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Torah Attitude: Parashas Va'Eira: The ten expressions of Creation and the ten plagues
Everything is created from four basic elements: fire, air, water and earth. G'd created four groups, each one on a different level. On the fourth day, G'd created the sun, moon and stars. The Torah describes how idolatry was introduced already in the time of the grandson of Adam and Eve. The main purpose of the ten plagues was to disprove the different groups of heretics. The ten plagues correspond to the ten expressions through which G'd created the world. The water that was the source of the hail made peace with the fire and did not extinguish it, in order to fulfill the wish of the Creator. The moment G'd wants water to turn into another substance, such as blood, the water ceases to be water and turns into the other substance. By turning earth into lice, G'd showed His supreme power that when He so desires He can turn an inanimate element into a living being, and that every particle of earth is under G'd's control. With the plague of locust G'd proved that every wind is under His control and blows in the direction that G'd wants.
Four basic elements
The Kabbalists explain that everything is created from four basic elements: fire, air, water and earth (see Gates of Holiness by Rav Chaim Vital 3:2, see also Rambam, Law of the Basics of Torah 3:10-4:6). These four elements are all alluded to in the first two verses of the Torah. Three of them we find in the first verse, as it says: "In the beginning G'd created the heavens and the earth." Rashi (Bereishis 1:8) explains that heaven is a mixture of fire and water. In the second verse it says: "And G'd's wind is hovering over the waters."
Different levels of Creation
The Kabbalists further explain that G'd created four groups, each one on a different level. The lowest group are the basic elements themselves. These inanimate parts of the world were created and put in place on the first two days of Creation. On the third day, G'd created the second group, the vegetarian beings. On their level they have the ability to grow and reproduce. On the fifth and sixth days, all the animals were created. They are the third group who can move around, and, in many ways, are superior to the vegetarian parts of Creation. Finally, on the sixth day, G'd created man, the pinnacle of Creation. Man was created with intellect and the ability to communicate through speech.
Sun, moon and stars
On the first day of Creation, G'd also created day and night and instituted that the days should be light and the nights should be dark. On the fourth day, G'd created the sun, moon and stars. He arranged that the sun would provide light during the days and that the moon and the stars would somewhat illuminate the world during the darkness of the night.
Different beliefs in G'd
Obviously, Adam and Eve believed in G'd. They knew that He was their Creator and the Creator of the entire universe. However, the Torah describes how idolatry was introduced already in the time of Enosh, the grandson of Adam and Eve (see Rashi Bereishis 4:26). The Ramban at the end of next week's Parasha (Shemos 13:16) explains that different ideologies emerged at the time of Enosh, when idolatry was introduced. One ideology did not believe in G'd at all and claimed that the world had always existed. A second ideology accepted that G'd created the world but claimed that since then He does not know what is happening in the world. A third ideology believed that G'd created the world and knows everything that is happening, but He does not want to get involved, and He leaves everyone to fend for themselves.
Says the Ramban, prior to the exodus from Egypt, as G'd groomed the Jewish people to become His chosen nation, G'd wanted to disprove the different groups of heretics. This was the main purpose of the ten plagues described in this week's and next week's Parasha. This is what Moses said to Pharaoh towards the end of this week's parasha (Shemos 9:29): "You shall know that the earth is G'd's." This statement, says the Ramban, refers to those who do not believe that G'd created the world. Earlier it says (Shemos 8:18): "You shall know that I am G'd in the midst of the land." With this statement G'd made it clear that He is fully aware of what is happening down here on earth. Finally, when G'd instructed Moses to warn Pharaoh about the plague of hail, G'd told Moses to say (Shemos 9:14): "You shall know that there is no one like Me in the whole world." This, says the Ramban, addresses those who do not believe that G'd gets involved in the world's affairs. G'd made it clear that He is in charge of every element and controls everything that happens in the world.
The Maharal (Pirkei Avos 5:4) explains that the ten plagues correspond to the ten expressions through which G'd created the world (see Pirkei Avos 5:1). With this insight we can understand that each plague was a manifestation of G'd's sovereign power and control of a particular part of creation.
Water and fire
As mentioned above, the four basic elements were all created on the first day. At the plague of hail, it says (Shemos 9:24): "There was hail, and fire burning amid the hail." Rashi quotes from Midrash Rabba (12:4) that the water that was the source of the hail made peace with the fire and did not extinguish it in order to fulfil the wish of the Creator. In this way, G'd showed His total control over the elements of water and fire and their interaction.
Water and blood
Already by the plague of blood did it become apparent that water is only water as long as G'd decides so. The moment G'd wants it to turn into another substance, such as blood, the water ceases to be water and turns into the other substance. The fact that G'd showed this with the water of the Nile was a huge blow to the Egyptians. For years they had served the Nile as one of their idols, since they depended on its water for the irrigation of their fields. The moment the Nile's water turned into blood they realized that the Nile has not power of its own.
Earth and lice
By the plague of lice G'd said to Moses (Shemos 8:17): "Tell Aaron, 'stretch out your staff and smite the dust of the earth, and it shall turn into lice.'" By turning earth into lice, G'd showed His supreme power that when He so desires He can turn an inanimate element into a living being, and that every particle of earth is in G'd's control.
Wind and locusts
In next week's parasha (Shemos 10:13-15) the Torah relates how G'd proved that every wind is under His control and blows in the direction that G'd wants. As it says: "G'd brought an east wind through the land … and the east wind carried the locusts." Later when Moses prayed to G'd to remove the locust upon Pharaoh's request it says (ibid 19): "And G'd turned around a very strong west wind, and it carried the locust and hurled them to the Yam Suf."
In next week's Torah Attitude we shall continue, G'd willing, to show how the plagues proved that not only the basic elements are fully controlled by G'd, rather every being only functions the way G'd decides and wants.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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