Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


Jan. 1, 2011/25 Tevet 5761
Modern Author: Simone Zelitch, Ten Plagues

KOSHI: WHAT is the ultimate purpose of the plagues? WHY must Pharaoh’s heart be broken in order for him to “know the Lord?”

CHAP 7, V. 15   Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is coming out to the water, and station yourself before him at the edge of the Nile, taking with you the rod that turned into a snake.

TALMUDstation yourself….Rabbi Yochanan taught, Moses was instructed to speak respectfully to Pharaoh in a manner consistent wit his royal position. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish differs- Pharaoh was a wicked person, therefore Moses was to confront him haughtily [Zevachim 102a].

ALSHECH…God sent Moses to the River because He wanted Pharaoh to see with his own eyes that the water turned to blood as soon as Moses issued the Divine command.

R’BACHYA…the first warning of each set [of plagues] was delivered at the River and the second warning was in the royal palace, because those were the symbols of Pharaoh’s arrogance. He regarded himself as the master of the River, which was the source of agricultural life in arid Egypt, and when he was buffeted by a plague, his resistance would be stiffened by the palace, the seat of his power. Therefore God chose those two places to proclaim Pharaoh’s downfall and show him that he was powerless to defy the Divine will.

MUNK…Pharaoh is publicly warned of the calamites that will befall his land at the very place he demands to be worshiped as the divinity of the Nile.

V. 16   And say to him, “The Lord the God of the Hebrew, sent me to you to say, “Let My people go so that they may worship Me in the wilderness.” But you have paid no heed until now. 

ABRAVANEL….Pharaoh took issue with Moses on three principles… and it was for these that the plagues came. The first three plagues came to prove God’s existence. The next three asserted the providence of God. The last three came to substantiate that God can change the nature of things at will.

MUNK…The progression of the plagues is that they first strike man’s material possessions and then with each subsequent plague they strike closer and closer to man himself.

RAMBANyou have not heeded up to now…Since this was not merely a sign to demonstrate Moses’ legitimacy, but a severe national punishment, it was necessary for Moses to justify it by telling Pharaoh that he had brought it upon himself. Contrary to the arrogant ridicule when Moses and Aaron first came to him (5:2-9), he did not respond now, because the previous signs and wonders left him afraid of what Moses might do to him. Still, convinced that Moses was but a superior Magician, Pharaoh’s heart was strong and he did not heed Moses’ request.

 V. 17   Thus says the Lord, By this you shall know that I am the Lord…

SARNA…The present narrative is a sophisticated and symmetric literary structure with a pattern of three groups each comprising three plagues. The climactic tenth plague possesses a character all its own. The first two afflictions in each triad are forewarned; the last always strikes suddenly, unannounced….The controlling purpose behind this literary architecture is to emphasize the idea that the nine plagues are not random vicissitudes of nature; although they are natural disasters, they are the deliberate and purposeful acts of divine will- their intent being retributive, coercive, and educative. As God’s judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites, they are meant to crush Pharaoh’s resistance to their liberation. They are to demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods, and by contrast, the incomparability of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of Creation, who uses the phenomena of the natural order for his own purposes.


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