah; Targum Yonatan)

Shemot 8:13 So they did: Aharon stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the land, and the lice-infestation was on man and beast; all the dust of the land became lice, throughout the land of Mitzrayim.

As soon as Aharon struck the ground with his staff, two things happened. Every man and beast near Aharon was immediately covered with lice and vermin, as if he had lived in a garbage dump for a year. Second, all the dust in Mitzrayim, both far and near, was transformed into lice and gnats, attacking man and beast alike.

The Torah says, "They did this," in the plural. This indicates that both Mosheh and Aharon did exactly as Elokim had instructed. Mosheh said the proper words to Aharon, and Aharon executed the instructions. (Abarbanel)

The Mitzrayim were stricken with this plague because they had forced the Yisra'elis to sweep the streets and roads of dust. As a fitting punishment, all the dust in Mitzrayim turned into lice. If one dug a cubit into the ground, no soil would be found, only lice. As a result, the Yisra'elis could no longer be made to sweep the streets.

There were fourteen, and according to others, twenty-four species of vermin involved in this plague. Some were even as large as hens' eggs. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 66; Tanchuma; Yalkut Shimoni)

Another reason for this plague was that the Mitzrayim did not allow the Yisra'elis to bathe. The Yisra'elis remained sweaty and filthy from their work making bricks and were subject to attacks by lice and vermin. Now the tables were turned, and it was the Mitzrayim who were plagued by lice.

The insects attacked their faces and even got into their eyes. The Mitzrayim tried to wash them off by bathing in the sea, but it was to no avail. (Baal HaTurim)

Shemot 8:14 The sorcerers did the same with their incatations to draw forth the lice, but they could not. And the lice-infestation was on man and beast.

The Mitzrian wizards brought dust from outside Mitzrayim and used all their occult arts. They conjured up demons and tried to coerce them into transforming grains of dust into lice. But the demons were impotent in this case since they cannot act on something that is smaller than a barley. (Shemot Rabbah; Sanhedrin 67b)

Actually, some of the vermin involved in this plague were quite large, as large as a hen's egg, as mentioned earlier. But this was a separate miracle. After a tiny grain of dust turned into an insect, it miraculously grew to a large size. This was totally beyond the ability of the demons. (Yeffeh Toar)

The demons (shedim) were unable to do this because their entire power was derived from the unclean forces. These unclean forces cannot attach themselves to anything smaller than a barleycorn, and hence, the smallest measure that can impart uncleanness is the size of a barleycorn. ((See Kelayim 17:8, Ohalot 2:3) Therefore, the demons were powerless to transform anything smaller than a barleycorn. (Tzedah LaDerekh)

There is another reason that the Mitzrayim could not transform dust into lice. It can be explained in terms of the following account:

In the time of Shimon ben Shetach (around 70 B.C.E.) a very wicked tax collector died in Ashkelon. On the same day, a great sage also died.

A large crowd came to the sage's funeral to accompany his body to the cemetery, while for the tax collector, only his family was present. The funeral procession for the tax collector followed that of the sage at a distance along the road to the cemetery.

Suddenly the funeral processions were attacked by armed bandits, and all the participants were forced to scatter. Only one of the sage's dedicated disciples was willing to risk his life and remain behind, guarding the casket of his beloved master.

When things seemed safe, the people returned in order to complete the sage's funeral with the respect due him. To the student's horror, the people inadvertently took the tax collector's coffin instead of that of the sage. He called after them, but they were too far away to hear him. Since he could not leave his master's remains to go after them, there was nothing he could do about it.

A short time later, the tax collector's family came. Since there was no one else to bury his master, he let them bring him to the cemetery, thinking that it was the tax collector. When the other people saw the procession approaching, they gave it wide berth. Assuming that it was the tax collector, they wanted nothing to do with it.

Returning home, the student was very disturbed by what had happened. What sin had his master committed to have to undergo such humiliation before being put to his final rest? And what merit could a wicked tax collector have to deserve such a great funeral?

That night, the master appeared to his student in a dream. "Do not be concerned," he said. "I am now in Paradise (Gan Eden) and have a very honorable position. The tax collector is already in Gehenna. The hinge of the door rests in his ear so that every time it is opened or closed, he experiences horrible torment. Elokim gives each one what he deserves.

"You may wonder why I experienced such humiliation at my funeral. All my life, I only committed a single misdeed. Once I saw people humiliating a Torah scholar, and I did not speak up for him. I was therefore punished with equal humiliation at my funeral, thus atoning for this sin.

"The tax collector, on the other hand, never did a good deed in his life. But once he made a large feast for the mayor. The mayor and his council had an emergency and could not attend. Rather than throw out the good food, the tax collector invited the poor and let them finish it. He was therefore repaid for this good deed by having a lavish funeral, and now he will be punished for all the evil he did.

And how long," asked the student, "will the tax collector have the door hinge in his ear?"

"Until Shimon ben Shetach is dead and buried," replied the master.

The student was dumbfounded. Shimon ben Shetach was the head of the Sanhedrin, and the leading saint and sage of that time. Why would his death be linked to the tax collector's punishment?

The sage was immediately aware of his student's question. He said, "You must realize that Shimon ben Shetach is partially to blame for the tax collector's immorality, as well as for the immorality in Ashkelon in general. There are eighty Jewish women in Ashkelon who practice black magic and engage in all sorts of disgusting rites. (These rites most probably involved the cult of Aphrodite or Urania. This cult made use of many lewd rites, and had a strong detrimental influence on the morals of the Jewish community in Ashkelon) Shimon ben Shetach once made a vow that when he became head of the Sanhedrin, he would rid the city of them, but he has never kept his vow."

When the student awoke in the morning, the dream was still fresh in his mind. He hurried to Yerushalayim, where he related it to Shimon ben Shetach. (Rashi, Sanhedrin 44b. Also see Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 6:10, Chagigah 2:2)

The sage realized that the message was correct, and immediately made plans to capture the eighty witches. From among his disciples, he chose eighty of the tallest and strongest men. Each one was given a large jar and a light cloak that would readily show the slightest sign of wetness.

Shimon ben Shetach chose a stormy day for his expedition. It was raining so hard that it was almost impossible to go outdoors. He instructed his men to take their cloaks and place them in the waterproof jars, closing them very tight. At his signal, they were to come into the cave, and before the witches could see them, put on their cloaks. As soon as they approached the witches, each man was to grasp a woman and lift her off the ground. The women's occult arts would be totally powerless as long as their feet were not touching the ground. Occult powers come from the earth and are only effective when one is in contact with it. (This was also known to the ancient Gentiles. Thus, in Greek mythology, the Libiyan giant Antaeus compelled all travelers to wrestle with him. Whenever he ws thrown, he was able to draw mystical strength from the earth and recover. Hercules discovered his secred and lifted him from the ground, rendering him powerless, after which he crushed him to death)

Leaving his disciples standing in the downpour, Shimon ben Shetach entered the cave of the witches. He was immediately challenged. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"I am a master warlock. I have heard that you also practice the occult arts. I would like to compare notes with you."

