Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
The Educational Message of the Ten Plagues
Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 04:43:10 PM
Number of views: 2441

We are all aware from the Haggadah of Pesach of R’ Yehudah’s having abrreviated the ten plagues as דצ''ך (Detzach), עד''ש (Adash), באח''ב (Be’achav).  However, what’s his point?  Abarbanel finds a surprising distinction between these three groups that emerge and therefore attributes a special purpose to each.  Let us examine their distinguishing traits.

Each of these groups has its own sort of introduction.  Concerning the first of the trio - blood, wild animals and hail – Moshe is told to rise early in the morning to threaten Pharaoh (the smiting of the firstborn is a special category).  In the second - frog, pestilence and locusts – the threat is prefaced with Moshe being told, “Go to Pharaoh.”  Concerning the third - lice, boils and darkness – no threat is mentioned.  This arrangement proves that the three groups are separate units performing unique functions.

Still another distinguising trait stands out.  At the beginning of each threesome a goal is stressed: that Pharaoh should realize Hashem’s existence, as written, “in order that you know.”  Through these patterns, the division into three groups is crystallized and this division finds expression in R’ Yehudah’s mnemonic.

How is each group unique?  Through his personality, Pharaoh comprised the ultimate heretic, and his heresy expressed itself on three levels: (a) denial of Hashem’s existence; (b) denial of Divine Providence; and (c) denial of Hashem’s ability to alter nature.

The first group of plagues serves to challenge Pharaoh’s denial of Hashem’s existence, hence with the first plague Hashem says (Sh’mos 7:17), Through this, you will know that I am Hashem.”  This goal is achieved when the Egyptian magicians concede (v. 8:15), “It is the finger of God.”

The second group serves to prove Divine Providence.  Regarding this, the Children of Israel are treated more favorably than any other beings in Egypt , demonstrating that Hashem watches over and distinguishes between His creatures.  Before the fourth plague, Hashem stress His wish to publicize that (v. 8:18)  “I am Hashem right here on earth,” reminiscent of (II Divrei HaYamim 16:9), “Hashem’s eyes roam throughout the earth.”

The third group serve to demonstrate Hashem’s ability to alter the laws of nature and to demonstrate might, power and acts of deterrence.  Once this objective is fulfilled, Hashem says (Shmos 9:14), “There is none like Me throughout the earth,” to the extent that none can match His supernatural power and might.

Abarbanel elaborates on the way this idea fits into the text.  Moshe informs Pharaoh of these three axioms of faith (v. 5:1), “So said Hashem (Divine existence), God of the Hebrews (Divine Providence), “Let my people go” (ultimatum backed by force).”

Pharaoh, however, confronts this with total denial and says (v. 5:2), “Who is Hashem (denial of Divine Providence)…Neither shall I let Israel go (force versus force).”

The three groups of plagues are intended to negate Pharaoh’s hardness of heart, characterized by his perverse attitude towards the three principles of faith.  In the tenth plague, the killing of the first-born, the three principles are mentioned together.  Pharaoh is told (Sh’mos 11:4,7,6), “Around midnight I will go out into Egypt (Hashem’s existence)…Hashem will differentiate between Egypt and Israel (Divine Providence)…There will be a great cry throughout the land of Egypt such as never was and never will be (Hashem’s power and might).”

The first plague was accompanied by a public warning at the riverside, the second by a warning to Pharaoh alone, as written (Sh’mos 7:26), “Go to Pharaoh,” and the third came without any warning.  Why?

The third plague of each group delineated by R’ Yehudah is directed against the human body, while the preceding two never are, indicating that two warnings precede each physical punishment.  This implies that the first two plagues in each group are not meant to mete out physical punishment but achieve an educational goal.  Only when that goal has not been achieved is the body punished.

Meshech Chochmah states that in those days Egypt was the greatest culture in existence.  It was therefore selected to have its views degraded with a view to advancing knowledge of Hashem.  As Meshech Chochmah adds, the main educational goal was aimed at the Children of Israel in Egypt (v. 7:5), “I will stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Children of Israel from among them.”  This means that every plague that befell the Egyptians redeemed the Children of Israel from Egyptian defilement, removing from their hearts the heretical views mentioned above.

Kabbalah teaches that the ten phrases by which the world was created represent ten paths to knowledge and correspond to the ten plagues.  Each plague redeemed one phrase for the Jewish people.  For example, from (v. 10:21), “Let there be darkness in Egypt ” emerged “Let there be light,” in knowledge, outlook and deed.  And the ten plagues also correspond to the Ten Commandments which in turn represent the Ten Sefirot.

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