Surprising as it may be, there are some Rabbinic opinions that say that Jews and Egyptians alike were smitten with the first three plagues: blood, fogs, and lice. Ibn Ezra bases his opinion on the verse introducing the fourth plague, "I will miraculously set apart the Goshen area, where My people remain". (Ex. 8:18) He points out that since "setting apart Goshen" was not mentioned with the first three plagues, these three affected everyone! Only in the fourth plague of wild animals and those that followed (these being more dangerous and harsher), was a separation made between Jew and Egyptian.

The Ridbaz argues against this point, reasoning that the purpose of the plagues was to force Pharaoh to release the Jewish people; if the Jewish people were also being affected by the plagues, how could the plague influence Pharaoh?

The purpose of the first three was to topple the Egyptian spiritual foundations….

Trying to understand the Ibn Ezra, we can see that the first three plagues really were different. Unlike the later plagues that were actual punishments of the Egyptians, the purpose of the first three was to topple the Egyptian spiritual foundations. For instance, Rashi cites the Midrash (on Ex. 7:17) that the plague of blood was against the Nile, the Egyptian's deity. Also, the second plague, frogs, is connected to the Nile, from which the frogs emerged. As for lice, the Torah itself shows how Pharaoh's sorcerers were unable to reproduce the plague, proving that the plagues were an act of G‑d, not of magic produced by Moses and Aaron.

Since these first plagues were not a punishment to the Egyptians but rather strikes against their beliefs, it makes no difference if Goshen was affected or not. In fact, to enforce this point, it was imperative for the Nile to be affected wherever it was, even in the land of Goshen. Similarly for the lice, by necessity they had to be in all of Egypt to demonstrate its being the finger of G‑d and not a humanly wrought act.

What lesson can we learn from the above? The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests the following: The word for the fourth plague was "arov", or "mixture", referring to G‑d's banding together wild animals to attack the Egyptians. (The RaMaK says that it refers to "mixing" day and night because there were so many birds of prey in the sky, you could not tell if it was light or dark.) We can understand the word "arov" in a different way: The future of the Jewish people depends on their being separate and unique from the other nations. It is a Divine imperative that this sanctity be protected. When G‑d Himself breaks down the natural boundaries of the world, it is important that the separation of Jews from the other nations be intensified. This is the meaning of the verse above, "I will miraculously set apart". This separation affected all of the Jewish people, even those who did not want to leave Egypt, showing how important such a separation is to everyone regardless of his or her spiritual level.

By maintaining our separation as Jews regardless of how much society wants us to forget, especially in times like these when boundary after boundary is under attack, we will guarantee that there will be no barrier between ourselves and G‑d. Ultimately this will help every Jew return to his or her roots and bring Mashiach, immediately.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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