"Not so fast. Do you think that we reveal our secrets to anyone who walks in? Can you show us any evidence of your powers?"

"As you can see, it is raining very hard outside. But with a word I can produce eighty young men to entertain you, and their clothes will be perfectly dry."

"Now that's evidence that we would enjoy seeing. Do that, and you will be welcome."

The young men had protected themselves from the rain under an overhang adjoining the mouth of the cave, where the witches could not see them. They had changed into their dry cloaks, and at their master's signal they came dancing into the cave. Each one grabbed a witch as if to pull her into the dance, and before the women knew what was happening, they all were on the shoulders of the young men.

With the witches powerless, the sage assembled a court of law and passed sentence. All eighty were immediately hanged. It was to be an object lesson to all the populace to avoid such practices in the future. (Yerushalmi, loc. cit. See Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6:4 [45b])

These witches had many relatives and sympathizers, who sought revenge against Shimon ben Shetach. They hatched a plan and had two carefully-rehearsed witnesses appear in court and testify that Shimon's son had committed a crime that incurred the death penalty. The witnesses withstood the careful examination that was given in all capital cases, and the court had no other choice but to sentence the young man to death.

As Shimon's son was being led to the execution platform, he said, "If I am guilty, let my death atone for my sin. But if I am not, let it atone for any other sin I may have committed, but let the noose also be on the necks of my witnesses! Their sin will never be forgiven."

When the witnesses heard these words, they realized what a terrible thing they had done. They rushed back to the court and confessed that they had lied, and that it was all a plot to take revenge upon Shimon ben Shetach. All their protestations, however, did not help, since once testimony is duly accepted from a witness, he cannot retract it. (This is because a person cannot testify against himself. In saying that he testified falsely, a witness is, in effect testifying against himself, and this cannot be accepted. Ketuvot 18b Furthermore, if witnesses know that they cannot retract their testimony, they will be more careful not to testify falsely) Despite the retraction of the witnesses, the young man was put to death. (Rashi, Sanhedrin 44b; Sh'tey Yadot)

From this we see that anyone practicing the occult arts must stand on the bare earth in order for his practices to be effective. In the case of this plague, however, all the earth had turned into lice and vermin. The Mitzrian wizards were standing on insects and not on the ground, and therefore they could not make use of their arts. (Chizzkuni; Toledot Yitzchak; Derashot Yeshenim)

Our sages also teach that demons do not have the power to make any living creature, large or small. They might have the power to bring creatures from distant places, but they cannot create them. And even when it comes to transporting creatures, they can only influence larger creatures; they are totally powerless over those smaller than a barleycorn. (Shemot Rabbah; Sanhedrin 67b)

Here the Torah repeats that "the lice attacked man and beast alike," even though this was said earlier. Before the Mitzrian wizards attempted to duplicate this feat, many Mitzrayim thought that the lice were not real, but merely an illusion. When the wizards were unable to make lice, they realized that the lice attacking man and beast were real. (Sifetey Cohen. Cf. Kesef Mezukak)

Some authorities explain these verses somewhat differently. At first lice attacked man and beast, and only later did all the dust turn into lice. If all the dust had immediately turned into lice, the wizards would have been able to argue that the only reason they could not produce lice was because they had no Mitzrian dust to work on. Therefore the Torah tells us that when the Mitzrian wizards attempted to produce lice, the lice were only on man and beast. Only after their vain attempt was all the dust in Mitzrayim transformed into lice. (Etz HaChaim)

Even in Goshen, where the Yisra'elis lived, the dust was turned into lice. There was, however, an important difference. In Goshen, only land that had been worked and plowed spawned lice. Virgin soil remained free of the vermin. In Mitzrayim, however, the entire land crawled with lice. (Sifetey Cohen; Derashot Yeshenim)

The Mitzrian's elbows became stiff so that when they were bitten by the vermin, they could not even scratch themselves. This was their punishment for working the Yisra'elis so incessantly that they did not have the opportunity to relieve their itching. (Mesoret HaB'rit) Tormented by the stinging insects, the Mitzrayim rubbed themselves against trees and walls in an attempt to find relief. Relief, however, did not come, and the Mitzrayim tore their skin away and bled profusely. (Sifetey Cohen)

Shemot 8:15 The sorcerers said to Pharaoh, "It is a finger of Elokim!" But Pharaoh's heart was strong and he did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken.

"This is not mere sorcery!" said the Mitzrian wizards. "It is the finger of Elokim! No human being can do such things!"

With this, all the Mitzrian mystics agreed that none of the previous signs performed by Mosheh and Aharon had been done by sorcery. We thus see that after this, the Mitzrian occultists did not even try to duplicate what Mosheh and Aharon did. No longer did they claim that they could duplicate the signs, as they had done in the case of the staff, the blood, and the frogs. They realized that their power was vastly inferior to that of Mosheh and Aharon. (Shemot Rabbah)

It is for this reason that the wizards said, "It is the finger of Elokim." The Hebrew word for finger, ETzBA is an acrostic of the words Ein Tzarikh Bedikah Aod, "There is no need for further examination."

If we follow these verses carefully, we see how the status of the Mitzrian occultists was steadily reduced. At first, they are referred to as "the hieroglyphists of Mitzrayim." (Shemot 7:11, 7:22) This indicates that they were among Mitzrayim's most important personages. With the plague of frogs, their status was reduced, and the Torah merely says, "The hieroglyphists did this with their occult arts." (Shemot 8:3) No longer were they the "hieroglyphists of Mitzrayim," but still their occult powers were recognized.

Furthermore, until this point the Hebrew word for "hieroglyphists," chartumim, is fully spelled out. In this verse, however, it is spelled without the final Yod. This indicates that they now lost even more of their status and power.

Moreover, it is taught that ten measures of sorcery were sent to the world, and nine of these were taken by Mitzrayim. (Kiddushin 49b) The essence of the ten measures was therefore in Mitzrayim, and the occult arts flourished there. But now they lost this power. This is indicated by the absence of the Yod that has a numerical value of ten and therefore alludes to the ten measures of sorcery that were lost. (Bachya)

Although his wizards admitted that this plague was the finger of Elokim, Pharaoh remained stubborn and would not listen to Mosheh and Aharon, just as Elokim had predicted.

