A Shabbat Nugget: Parashat Vaera

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the ten plagues that G-d exacted on Pharoh and the Egyptians in order to get them to agree to let the Jews leave Egypt.  There are many explanations given for the reason that G-d chose these specific ten plagues.  However, the famous scholar and philosopher the Maharal of Prague teaches that a close look at the verses provides much explanation for why these plagues were chosen.

When Moses and Aharon came to Pharoh and delivered G-d’s message to free the Jews, Pharoh responded, “Who is Hashem that I should heed his voice.. I do not know Hashem, nor will I send out Israel.”  Therefore, the purpose of the plagues was to show Pharoh that there is a G-d and what powers he has.

The Torah teaches us that the first two plagues of blood and frogs, the Egyptian sorcerers were able to imitate through magic, however the third plague of lice, they could not imitate and they told Pharoh, “It is a finger of G-d.” Thus, the first three plagues brought Pharoh to the realization that G-d exists.

However, there still remained the question, Is G-d involved in the affairs of man?  Perhaps he created the world and then left the world to run naturally. Therefore, when Moses comes to warn Pharoh about the fourth plague of wild beasts he says, “I shall set apart the land of Goshen upon which my people stand, that there should be no swarm there, so that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the land.” The same distinction was made in the fifth plague, Pestilence, as the verse states, “Not any of the children of Israel will die”, the Torah tells us that Pharoh sent people to check if any of the Jews cattle had died and was told that not even one of the Jews’ livestock had died.

Now that Pharoh saw that G-d is “In the midst of the land, he still needed to be convinced that Hashem is all powerful and is the absolute ruler of the earth.  This was accomplished by the last set of plagues which were extremely severe and harsh.  Regarding the plagues of hail and locusts, Moses tells Pharoh that they will be very severe, the likes of which have never been before in the history of Egypt and the final two plagues of dense darkness in which the Egyptians could not even move and the plague of the death of the firstborn clearly demonstrate G-d’s power.  Indeed when Moses warns Pharoh before this final set of plagues, the verse states: For this time I shall send all my plagues against your heart.  So that you shall know that there is none like me in all the world.

About Rabbi Pesach Scheiner

Rabbi Pesach Scheiner is the Rabbi of Boulder County Center for Judaism. In addition, he teaches extensively throughout Boulder County and is the author of "Finding the Joy in Everyday Living," a book of short chapters explaining the ways to access happiness through appreciation, gratitude, and a sense of purpose.

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