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| (G-d said to Moses) “I will multiply my signs and wonders in the Land of Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen to you, and I will put My Hand upon Egypt, and I shall take out... my people, the Israelites from Egypt with great judgements” (7:3-4).
The signs and wonders are explained in the Passover Hagada to refer to the Ten Plagues that the Almighty brought on Egypt through Moses and Aaron – most of which are narrated in this Parasha. The Hagada quotes Rabbi Judah, who puts the initial letters of the Plagues together, making DETZACH, ADASH, B’ACHAB. What is the wisdom of Rabbi Judah making a mnemonic for the Plagues? Anyone could do it. In addition, why are the Plagues put together in groups of three, with the final plague added to the last line?
The well known explanation from the Maharal of Prague emphasizes that putting the Plagues into groups of three demonstrated how the Almighty showed His Power to Pharaoh in the following three domains. The blood, frogs, and lice (dust) came from below the ground. The wild animals, pestilence, and boils were at ground level. The hail, locusts, and darkness of the sky were above the ground. (So, too, was the Angel of Death in the Killing of the Firstborn.)
Pharaoh was duly warned in each group - two warnings are sufficient according to the Halacha. In the first group, the Egyptians could protect themselves by avoiding the Nile and barricading themselves from frogs, but there was no escape from the tiny lice. In the second group, they could shield from wild animals, and the pestilence only affected their cattle, but the boils tormented and agonized all of them. And in the third group they were told to protect themselves against the hailstones, and the locusts only ruined their crops, but they could not avoid the total darkness and the killing of the firstborn. This, according to the Maharal, was the wisdom of putting the Plagues into three groups.
Given this explanation of the Maharal, why did G-d divide his demonstration of His Absolute Power to Pharaoh into these three specific domains? And what was the significance of doing so in the sequence of below the ground to above the ground, instead of the other way round? Indeed the Tenach in several places associates the final doom with ‘down below’.
One suggestion may be found in looking at the number ten – of the Ten Plagues. The Talmud (Avot 5:1) states the world was created with ten words. For example, G-d said ‘Let there be light’. ‘Let there the land bring out vegetation’. He could have just as well created it with one word. This is intended to teach us that each aspect of the Creation was created separately, and renewed daily. As Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski points out (For the Shabbat Table, p.81), the world is not one big creation that looks after itself. The daily shacharit prayers affirm “He (G-d) in His goodness renews His work of the Creation every day”.
Thus the ten plagues may be seen as the counterpart of the ten words of the Creation. Pharaoh’s refusal to allow the Israelites to leave was an act that showed that he did not recognize G-d’s absolute power – he thought he could evade it. Thus the first three plagues were below the ground. This is an area people do not normally see or focus on. For this reason, the series began with the first three plagues – with a less powerful message. These emphasized G-d’s control on this part of the creation, which made the least impression on Pharaoh.
The next three, however, symbolized something harder to avoid – on the ground. However G-d’s showing His mastery of processes on ground level also failed to make a lasting impression on Pharaoh. He reasoned that perhaps G-d is just in this world, but there are forces within the universe that can save the Egyptians from Him.
Therefore the last three plagues gave the strongest lesson – that G-d is the Absolute Power, over the whole universe in the Heavens above and on the Earth below, there is no other (Deut. 4:39). Pharaoh again chose to defy G-d, even where he had been shown in stages the nature of His complete mastery of the Universe - until the Killing of the Firstborn. In so doing, Pharaoh not only rejected the absolute power of the Almighty who created the world in ten utterances. He also refused to see the breakdown of the rules of the ‘creation’ – in ten stages – that G-d had demonstrated to him.
This principal is developed by Rabbi Dr. Marcus Lehmann (Lehmann’s Passover Hagadda). In writing of the Ten Plagues, he develops the idea that the very world that was created by ten sayings was disturbed in its course by ten sayings. That same world is dependent for its whole existence upon fulfilling ten sayings – the Ten Commandments, which contain the essence of G-d’s law to humanity. He quotes Jeremiah who said, If this, my Divine Commandment, were not day and night, I would not have created the laws of heaven and earth (Jeremiah 33:25). He interprets this verse to mean the following:
Where the Divine laws of morality are trodden underfoot, heaven and earth, air and water, rise up in revolt; the whole universe rebels against this violation, in order to proclaim G-d as the Lord and Master of nature and mankind (p. 148).The lessons we may learn from this is that when Mankind defies the basic G-d revealed laws of humanity, that section of Man will not continue to flourish. In every generation, the Passover Hagada reminds us, nations have arisen destroy the Jews, but the Holy One Blessed Be He has saved us from their hands. Without exception, the regimes that persecuted us, from the Egyptians to the Russian Communists have fallen apart, whilst the Torah values as kept by the Jews have continued to thrive.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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