The Fourth Plague: Wild Beasts

Shemot 8:16 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Arise early in the morning and station yourself before Pharaoh - behold, he goes out to the water - and you shall say to him, 'So said Hashem: Send out My people that they may serve Me. 17 For if you do not send out My people, behold, I shall incite against you, your servants, your people, and your houses, the swarm of wild beasts; and the houses of Mitzrayim shall be filled with the swarm, and even the ground upon which they are. 18 And on that day I shall set apart the land of Goshen upon which My people stands, that there shall be no swarm there; so that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land. 19 I shall make a distinction between My people and your people - tomorrow this sign will come about.'"

"Do not be afraid of Pharaoh," said Elokim. "Everyone may be in awe of Pharaoh, but you grew up in the palace and are familiar with it. Through the Ten Plagues that I will send against Pharaoh, his glory will be brought low.

"Pharaoh knows that you make a point of coming to him early in the morning. He is therefore planning on changing the time and place of his daily morning excursions. He is going to get up much earlier than usual, hoping that you will not find him. When he gets to his secret new place, I want you to be there, waiting for him. (Shemot Rabbah p. 67)

"Repeat to him the message, 'Let My people go, and let them serve Me.' This time I want you to give him a clear warning. Tell him that this fourth plague will be extremely severe. (Ibid) Warn him that if he does not let My people go, the entire land of Mitzrayim will be overrun by throngs of noxious beasts, and the entire country will be devastated."

This plague consisted of hordes of wild beasts: lions, tigers, wolves, bears, snakes, scorpions, wasps, mosquitoes, crows, locusts, and all other kinds of harmful creatures. (Ibid.' Rashi. See Sefer HaYasher) Also included in this plague would be the same frogs and lice as before. It would be a terrifying mixture of all the harmful creatures in the world. (Rabbi Moshe ibn Chabib)

There would be another time that Elokim would use wild animals to take revenge against His enemies. When the prophet Elisha remedied the bad waters of Yericho, on the way to Bet'el a number of young hoodlums mocked him and called him a baldy. They were actually very angry with him for remedying the water supply since they had previously been able to sell pure water to the populace for a high price.

Realizing that Elokim's honor was also at stake, Elisha uttered a malediction and two bears emerged from the forest and tore them to pieces. (II Melakhim 2:24)

This involved a multiplicity of miracles. The bare ground suddenly became a forest. Two bears were suddenly present, even though no bears were previously in the area. Such animals do not usually attack humans in inhabited areas since they have no place to retreat. Elokim therefore performed a miracle, bringing a forest with bears to the very spot where Elisha had been attacked by the young hoodlums. The bears tore into the group, killing many. (Sotah 46b, 47a)

The same thing happened in Mitzrayim. Not only were the animals transported to Mitzrayim, but the very jungles in which they lived were suddenly transplanted there. Mitzrayim suddenly became a jungle, teeming with all sorts of deadly creatures.

This is alluded to in the verse, 'The houses of Mitzrayim will be filled with these throngs, as well as the land upon which they are.' That is, not only would the throngs of animals fill the Mitzrian houses, but the jungle lands upon which these animals live would also be there with them. Jungles filled with noxious beasts would spring up even in the very houses of the Mitzrayim. (An oral tradition. Cf. Sifetey Cohen; Etz HaChaim. [These sources might interpret eruv as "jungle."]

"I will make a clear distinction," said Elokim, "and spare the Goshen region where My people live. There will be no wild beasts there. Through this, all will know that I oversee and direct all things even on the lower world.

"You will see how I care for each individual. If an Yisra'eli goes into Mitzrian territory, he will be able to walk among these deadly creatures without being harmed. Only the Mitzrayim will be attacked." (Ramban)

Shemot 8:20 Hashem did so and a severe swarm of wild beasts came to the house of Pharaoh and the house of his servants; and throughout the land of Mitzrayim the land was being ruined because of the swarm.

Even the land was ruined by this plague. The droppings of these foreign animals polluted the soil, killing many plants and trees. (Arbarbanel)

This plague was a very fitting punishment. The Mitzrayim kept up fine zoos, and they sent the Yisra'elis on dangerous expeditions into the deserts and jungles to capture animals for them. The Mitzrayim would deliberately send the Yisra'elis on the most dangerous missions, often merely to torment them. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah, p. 61)

This was also a punishment for Pharaoh's practice of bathing in the blood of Yisra'eli infants, killing 150 each morning and 150 each evening for this nefarious purpose. Elokim had given the animals responsibility for avenging such cold-blooded murders, as He said, "Only of the blood of your souls I will demand an account from the hand of every wild beast I will demand an account." (Bereyshit 9:5) If a murderer is not punished by the courts, he will often be punished by wild beasts. Pharaoh had spilled so much innocent blood literally that his entire nation was punished for it by wild beasts. (Sifetey Cohen)

Another reason for this plague was that because of their servitude, the Yisra'elis were no longer able to tend their flocks. Without shepherds, the Yisra'eli flocks were torn to pieces by wild animals. A similar punishment was therefore meted out to the Mitzrayim. (Zevach Pesach)

The Yisra'elis tried to keep many rules of the Torah even in Mitzrayim. The Mitzrayim forced them to eat milk and meat cooked together. For making the Yisra'elis partake of a forbidden mixture, Elokim brought wild beasts to places where He had previously forbidden them to enter. It was a mixture of beasts that His laws of nature previously would not allow to exist. (Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi of Metz. Tiferet HaGershoni - Frankfort am Mein, 1699)

"The Mitzrayim," said Elokim , "have regimented themselves into all sorts of groups, merely to torment My people. I will also regiment all My animals into all sorts of groups to torment the Mitzrayim."

This was a separate miracle in itself. Normally, dangerous animals do not associate with one another. But in Mitzrayim, there was peace among the animals, and they all came together. It was as if they had orders not to attack each other, only the Mitzrayim. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 67)

All Mitzrayim was terrorized by this invasion. Seeing that the animals did not attack the Yisra'elis, the Mitzrayim would ask them to escort them when they had to go out to the fields. Mitzrayim would beg the Yisra'elis to take their children into their homes.

