Parshas Vaeira begins one of the most famous stories in the Torah, the “Ten Makkos”, the Ten Plagues. The first seven plagues are found in this week’s parshah with the remaining three coming in next week’s. This parshah is so full of material to write on as each makkah contains a wealth of Divrei Torah to choose from. This year, I have decided to write about the makkah of Barad, Hail.
Hashem tells Moshe to warn Paroh about the upcoming plague with this message, “כִּי בַּפַּעַם הַזֹּאת אֲנִי שֹׁלֵחַ אֶת כָּל מַגֵּפֹתַי ” “Because this time, I am sending all my plagues…” (Shemos 9:14). Rashi explains that the phrase “all my plagues” teaches us that Makkas Bechoros, the Death of the Firstborn, the last plague, was equal to all the other plagues combined. Everyone asks on this Rashi; what is Rashi talking about? What does Makkas Bechoros have to do with Barad?
The Sifsei Chachamim explains that when Rashi said Bechoros, he doesn’t mean בכורות, firstborn, he means it similar to the word ביכורים, meaning ripened food. As we know from the pesukim (See 9:31), the Barad only affected the plants that were fully ripened. This is what Rashi was referring to.
So now our question changes from what is Rashi talking about Makkas Bechoros, to how is Barad equal to all the other plagues combined, especially when you consider the fact that Rashi explains in Parshas Shemos (4:23) that Makkas Bechoros was the worse than all the other plagues?
There are several answers given for this question. The first is from that same Sifsei Chachamim. He explains that for Paroh, who lost his son and was in danger of losing his own life in Makkas Bechoros, that plague was the worst. However, for the general populace, this plague of Barad was harder since they lost most of their crops.
There are two problems with this explanation. First, the Torah tells us by Makkas Bechoros that every Egyptian household lost at least one child (See 12:30), so the makkah was just as difficult for them as it was for Paroh. Secondly, as we have explained, only the fully ripened crops were destroyed by the hail, so there were still crops remaining even after the plague ended.
The Maharshal (also brought by the Sifsei Chachamim) gives a different explanation. Barad is the seventh of the Ten Makkos. During the fifth makkah, all the Egyptian’s animals died in an overnight epidemic. If Hashem was trying to show how powerful He is, the logical next step in after killing all the animals would be to kill all the people. Instead, for the next makkah, He brought Boils. While they were extremely painful, they did not kill anybody. Some of the Egyptians began to suspect that perhaps Hashem did not have the ability to totally destroy them. Therefore, before bringing this makkah, Hashem sent a warning the Paroh that there was a makkah coming in the near future that would show that He had the power to kill the people as well. That makkah was, of course, Makkas Bechoros. So this warning found here is not necessarily connected to Makkas Barad (we will see in the next answer that it might still be), and Rashi might still mean to say here that Makkas Bechoros was the worst makkah (unlike the previous explanation of the Sifsei Chachamim).
The last answer we will bring is from the Ohr HaChaim. Paroh suspected that Moshe was not performing these plagues as a messenger of Hashem, but rather as a highly skilled magician. Even though Paroh’s own magicians had determined by the third makkah that this was Hashem acting, Paroh still had not been convinced. So Hashem decided to bring a makkah that would show Paroh once and for all that these plague were coming from Him. In order to do this, He brought a plague that showed complete and total control over the weather, something that even dark magic or demons cannot control. Therefore, Barad was considered equal to all the other makkos since it ultimately showed Paroh beyond any doubt, exactly whom he was dealing with. And even with this sign, he still did not let the Jewish People free, which led to the final three makkos.
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