The main idea found in this week’s parshah is the story of the Ten Makkos (Plagues). The amount of pages written on this subject is enormous. Every commentator has a different idea, theme, parable, lesson, and purpose for each and every makkah. As a result, there is enough information to write a Dvar Torah just on each plague by itself! I spent a long time thinking about which makkah I should discuss, but every time I picked one, I got caught up in a different one! So, I decided to write about a central theme that explains all the makkos.
On Pesach night, we mention the makkos as part of the Hagadah recital. After we recite all ten, we quote R’ Yehuda who gives an acronym for them, דצ''ך עד''ש באח''ב. What is the purpose of these acronyms? It’s extremely unlikely that we will forget them that we should need a brain exercise in order to remember them. And that it was done in order to shorten the Seder makes no sense either because why would we not want to mention all ten plagues, as well as the fact that we are supposed to extend the Seder as late into the night as we can. So why did R’ Yehuda feel a need to give an abbreviated version? The Hagadah gives no explanation.
The Meforshim here in the Chumash explain that these acronyms of R’ Yehuda divide the makkos into themes. Some explain that each group has its own theme or special lesson, while others say that the first of every group is connected, the second of every group is connected, etc. We will go through a few of their explanations.
The Seforno first removes the last makkah, מכת בכורות “Death of the Firstborn”, from the acronyms (leaving it as דצ''ך עד''ש בא''ח) because the first nine were given in order to show the Egyptians the might of Hashem while the last one was purely for punishment. Each group of makkos used a different aspect of the world to proclaim Hashem’s greatness. The first group, containing Blood, Frogs, and Lice, all used the two major foundations of the Earth, the ground and the water. The second group, containing Wild Animals, Plague, and Boils, showed how he controls all living things. The third group of Hail, Locusts, and Darkness, showed his control over the atmosphere, as each makkah used some aspect of the sky. The hail used the weather, the locusts used the wind, and the darkness used the sun.
The Abarbanel explains that Paroh disputed Hashem in three ways. The first was that Hashem did not exist; the second was that even if he does exist, he doesn’t control what happens in this world. The last thing was that even if Hashem does control the events of the world, he cannot control nature and how the world actually works. Therefore, by the first makkah of each group, Hashem disputed Paroh’s claims and states the purpose of that makkah. By Blood, the pasuk says, “בְּזֹאת תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה” “With this you will know that I am the Lord” (Shemos 7:17), through this makkah, Paroh would realize that Hashem does exist. By Wild Animals it says, “לְמַעַן תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ” “…in order that you will know that I am Hashem in the midst of the earth” (8:18). Paroh would see from here that Hashem controls everything that happens in the physical world as well. By the Hail, the pasuk says, “בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ” “…in order that you should know that there is none like Me in the entire Earth” (9:14). After the hail, Paroh would clearly see that Hashem controls all natural events too.
The Kli Yakar expounds on the Abarbanel’s idea and explains the three acronyms in this fashion. The entire first group of makkos is coming to show the Egyptians that Hashem exists. The Meforshim explain in several places that because the Nile River provided sustenance for the entire country of Mitzrayim, the Egyptians treated it as a god. So the first thing Hashem did was attack the Nile by changing it into blood and making it unusable. A further consequence of believing that Hashem doesn’t exist is that there is no need to sanctify his name through קידוש השם. The Gemarah in Pesachim (53b) explains that the frogs threw themselves into the ovens of the Egyptians as part of the plague, losing their lives in order to sanctify Hashem’s name. And the plague of Lice was the first plague which Paroh’s magicians were unable to perform, which caused them to admit that “אֶצְבַּע אֱ־לֹהִים הִוא” “It is the finger of God!” (Shemos 8:14).
The second group showed how Hashem controls events on Earth as well in the heavens. Each one of the makkos of Wild Animals, Animal Plague, and Boils clearly differentiated between the Jews and the Egyptians, proving that Hashem has full control over whatever events will happen down here. By the Wild Animals, if a Jew and an Egyptian were walking down the street together, the animal would only attack the Mitzri (Egyptian). The Plague did not affect any of the Jewish animals while it killed all the Egyptian ones. And when Moshe threw the ash (the source of the Boils) over the entire land of Egypt (a miracle by itself), when it landed on the Egyptians it developed into boils, but when it landed on a Jew it did not.
The Kli Yakar changes from the Abarbanel’s explanation for the third group. He explains that Paroh at this point admitted that Hashem existed and that he ran the world, but he still believed that there was more than one god. (This is how the Kli Yakar learns the pasuk of, “בַּעֲבוּר תֵּדַע כִּי אֵין כָּמֹנִי בְּכָל הָאָרֶץ” “…in order that you should know that there is none like Me in the entire Earth” (9:14), instead of how the Abarbanel learned it.) He explains that Paroh most likely assumed that the sun and the constellations were the other gods and so these last four makkos were designed to prove how they were powerless. By the first three makkos of Hail, Locusts, and Darkness, the sun was hidden from view by clouds, the millions of locusts, and night, respectively. The last makkah of מכת בכורות, the Death of the Firstborn, also represented the “killing” of the firstborn constellation, Aries, which is called so because it is the first constellation of the year.
The point of this whole drasha is to show how the makkos were not only not random acts which Hashem chose to torture the Egyptians with, but even the order of the makkos was designed with a higher purpose in mind. This shows us that even when Hashem is “punishing” a person for their sins, it is not just an act of torture and terror, it is designed in a way that the person will be able to learn the most from. While the makkos were designed to show the Egyptians the might and power of Hashem in order that they should fear him, they can also teach us a few lessons as well. By observing the makkos, we can recognize the wisdom of Hashem in all aspects of our lives, and how he will always defend his chosen nation, Yisrael.
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