All this, however, was to no avail. It was as if the animals could sense who was an Mitzrian and who was an Yisra'eli. Even if an Mitzri walked in the middle of a group of Yisra'elis, the animals would single out the Mitzri and attack him. Even when Mitzrayim hid in Yisra'eli homes, they were not immune to attack. (Alshekh; Zevach Pesach, quoting Rabbi Shlomo Luria [Maharshal])

When the Mitzrayim saw the animals coming, they bolted their windows and tried to seal their houses to prevent the animals from attacking. But huge octopuses and giant squids miraculously came up from the depths of the sea and crawled over the houses, tearing off their roofs with their huge tentacles. They would reach into the houses with their tentacles, pulling out the screaming Mitzrayim and causing great destruction. (Sefer HaYasher. Also see Midrash Vayosha, in Bet HaMidrash, vol. 1, p. 50. The creature mentioned is the silonit or siloni. This seems to come from teh word silon, a pipe, hence indicating a pipe-like or tentacled creature, i.e., a squid or octopus. Many authorities, however identify the silonit with the mermaid or siren; see Sifri, Yalkut Shimoni (357) on VaYikra 11:10; Raavad 3:7, Malbim 80, ad. loc. Arukh, s.v. sironi and Raavad, loc. cit., actually read sironit rather than silonit, clearly derived from the Greek "siren". Also see Rashi, Bekhorot 8a, top, s.v. beney yama)

The Yisra'elis also deserved to be punished by this plague, and were not worthy to be protected by a special providence. They had sunk to great depths of depravity and would require many good deeds to have sufficient merit for such a miracle. But Elokim had mercy, and ordered that no Yisra'eli should be injured; if an Yisra'eli deserved to die, an Mitzrian was taken in his place.

Elokim therefore literally said, "I will place a redemption (pedut) between My people and your people." (Shemot 8:19) He meant that He would let the Mitzrayim be a redemption for the Yisra'elis. (Shemot Rabbah; Yeffeh Toar ad loc.)

Another reason for this plague was the terrible sexual immorality that existed among the Mitzrayim. They would hold orgies where ten men would be with one woman, and ten women with one man. Since they broke down the bounds of decency, Elokim also broke down the bounds of nature. The Mitzrayim mixed in forbidden ways, and Elokim mixed animals in ways that were normally prevented by natural law. (Shemot Rabbah, Bo)

When the plague of frogs came, they struck the common people first and then Pharaoh's officials, as Elokim said, "The frogs shall come up against you, your people, and all your servants." (Shemot 7:29) The same was true of the plague of lice. But in the case of this plague, the officials were attacked first, and then the common people, as Elokim said, "I will send wild beasts against you, your servants, and your people." (Shemot 8:17)

There was an important reason for this distinction. The initial impetus to subjugate the Yisra'elis came from the masses. The officials were only following their will. However, when it came to drowning the Yisra'eli infants, the initiative came from the officials, and the people were merely following orders.

Therefore, when Mitzrayim were actually killed by plagues, as in the case of beasts, plague, and death of the first-born; Pharaohs officials were struck first. Where the plagues were not deadly, such as in the case of frogs, lice, boils, locusts, and darkness, the masses were struck first.

In the case of all the plagues, however, the first one to suffer was Pharaoh. As king, the prime responsibility was always his. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 68)

Shemot 8:21 Pharaoh summoned Mosheh and Aharon and said, "Go - bring offerings to your Elokim in the land."

"You say that all you want to do is sacrifice to Elokim. All right. Do it right here in Mitzrayim. Why do you have to go out into the desert?"

Actually, Pharaoh's offer is very surprising. After the plague of frogs, he had already agreed to let the people leave and sacrifice in the desert. (Shemot 8:4) Now he was making a lesser offer. If anything, the additional plagues should have made him increase it.

But until now, Pharaoh had assumed that the Hebrew deity was a desert g-d. He therefore felt that he had no other choice but to let the Yisra'elis go to the desert to sacrifice to Him. Now, however, Elokim had said, "I will miraculously set apart the Goshen area ... so that you will know that I am Elokim in the midst of the land." (Shemot 8:18) This meant that Elokim Himself had said that He was also in Mitzrayim.

After hearing this, Pharaoh said, "Your Elokim Himself told me that He is also in Mitzrayim. If so, why do you claim that you must go to the desert? You can sacrifice to your Elokim just as well in Goshen. As you say, He is all over the world." (Alshekh; Sifetey Cohen)

Shemot 8:22 Mosheh said, "It is not proper to do so, for we will offer the deity of Mitzrayim to Hashem, our Elokim - behold, if we were to slaughter the diety of Mitzrayim in their sight, will they not stone us? 23 We will go on a three-day journey in the Wilderness, and bring offerings to Hashem, our Elokim, as He will tell us."

The sheep was sacred to the Mitzrayim, and that was the animal that the Yisra'elis would have to sacrifice. In Hebrew, the Torah actually uses the word "abomination" (to'evah) to describe something sacred to the Mitzrayim. (Rashi)

At that time, the Mitzrian religion also demanded strict vegetarianism, just as the Hindu religion does today. The Mitzrayim avoided all animal products, even eggs and cheese. Anyone who ate meat was considered utterly disgusting to the Mitzrayim. Even if a fruit or vegetable came in contact with any animal product, the Mitzrayim would refuse to eat it. Vessels used by people who ate meat were considered unclean by them. We thus see that Potifar would not let Yosef touch any bread in the house. (Bereyshit 39:6)

Mosheh therefore said, "Now we will sacrifice to our Elokim in a manner totally abhorrent to the Mitzrayim. Will they merely stand by and watch us without stoning us? They hate us enough because our ancestors were shepherds who ate the meat and drank the milk of our flocks. To your people, the sheep is sacred since you worship the sign of Aries." (Ibn Ezra; Moreh Nevukhim)

Some authorities interpret what Mosheh said as a statement rather than as a question. Mosheh said, There will come a time when we will sacrifice animals sacred to the Mitzrayim before their very eyes and they will not dare to stone us. But then it will be at Elokim's word. Now, however, Elokim has instructed us to go out into the desert. It is there that we must offer sacrifice to Him. (Original. See Sifetey Cohen; Etz HaChaim)

Shemot 8:24 Pharaoh said, "I will send you and you shall bring offerings to Hashem, your Elokim, in the Wilderness; only do not go far off - entreat for me!"

Once there was an emperor who was a notorious Jew-hater. The Jews suffered so much from him that every day they would pray for him to die. Finally, his demise came, and his son took his place, turning out to be even worse than his father. One day, the young emperor encountered a Jew in the street and asked him, "I want you to tell me the truth. What is your true opinion of me?"

"My most fervent hope," replied the terrified Jew, "is that you live long."

"What? Stupid Jew! Don't you realize that I hate you even worse than my father? I do everything in my power to make life miserable for you Jews. How can you hope that I live long?"

"When your father was alive, we constantly prayed that he would die. We hoped that his successor would be better. But now we see that you are even worse than your father. We would rather see you live long than take chances with your successor."

