The main theme of this week’s parshah is without a doubt the Ten Makkos (plagues). The plagues were Hashem’s way of punishing the Egyptians for enslaving the Jews and to show everyone (Jews included) who was truly ruler of the world.
Some of the makkos ended when Paroh asked Moshe to daven to Hashem. Most times Paroh did not ask for Moshe to daven and instead let the makkos run their course and end on their own. I would like to go into each one of the makkos and try to explain why Paroh only asked Moshe to daven by certain ones and not by all of them. Another interesting point is that the Torah uses different words to describe Moshe’s tefillah (prayer) by each makkah. I would like to explore each situation and try to find the differences between each tefillah.
First of all, there were three makkos where it was not necessary for Paroh to ask Moshe to daven: דֶּבֶר the animal epidemic, חשך darkness, and מכת בכורות the death of the firstborn. By דֶּבֶר and מכת בכורות, they only lasted an instant, there wasn’t any time for Paroh to ask Moshe to daven. The makkah of חשך lasted six days. The first three days it was dark but they could see enough to move around, so there was no need for Paroh to beg Moshe for anything. The second three days, it was so dark that they could not move, so Paroh could not have found Moshe to ask him! So the question is only by the other seven. How come Paroh asked Moshe for help by the makkos of צפרדע frogs, ערוב wild animals, ברד hail, and ארבה locusts, and not by דם blood, כינים lice, and שחין boils?
I would like to answer this question and the question of why Moshe’s tefillos are described differently by each makkah with my own idea (if I may).
Let’s start with the second question first. By צפרדע, Paroh asks Moshe to daven for the makkah to end. As Moshe leaves Paroh’s house, as it says in the pasuk, “…וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה עַל דְּבַר הַצְפַרְדְּעִים” “…And Moshe cried out to Hashem concerning the frogs…”.(8:8) The midrash explains that Moshe cried out for the frogs who were sacrificing their lives for Hashem’s glory by throwing themselves into baking ovens and down the throats of the Egyptians in order to cause them as much pain as possible. It was for these frogs that were giving their lives’ to prove Hashem’s dominance that Moshe davened, not for Paroh.
The next time Moshe davened was the makkah of ערוב. The word the pasuk uses to describe Moshe’s davening is “וַיֶּעְתַּר”, which is a normal language of tefillah. (This, by the way, is the word Paroh uses to ask Moshe to daven for him each time.) Moshe felt no pressure to pray any harder for Paroh’s benefit like he had earlier for the frogs. Therefore, he prayed a “normal” tefillah in order to get rid of the animals.
By the makkah of ברד, the pasuk says that Moshe left the city before he started praying and that the extent of his prayers were, “וַיִּפְרֹשׂ כַּפָּיו אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה” “And he (Moshe) stretched out his hands to Hashem…”(9:33), and right away the hail stopped! Why was so little effort required? Mitzrayim was a place full of witchcraft and idol worship. Because of that, Moshe had to concentrate harder to make his tefillos heard. However, once he left the city, for a man as great as Moshe, it was a simple matter of spreading his hands in preparation for prayer to make his prayers heard.
The makkah of ארבה is similar to the makkah of ערוב. Moshe was in no rush for the makkah to end, so he took his time and davened his regular tefillah to Hashem. Plus, he prayed in Egypt, which as we said made it harder for Moshe to concentrate.
So why did Paroh ask for Moshe to daven by these four and not by the other three? The pasuk says by דם, “וַיַּחְפְּרוּ כָל מִצְרַיִם סְבִיבֹת הַיְאֹר מַיִם לִשְׁתּוֹת” “And the Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink…” (7:24). According to some opinions, they actually did find drinkable water. If this was the case, Paroh had water and did not need to ask Moshe to stop the plague. A second possible answer is that the Egyptians could buy water from the Jews and therefore did not need to ask for the plague to end.
To answer for the plagues of כינים and שחין you could say that these two were different because these were the only two makkos which Paroh’s magicians could not preform. When Paroh saw this, he decided that it was worth the pain of the plague rather than be embarrassed by his magician’s ineptitude in front of Moshe.
The reason Paroh did ask by the other four is simply because they did not fulfill any of these problems and he therefore had no problem asking Moshe for help.