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What Was the Point of the Plagues?

What Was the Point of the Plagues?

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Question:

When it comes to the Passover Seder, I always get stuck on the ten plagues. The Nile River turns to blood, the land is covered in frogs, the people riddled with lice. It all sounds a bit weird. Why would the Almighty G‑d afflict a people with these particular plagues? He could have just zapped them, and yet He sends them....frogs?!

Answer:

It just doesn't sound menacing

I too have been baffled by the plagues, especially the frogs. It is a bit incongruous, like calling a football team "The Roosters." It just doesn't sound menacing.

You can only understand the plagues if you listen to the way G‑d Himself described them. He told Moses, "I will smite the Egyptians and bring justice to their gods." G‑d was not only punishing the Egyptian people for enslaving the Israelites, He was also smashing the Egyptian value system.

Each plague was an attack on the core beliefs of Egypt, the beliefs that led them to become the most immoral society of that time. Let's look at the three examples you mentioned: the river turning to blood, the frogs and the lice.

The Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god. It was their source of irrigation, and thus their source of wealth. The Nile represents materialism in the extreme. That's why it was afflicted first. When money is god, blood will flow.

The frog was another Egyptian deity, the god of fertility. Having children is a noble pursuit, but for the Egyptians, children were no more than a power base. Being fruitful like a frog meant expanding your clan and extending your influence. When children are seen as frogs, humans have lost their humanity.

But it was the third plague, the plague of lice, that forced the Egyptians to recognize that the finger of G‑d was at play. The Egyptian sorcerers were able to replicate the first two plagues through black magic, and so they weren't convinced that they were being divinely punished. But when lice swarmed over every Egyptian, they lifted their hands up in defeat.

As powerful as Egyptian sorcery was, it could not manipulate something as small as a louse. Egyptian spirituality dealt with big things, major issues, not minute details. They didn't give importance to the small things.

Our children are not trophies

We left Egypt and its ugly beliefs behind to embrace a value system that was its polar opposite. Money is not a god, merely a means to do good. Our children are not trophies, but precious souls entrusted to us by G‑d. And little things do matter. Most of our lives are made up, not of dramatic choices and big events, but of small details and subtle choices, and they all make a difference.

At the Seder we enumerate the ten plagues and reflect on the values that made the Egyptians into oppressors--the values we left behind, and the values that have kept us coming to the Seder for three thousand years.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Gamliel Cosme Philadelphia PA February 20, 2016

Please. I'd like to hear a comment of the next 7 plagues.
Toda raba. Reply

Anonymous El Paso, TX March 13, 2015

Run from the frog! I began reading this email and suddenly thought of how, as young children, we had to dissect a frog in school. Oy. I remember being repelled at the thought and got excused from the task! Inherent historical feelings? Reply

Shaul Wolf Chabad.org March 12, 2015

Re: Chaim There are a number of answers given to this question.

The Medrash explains, that although the Egyptian sorcerers were capable of replicating these miracles, they were not capable of reverting the miracle back to its original state. They could turn water into blood and create frogs from the Nile, but they could not turn the blood back to water or get rid of the frogs.

Another answer, given by the Shemen HaMaor, is that this was in order to show the strength of God for all generations. If the miracles would have been performed in front of simple people, later generations might claim these miracles do not display God's superiority, and the Egyptians were simply incompetent. God specifically performed miracles that the Egyptians themselves could replicate, to show that they were talented sorcerers, and they were nevertheless forced to admit that "This is the hand of Hashem". Reply

Chaim Tel Aviv March 12, 2015

Why these plagues If, as you say, " The Egyptian sorcerers were able to replicate the first two plagues through black magic," , why didn't Hashem make plagues that the Egyptian sorcerers could not duplicate? If the Egyptian sorcerers could duplicate 2 plagues, then they were not plagues on the same level as the others, and therefore why do we acknowledge them, why not say there were 8 real plagues, and 2 minor ones that were copied by the sorcerers? Reply

Sarah Brooklyn March 12, 2015

plagues How do you account for the morality in killing first born children? Reply

seanna Riverside March 10, 2015

Michael! If I remember correctly, every plague correlated to an Egyptian god. G-d was simply showing His strength over the powerless gods they worshipped. Reply

Steve E Abraham New York September 3, 2014

why plagues? why not something more direct? If Hashem caused all of the Egyptian weapons to melt, and chariots to cease working, and caused all of the Egyptian temples and holy places to collapse, without having to kill anyone, wouldn't the Egyptians have gotten the message? Also, the Torah allows slavery. Why subtle plagues, and ten of them, rather than one, complete and strong message! Less innocent people would die? Reply

Michael April 10, 2014

Thank you very much for giving an explanation to these plagues. Could you explain the remaining plagues please? It gives you much more understanding of what was happening at that time and the lall time link with the present. Reply

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