This also explains Pharaoh's words. He said, "Pray for me that I live long. Who knows if my successor won't be worse than I." (Rabbi Yaakov ibn Naim, Mishkenot Yaakov [Salonika, 1721], BeShalach)

Shemot 8:25 Mosheh said, "Behold! I leave you and I shall entreat Hashem - and the swarm will depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people - tomorrow. Only let Pharaoh not continue to mock, by not sending out the people to bring offerings to Hashem."

Even at this point, Pharaoh was trying to trick Mosheh. Pharaoh had merely said, "I will send you and you can sacrifice to Elokim in the desert." (Shemot 8:24) Later, he would be able to explain that he had only meant that Moshe and Aharon could go, and not the rest of the people.

Mosheh, however, understood his trick and said, "I will pray to Elokim, and He will rid you of the beasts. But don't try to trick us by refusing to let the people sacrifice to Elokim. We know that you will let us go, but don't leave out the rest of the people."

Pharaoh tried this trick again and again, after the plagues of hail, locusts and darkness. Each time he merely made an ambiguous statement, saying, "I will send you," without explicitly saying that he would send the people. Each time, Mosheh acted as if he did not understand the reason for this ambiguity. The only time Pharaoh clearly said that he would send all the people was after the killing of the first-born, when he said, "Get up and get out from among my people, both you and the Yisra'elis, and go worship Elokim as you say." (Shemot 12:31) (Sifetey Cohen)

Shemot 8:26 Mosheh left Pharaoh's presence and entreated Hashem. 27 Hashem did in accordance with Mosheh's word and He removed the swarm of wild beasts from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people - not one remained.

The wild animals did not die like the frogs. If they had, the Mitzrayim could have profited handsomely from their valuable hides and furs. Instead, they left Mitzrayim. (Shemot Rabbah; Rashi)

Shemot 8:28 But Pharaoh made his heart stubborn even this time, and he did not send out the people.

The Fifth Plague: Death of Animals

Shemot 9:1 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Come to Pharaoh and speak to him, 'So said Hashem, the Elokim of the Hebrews: Send out My people that they may serve Me.' 2 For if you refuse to send out, and you continue to grip them; 3 behold, the hand of Hashem is on your livestock that are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the cattle, and on the flock - a very severe epidemic. 4 Hashem shall distinguish between the livestock of Yisra'el and the livestock of Mitzrayim, and not a thing that belongs to the B'ney Yisra'el will die. 5 Hashem has set an appointed time, saying, 'Tomorrow Hashem shall carry out this word in the land.'"

Elokim said that the "livestock in the field" would die simply because most livestock was normally kept outdoors. Even animals brought into the house would die. (Ramban)

Elokim also said that He would make a "miraculous distinction" between the flocks of Mitzrayim and those of Yisra'el. The Mitzrian flocks were pastured as far as Goshen and there they would often be in close proximity with those of the Yisra'elis. Furthermore, when an epidemic strikes one flock, it spreads to others very readily. The fact that not a single one of the Yisra'elis' animals died would be an obvious miracle. (Ramban; Bachya. Cf. Sifetey Cohen)

Elokim instructed Mosheh to tell Pharaoh, "this sign will take place tomorrow." By the plague of frogs, Pharaoh had said, tomorrow. (Shemot 8:6) Now Elokim also said tomorrow. (Sifetey Cohen)

Shemot 9:6 Hashem carried out this word the next day, and all the livestock of Mitzrayim died, and of the livestock of the B'ney Yisra'el not one died.

Even if an Yisra'eli had a sick animal that was already dying, it did not die during this period. It would be perfectly obvious that the Yisra'elis' flocks were completely immune to this epidemic. (Ibid)

Furthermore, even when an Yisra'eli had an interest in an Mitzrian animal, it would not die. If an Yisra'eli had a legal claim on an animal, it was also spared. The plague therefore indicated which animals belonged to the Yisra'elis. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 68)

The reason for this plague was that the Mitzrayim forced the Yisra'elis to tend their flocks in the deserts and the mountains. They sent the Yisra'elis to the most distant pastures to keep them from being with their wives and having children. Also, the Mitzrayim made the Yisra'elis do the work of beasts, making them pull their heavy plows across the fields. Regarding this, the Psalmist said, "the ploughers plowed with my back, and they made long furrows." (Tehillim 129:3) Since the Mitzrayim used the Yisra'elis like animals, they were punished by losing their livestock. (Tanchuma; Shemot Rabbah)

The Mitzrayim were also punished because they expropriated Yisra'eli livestock illegally. They also worked the Yisra'elis so hard they did not have time or strength to care for their animals. (Zevach Pesach)

Shemot 9:7 Pharaoh sent and behold, of the livestock of Yisra'el not even one had died - yet Pharaoh' heart became stubborn and he did not send out the people.

Pharaoh's agents carefully investigated the situation, and they discovered that even if an Yisra'eli and an Mitzri were partners in an animal, the animal survived. Still, Pharaoh remained stubborn in his refusal to furlough the Yisra'elis. He said that if the Mitzrian animals died, he could still expropriate Yisra'eli animals. The very fact that the Yisra'eli livestock survived was the reason for his continued stubbornness. (Toledot Yitzchak; Abarbanel)

The Sixth Plague: Boils

Shemot 9:8 Hashem said to Mosheh and Aharon, "Take for yourselves handfuls of furnace soot, and let Mosheh hurl it heavenward before Pharaoh's eyes. 9 It will become dust over the entire land of Mitzrayim, and it will become boils erupting into blisters on man and beast throughout the land of Mitzrayim."

Elokim told Mosheh and Aharon to take hot ashes from the oven. These ashes were to be thrown up in the air, and wherever they settled on a man or animal they would cause boils, filled with pus. (Targum Yonatan)

One may wonder how Elokim could mention animals in this plague since it appears that all the Mitzrian animals had already died in the previous calamity. But actually, only the "livestock in the field" (Shemot 9:3) died; that taken indoors was often spared by the epidemic. Only in the case of Pharaoh's own flocks were all animals killed even those brought indoors. (Rashi)

Animals that were normally quartered indoors were not spared. But there were some individual Mitzrayim who feared Elokim's word and brought their animals indoors especially because of the plague. These animals did not die. Now, however, many were stricken by boils. (Binah Lelttim, Drush 29)

According to another opinion, the previous plague only killed 90% of the Mitzrian livestock. When the Torah says, "All the livestock of Mitzrayim died" (Shemot 9:6), it means that all the livestock that died belonged to Mitzrayim, while, "of the livestock of the Yisra'elis, not a single one died." (ibid)

Shemot 9:10 They took soot of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh, and Mosheh threw it heavenward; and it became boils and blisters, erupting on man and beast.

