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Why the Ten Plagues?

Wednesday, 25 January, 2017 - 4:15 pm

This week we read about the downfall of the mighty Egypt through the medium of the ten plagues. G-d wrought destruction on the oppressive nation, leading eventually to the Exodus of the Jews. The plagues were a build up, successively getting harsher, until the tenth plague, death of the firstborns, was too much for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to handle. They caved to the Jews and let them free from their slavery.

If the final plague was so overwhelmingly powerful, couldn’t G-d have used it first and saved the need for the other nine. Why spend a year with a chain of lesser plagues and leave this winner for last?


There is a profound interpretation of the plagues that re-frames them, and answers this question. Using the verse (Shemos 10:2): "And in order that you tell into the ears of your son and your son's son how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and [that you tell of] My signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am the Lord,“ it suggests that the purpose of the plagues were not only to scare the Egyptians and pressure them into freeing the Jews. They were intended to deliver a message to the Jews themselves.

After hundreds of years of oppression in a foreign land and generations of immersion in Egyptian culture, the Egyptian values and ideals had assimilated into the Jewish psyche. The Jews had developed an Egyptian mindset.

Real freedom is internal. Freedom of the mind. Freedom of spirit. To be free required more than taking the Jews out of the physical space of Egypt; they had to be taken out of its mindset. They had to be reintroduced to a monotheistic worldview. Their thinking had to be reprogrammed. They had to rediscover their faith.

The plagues were sent to impress G-d’s mastery over nature on the Jewish people. They were educational mediums to teach the Jews about G-d and his omnipotence. Of course, G-d would not have used the Egyptian lives as props in this lesson if they would not have been deserving of it. But ultimately the specific choice of fair punishment meted out to the Egyptians was pedagogic; methodically inculcating a faith mindset into the Jewish people's minds.

One plague was enough to take the Jews out of Egypt. The ten plagues were to take Egypt out of the Jews.


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