Sedra Va’era and the Ten Plagues

January 18, 2012

In this week’s sedra of Va’era we read of 7 plagues afflicting Egypt and in next week’s sedra of Bo the final three. There is an easy way to remember – the word Bo consists of the two letters Bet and Alef whose numeric value is 3. Bet is 2 and Alef is 1.

There are many ways of dividing up the plagues. My father zatzal used to say that the Army is divided into three. Army, Navy and Air Force. He used to quote one of Churchill’s famous speeches – we will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them in the air …  Etc etc we will never surrender. ( I can’t remember it so google it if you are interested!)

He went on – the first three plagues were by water – blood, frogs, lice (from the sand) the next by land pestilence, plague, boils. Then from the air – hail, locusts, darkness, the angel of death. Indeed this is how they are divided in the Haggadah of pesach – and in Rabbi Yehudah’s mnemonic detzach adash be’achav.

However a close reading of the text reveals that the Torah itself divides them in a different way.

In Exodus 5:2 Pharoah said ” Who is Hashem, that I should listen to His voice, to send out the Jewish people?”

This sentence contains three separate expressions of denial!

Firstly – who is God. I do not recognise any power outside myself greater than me. But Pharoah like everybody realised that he was mortal and not omnipotent.

So let’s say that there is a God who created Heaven and Earth. Who says that He speaks to man? Who says that He is interested in the affairs of human beings. Like the Deists believe, maybe He created the world, gave it a flick and retired gracefully from the scene? Who can hear His voice?

Thirdly, even if He does command, I have free will and choose not to obey.

I hope that nobody reading this blog would ask who is Hashem?! But let’s be honest with ourselves. With all the noise going on around us daily are we really listening to His voice?
(I’m writing this whilst my father-in-law’s bathroom is bring fixed!!!)

You have to stop and listen carefully to hear his voice.

The plagues came to answer this threefold statement of denial. And as such they had an educational purpose as well as a punitive one.

After the first two plagues in chapter 8 verse 7 we read “… in order that you know that there is no-one like the Lord our God.”
This was the answer to “mi Hashem?”

After the plague of lice in chapter 8 verse 18 we read: “in order that you should know that I am God in the MIDST of the earth.”
God did not retire to heaven, disinterested in the affairs of man.

Finally in chapter 9 verse 16 it is written: ” because of this, in order that you will see My power and you will relate my name in all the earth.”

This is the answer to third expression of heresy.

Actually it is not clear to whom this verse is addressed. Pharoah and the Egyptians or the Jewish people and all who were in Egypt as well.

But it doesn’t matter. The plagues had an educational value for everybody.

Let’s hope that we never have to relearn these lessons but start listening to His voice and doing His will in love.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


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