There were three major miracles during this plague:

First, as the Torah states, Msoheh and Aharon were each to take as much ash as they could hold in both hands when cupped together, but that Mosheh alone was to throw it. (Shemot 9:8) This would mean that in each hand, Mosheh would have to hold as much ash as each one had previously held in his two hands cupped together. (Shemot Rabah, p. 68; Tanchuma) According to some, the miracle was even greater, since Mosheh was able to hold all this ash in just one hand. (Yeffeh Toar, Bereyshit, p. 85. Also see rashi, VaYikra Rabbah 10:9 on VaYikra 8:3)

Second, the ash spread all over the land of Mitzrayim. This small amount of ash was able to coat every man and beast in the entire land.

Third, ash is light and cannot be thrown very far. But when Mosheh threw the fine ash up in the air, he was able to throw it so far that it went out of sight. The ash actually escaped the atmosphere and picked up radioactivity (Or, as the author puts it, "the elemental power of the sun.") from space; it was this that caused the blisters and boils. (Shemot Rabbah, loc. cit)

Although Mitzrayim was a huge land, the ash visibly spread throughout all its borders. Even Mitzrayim colonies were affected by this plague. (Mekhilta, Chapter 14; Tanchuma)

This plague caused blood blisters and pus pimples on the internal mucous membranes. On the outside skin, it caused a dry rash. (Alshekh)

The reason for this plague was that the Mitzrayim forced the Yisra'elis to bathe them. The Mitzrayim were therefore afflicted with rashes that did not allow them to bathe at all. This was another task from which the Yisra'elis would now be freed. (Shemot Rabbah, loc. cit.)

The Mitzrayim were now also punished for issuing propaganda representing the Yisra'elis as being disgusting and depraved. This plague made the Mitzrayim even more repulsive than their representations of the Hebrews.

Also, the Mitzrayim did everything they could to keep Yisra'eli husbands and wives apart so that they would not have children and increase their numbers. The Mitzrayim were now stricken with a plague that made all forms of intimacy virtually impossible. (Abarbanel; Mevakesh HaShem)

The rashes that affected the Mitzrayim also included various forms of leprosy. Gangrene often set in, causing their flesh to decay and stink. (Sefer HaYasher)

Until this time, the Mitzrayim would not let the Yisra'elis use their bathhouses, lest they "contaminate" the water. After this plague, the restriction was lifted. (Kesef Nivchar)

Shemot 9:11 The necromancers could not stand before Mosheh because of the boils, because the boils were on the necromancers and on all of Mitzrayim.

The rash attacked the Mitzrian occultists even before it hit the other Mitzrayim. A white leprous eruption spread all over their hands and then to the rest of their bodies. Even after the other Mitzrayim recovered, the occultists' rash remained. It was for this reason that they were ashamed to stand before Mosheh.

[This is the last mention of the Mitzrian wizards (chartumim) in the Torah.] Their skin disease was so severe that they died within a few days after the plague.

The reason that the occultists were singled out for special punishment was because it was they who had originally counseled Pharaoh to drown the male Hebrew infants in the Nile. They had seen that the redeemer of Yisra'el was about to be born and wanted to kill him before he gained any power. These occultists also counseled Pharaoh to kill Mosheh when he took the king's crown and placed it on his own head.

Since these wizards had done everything in their power to kill Mosheh, they were now tormented with this terrible disease. So disfigured were they that they were ashamed to be seen by Mosheh. (Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer; Shemot Rabbah, p. 68)

The word for hieroglyphists here, chartumim, is spelled without the final Yod so that it can also be read chartumam, "their Hieroglyphist.'' This "Hieroglyphist" denotes their "Great Hieroglyphist" whom the Mitzrayim believed in as the source of all their occult power. The Torah thus also says, "Their Hieroglyphist could not stand before Mosheh." From the time of this plague, the unclean spirits that gave the Mitzrian occultists power became totally impotent. (Yeffeh Toar. This is another reason why the chartumim are no longer mentioned)

Even before this plague the Mitzrian occultists had recognized the greatness of Mosheh's powers. Therefore, whenever they were in his presence, they would stand as a sign of respect. After this plague, however, they no longer even had the audacity to stand in Mosheh's presence, but prostrated themselves to the ground. They might have been able to provide logical explanations for the previous plagues, but this one was completely beyond their comprehension. (Abarbanel)

Of all the plagues, this one affected Pharaoh personally the most. He was in absolute agony, covered from head to foot with boils and blisters. (Yeffeh Toar, BeShalach, p. 109. Cf. Yeffeh Toar, p. 81c)

Shemot 9:12 Hashem strengthened the heart of Pharaoh and he did not heed them, as Hashem had spoken to Mosheh.

It is significant to note that in the case of the first five plagues, the Torah says that "Pharaoh hardened his heart." Here, and after the subsequent plagues, it says, "Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart."

It was as if Elokim had said, "You evil person, I have already sent five plagues against you, and you refused to change your mind. Now, even if you wish to repent, I will harden your heart so as to punish you all the more."

This is Elokim's way. He is always ready to accept a person when he repents and changes his ways. But if a person commits major sins again and again, Elokim places a certain stubbornness in his heart making it very difficult for him to repent. (Shemot Rabbah; Ramban; Bachya. Also see beginning of Bo)

Warning For the Seventh Plague

Shemot 9:13 Hashem spoke to Mosheh, "Arise early in the morning and station yourself before Pharaoh; say to him, 'So said Hashem, the Elokim of the Hebrews: Send out My people that they may serve Me.

"Pharaoh realizes that you know where to encounter him whenever he goes to the Nile. He has now chosen another place to go. He has not told anyone of his new place, trying to keep it a secret from you. When he gets there, I want you to be waiting for him with My message." (Shemot Rabbah)

Shemot 9:14 For this time I shall send all My plagues against your heart, and upon your servants, and your people, so that you shall know that there is none like Me in all the world. 15 For now I could have sent My hand and stricken you and your people with the pestilence and you would have been obliterated from the earth. 16 However, for this have I let you endure, in order to show you My strength and os that My Name may be declared throughout the world.

"If I had so willed," Elokim instructed Mosheh to tell Pharaoh, "I could easily have exterminated you and all your people when I sent the epidemic killing your animals. The only reason I allowed you all to survive was so that I would be able to show you My great strength. I want all the world to speak of My acts. (Rashi)

"I have no true need to play games with you, punishing you with one plague after another. If all I wanted to do was free My people, I could exterminate you and all your people in an instant. But I want you and all the world to know that not only do I have power to destroy, but I also have the power to have mercy, even to the totally undeserving. l am not like a mortal being who cannot control his anger. I want all the world to learn this lesson, that even the worst punishment must be tempered by mercy. Reason, not anger, should always dominate." (Binah Lelttim, Drush 29)

Shemot 9:17 'You still tread upon My people, not to send them out. 18 Behold, at the this time tomorrow I shall rain a very heavy hail, such as there was never been in Mitzrayim, from the day it was founded until now.

