I just read in your fantastic Passover site that the fourth plague that G‑d brought upon the Egyptians was a multitude of wild beasts. However, looking online, I see that many bibles say that the fourth plague was swarms of insects. Which ones was it?
The fourth plague that G‑d brought upon the Egyptians is referred to as עָרֹב arov. What does this Hebrew word mean? There are a number of schools of thought in the traditional commentaries.
The Midrash understands the word to mean “a mixture.” But a mixture of what?
Rabbi Yehudah explains that it was a mixed assortment of wild animals—a punishment for the Egyptians, who would have the Hebrews hunt wild animals with which their sadistic masters would then torture them. Rabbi Nechemiah, on the other hand, explains arov to have been swarms of hornets or mosquitoes.
The Midrash concludes that Scripture supports the view of Rabbi Yehudah. After the plague of the frogs, we read how Egypt was piled high with stinking—and completely useless—dead frogs. On the other hand, regarding the end of the arov plague, we read that G‑d “removed the arov from Pharaoh and his servants, and not one remained.” This was because dead animals have very valuable skins, which G‑d did not want to leave for the Egyptians. If the arov was a bunch of insects, why would G‑d not simply have them die and leave the remains, as He did with the frogs?
The vast majority of the great commentators (Targum Yonatan, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, et al) concur with Rabbi Yehudah, and explain that the plague of arov was a mixture of wild animals.
Alternatively, Rashbam understands the word to actually mean a wolflike beast that attacks at night. He explains that the word עָרֹב is related to עֶרֶב, the Hebrew word for evening.