"Tell Pharaoh that the hail will begin tomorrow at precisely this time. As soon as you say these words, make a mark on the sundial. As soon as the shadow reaches that spot tomorrow, the hail will begin." (Shemot Rabbah; Rashi)

Shemot 9:19 And now send, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field; all the people and animals that are found in the field that are not gathered into the house - the hail shall descend upon them and they shall die.'"

In the case of this plague, Elokim sent warning. He did not intend that the hail kill man or beast. It was only meant to destroy the Mitzrian's crop and trees. (Ramban; Seforno)

Most of the Mitzrian cavalry horses had survived the epidemic, and Elokim did not want them to be killed by the hail. He wanted to save these animals to give Pharaoh the opportunity to attack the Yisa'elis by the Red Sea. As a result, all of Pharaoh's cavalry and chariot corps would be drowned in the Red Sea. (Shemot 14:28) (Derashot Yeshenim)

Shemot 9:20 Whoever among the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem chased his servants and his livestock to the houses. 21 And whoever did not take the word of Elokim to heart - he left his servants and livestock in the field.

[The Torah relates this in the singular.] Both classes were characterized by individuals. "He who feared Elokim's word" was characterized by Iyyov, who rushed his servants and livestock indoors immediately upon hearing Mosheh's prediction. "The one who did not fear Elokim's word," was embodied in Balaam, who made a point of ignoring Mosheh's warning. (Shemot Rabbah; Targum Yonatan; Zohar)

The Seventh Plague: Hail

Shemot 9:22 Hashem said to Mosheh, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven and there will be hail in the entire land of Mitzrayim, on man and beast, and on all the grass of the field in the land of Mitzrayim."

Elokim told Mosheh, "Stretch your hand over the sky." This indicates that Elokim had lifted Mosheh into outer space. (Rashi)

Shemot 9:23 Mosheh stretched out his staff toward heaven, and Hashem sent thunder and hail, and fire went earthward, and Hashem rained hail upon the land of Mitzrayim. 24 There was hail, and fire flaming amid the hail - very heavy such as had never been in the entire land of Mitzrayim, from the time it became a nation.

Mitzrayim is a very dry country, and hail is extremely rare there. It hardly ever rains in Mitzrayim; all irrigation comes from the rising of the Nile each summer. Thunder, lightning and hail were therefore highly unusual.

Mitzrayim was originally covered by the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, most of the land is covered with sand, and fish are occasionally unearthed under the ground. Geological upheavals later raised the land and lifted it above sea level. The descendants of Cham later settled in this land, eventually building large cities. Since the time the land rose up from the sea, there had not been such a rain in Mitzrayim. (Abarbanel. It was thus the greatest storm "since Mitzrayim had become a nation," but not before Mitzrayim had become a nation. Obviously, the rains of the Great Flood ahd been a great storm. It is significant to note that modern geology supports the view that Mitzrayim was once covered by the Mediterraean)

The plague of hail was miraculous in three ways.

First, it would normally be impossible for fire and hail to be together since they are opposites. In this plague, there was fire right inside the hailstones.

Second, the hailstones were very huge. Each hailstone was as large as six handfuls of ice. The bottom half of each hailstone was ice and fire, while the top half was all fire. (Rashi; Toledot Yitzchak; Shir HaShirim Rabbah on 3:11; BaMidbar Rabbah, Nasso, Chapter 12)

Third, the ice was able to contain the fire without melting. Moreover, the fire was not extinguished by the hail. (Yeffeh Toar, p. 71; Shemot Rabbah; Rabbi Shlomo ben Tzemach [Duran], Tiferet Yisra'el - Venice 1632)

Each of the huge hailstones therefore looked like a lantern. It was a phenomenon that had never been seen before on earth. (Shemot Rabbah; Shir HaShirim Rabbah; BaMidbar Rabbah, loc. cit)

Shemot 9:25 The hail struck in the entire land of Mitzrayim, everything that was in the field from man to beast; all the grass of the field the hail struck and every tree of the field it smashed. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the B'ney Yisra'el were, there was no hail.

The heavy, sharp-edged hailstones tore at the trees like axes. Initially, the hail fell as super-cold ice. Any Mitzrian out in the fields even with protection was frozen to death. Later, when fire started to accompany the hail, many were roasted alive. (Shemot Rabbah, p. 71)

There were places where the Mitzrian and Yisra'eli animals were kept together in the fields. Only the Mitzrian animals were struck by the hail; the Yisra'eli livestock suffered no damage whatever. (BaMidbar Rabbah, Naso, Chapter 9)

In many areas, the hail piled up in huge drifts, trapping the Mitzrian animals. When it was safe to go out, the Mitzrayim slaughtered these injured animals, hoping at least to save the flesh. But when the Mitzrayim tried to transport the meat home, it was devoured by ferocious buzzards. (Shemot Rabbah, loc. cit.; Midrash Tehillim 79)

Mitzrayim was punished with this plague because they had forced the Yisra'elis to plant orchards, vineyards and gardens for them. There were many fine parks in Mitzrayim built with Hebrew slave labor. All these were destroyed by the hail. (Shemot Rabbah; Tanchuma)

Out of hatred for the Yisra'elis, the Mitzrayim had beaten them and had even thrown stones at them. It was now as if Elokim were throwing "stones" at the Mitzrayim. Also, the Mitzrayim used to scream at their Yisra'eli slaves. With thunder, the heavens now "screamed" at the Mitzrayim. (Abarbanel; Yad Yosef)

Of all the plagues, this was the only one for which Elokim sought counsel from His heavenly tribunal. All agreed that it should be sent.

The reason that Elokim sought counsel with regard to this plague more than all the others was that it was only intended to destroy plant life but not humans or animals. People would be warned, and those who did not heed the warning would be killed. Since the initial decree was only against plant life, Elokim sought the concurrence of His tribunal before allowing any humans to be killed. (Yeffeh Toar, [from the expression "and Elokim" in 9:23])

Shemot 9:27 Pharaoh sent and summoned Mosheh and Aharon and said to them, "This time I have sinned; Hashem is the Righteous One, and I and my people are the wicked ones. 28 Entreat Hashem - there has been an overabundance of Mighty thunder and hail; I shall send you out and you shall not continue to remain."

"It's all our own fault. Elokim is just, warning us to bring our flocks indoors to protect them. If anyone died, it was his own fault." (Shemot Rabbah)

Shemot 9:29 Mosheh said to him, "When I leave the city I shall spread out my hands to Hashem; the thunder will cease and the hail will no longer be, so that you shall know that the earth is Hashem's. 30 And as for you and your servants, I know that you are not yet afraid of Hashem, Elokim." 31 The flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was ripe and the flax was in its stalk. 32 And the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they ripen later.

"Do not think that you have fooled me," said Mosheh. "As soon as this plague has passed, you will become just as stubborn as before. I know that you do not respect our Elokim. Still, I will pray to my Elokim to make this hail stop so you will know that He is completely in control of all elements." (Ibid)

Mosheh did not want to pray inside the city limits since wherever he went he would encounter idols. Whenever Mosheh prayed to remove a plague, he would leave the city. It is mentioned here only because Pharaoh had asked Mosheh to pray immediately. Mosheh therefore replied that he would first have to leave the city. (Ibid.; Ramban)

Here also Mosheh said, "I will spread out my hands to Elokim." Although this was an extremely devastating plague involving the elements themselves, Mosheh explained that he would not have to resort to any complex rites or rituals to abolish it. He would not even have to utter a word of prayer. All that he would have to do was spread out his hands to Elokim in a prayerful position, and the hail would immediately stop. Even this, however, Mosheh refused to do within the city. (Zevach Shelamim)

According to another opinion, Mosheh only left the city to pray on this one occasion. Normally, the Mitzrayim did not keep their idols in the city, but outside on the hills in tree groves. Learning of the impending hailstorm, they brought all their idols into the city for protection. Since the city was now filled with idols, Mosheh would not offer any prayers within the city limits. (Tzedah LaDerekh; Derashot Yeshenim)

Mosheh's example should serve as a lesson to people who travel. Before praying in a strange room, one should carefully inspect it to make sure that there is no filth present. It is better to worship on the road than to do so in a room that is not clean. (Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit)

Mosheh reported that both the barley and the flax had been destroyed by the hail. The barley was already ripe, and its ears had been pounded into the earth. The flax had already formed stalks, and these had been pulverized by the hail. Wheat and spelt, however, had not been harmed since they had been late in coming up. When the Torah states that "all the plants in the field were destroyed" (Shemot 9:25), it is only speaking of plants that had already emerged from the ground. (Rashi)

Elokim had a special reason to spare the wheat and spelt at this time. He was saving them for the next plague, locusts. (Yeffeh Toar, p. 72; Kesef Nivchar. See 10:12)

Even the wheat and spelt that had already sprouted was still so soft that it was not broken by the hail. Although the fire accompanying the hail could have burned the young plants, Elokim miraculously spared them so that they could be eaten by the locusts. (Toledot Yitzchak; Rabbi Moshe ibn Chabib. Cf. Zevach Shelamim)

Mosheh was careful to point out to Pharaoh that not all the crops had been destroyed by the hail. "Before you say anything," Mosheh warned, "take careful account of what has happened. It is too late to do anything about the barley and the flax; they are already on stalks and have been destroyed by the hail. But there is still a chance for the wheat and the spelt. If you keep your word and let our people go these crops will survive. But if you break your promises once again, these will also be destroyed. (Ramban; Abarbanel; Bachya, quoting Saadia Goan; Derashot Yeshenim)

"You asked me to pray for you, and I am telling you that I will delay until I am able to leave the city. During this interval there will be no further damage. The barley and the flax are already beyond hope. The wheat and spelt have not yet sprouted and will not be harmed." (Sifetey Cohen)

Many authorities maintain that the year of the plagues was a leap year, with the month of Adar doubled. The plague of hail would then have come during Nissan, which would have been the harvest month.

However, this is not necessarily so since in Mitzrayim harvest is a month earlier than it is in the Holy Land. Usually, new wheat is available in Mitzrayim before Pesach. The Torah therefore says that Mitzrayim is like "Elokim's garden." (Bereyshit 13:10) This indicates that grain ripens in Mitzrayim even before it does in the Holy Land, even though the Holy Land is one of the most fertile areas in the world. (Sefer Yuchsin [Part 1,] s.v. Mosheh. Cf. Paaneach Raza; Alshekh; Ramban)

Shemot 9:33 Mosheh went out from Pharaoh, from the city, and he stretched out his hands to Hashem; the thunder and hail ceased and rain did not reach the earth.

Mosheh spread his hands out to Elokim as soon as he passed through the gates of the city. There is a tradition that Mosheh had a special hut in which he would pray. Until this day, there is an ancient synagogue on that spot, the oldest synagogue in Mitzrayim. (Shemot Rabbah; Targum Yonatan; Abarbanel)

Mosheh spread out his hands and uttered a short prayer, and the thunder and hail immediately stopped. The Torah says "the hail and rain stopped falling to the ground," indicating that even hail that was already falling stopped. Some of this hail later fell on the 'Emoris in the time of Yehoshua. (Yehoshua 10:11) Some of these stones are still in the sky, and they will fall during the War of Gog and Magog, as predicted in Scripture. (Yechezk'el 38:22) (Shemot Rabbah; Targum Yonatan; Tanchuma; Rashi; Zohar, BeShalach. In Yechezk'el this is referred to as Elgavish, also see Yechezk'el 13:11, 13. In his book, Sefer HaAtzamim [London, 1901], Ibn Ezra states that Elgavish denotes meteorites. This might then indicate that the "fiery hail" that struck Mitzrayim also included a meteorite shower. The meteorite swarm then remained in solar orbit, and struck the earth again in the time of Yehoshua. It will strike a third time in the War of Gog and Magog, preceding the Messianic age.)<

Shemot 9:34 Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder ceased, and he continued to sin; and he made his heart stubborn, he and his servants. 35 Pharaoh's heart became strong and he did not send out the B'ney Yisra'el, as Hashem had spoken through Mosheh.

Actually, Pharaoh had only asked Mosheh to stop the thunder and hail (Shemot 9:28), but not the rain. He assumed that if Mosheh was merely using a powerful form of sorcery, he would not be able to distinguish between hail and rain. If it was truly the power of the Creator of the universe, however, it would be a simple matter to stop the hail, but let the rain continue to fall. (Olat Shabbat; Mishkenot Yaakov; Maharimat)

Therefore, when Pharaoh saw that the rain had also stopped, he immediately became stubborn again. He assumed that since Mosheh could not stop half the plague, it must have been caused by the dark powers.

This is the mentality of the wicked. When evil befalls them, they beg Elokim to have mercy. But after the evil has passed, they immediately revert to their bad ways. A truly moral person, however, must be consistent. Even when things go well, he must recall how he pleaded with Elokim in his times of trouble. This will keep a person in a constant state of closeness to Elokim. (Ibid,; Etz HaChaim)

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