Chapter 6

[2] I am God: This statement is God's preface to His announcement that He is about to redeem His people. It informs us that the reason He exiled us to Egypt was in order to bring us to the level of Divine consciousness signified by the Name Havayah.

The Name Havayah connotes God's trustworthiness because it indicates His transcendence, i.e., that He is not limited by the laws of the world He created. In order to make us fully aware of His transcendence, God had to put us in a context of seemingly inescapable limitation and then remove us from it. Egypt was the perfect venue for this demonstration—as we have seen, its very name means "limitation."

Even though the forefathers reached sublime levels of Divine consciousness, they did not experience God's absolute transcendence. God therefore contrasts His revelation to them with the revelation the Jewish people are now ripe to experience by virtue of having endured slavery to Egypt—that is, slavery to limitation.

This preface is thus God's response to the complaint Moses had just voiced: "Why have you mistreated this people?" The exile and redemption from Egypt are a lesson in life that the Jewish people had to learn in order to become God's nation, and it is a lesson we must all internalize if we are ever to rise above the enervating routine and vacuity of mundane life. Our personal redemption is not complete until we have reached the transcendence implied by the Name Havayah, that is to say, until all that we are and do is permeated by consummate Divine consciousness that absorbs us totally into His essence.1

On another level, the exile was necessary in order to make the people desire freedom. Specifically, their subjugation to the nature-worshipping Egyptians was necessary in order to make them desire the freedom from this limited consciousness that is available only through the Torah.

In this context, God's answer to Moses was: "I had to subject them to the exile because I want them to rise to the level of Divine consciousness of the Name Havayah. In order for them to want this, I had to first show them what life is like without it."2

Even though God created the world with the Name Havayah—as evidenced by the verse, "By the word of God the heavens were made"3—this Name was hidden within the Name Elokim, which is the only Name used in the account of creation. Similarly, although the Name Havayah was revealed to the patriarchs, it was still garbed in the Name Elokim. Overall, God revealed Himself in the patriarchal age as the God of nature.

Here, however, "God [Elokim] spoke to Moses and said to him: 'I am God.' " The Name Elokim, so to speak, declared openly that it, too, is really the Name Havayah. Nature "admitted" that there is no such thing as nature, that the world does not run on "automatic pilot." God Himself, as He transcends nature, is the sole force in reality; even what appears to be "nature" is simply His power choosing to manifest itself through nature.

In this sense, God's purpose in giving the Torah was to bring us to the awareness that the Name Elokim is one with the Name Havayah.4


[2] I am God: On yet a deeper level, in order for a new level of Divinity to be revealed, the previous level of Divine revelation must be withdrawn; otherwise it will interfere with the new revelation. Therefore, before the revelation embodied in the Giving of the Torah could take place, the Godliness that permeated the world during the patriarchal age had to be withdrawn, and this withdrawal of Divine beneficence resulted in the Egyptian exile.

Furthermore, the greater the upcoming revelation, the greater must be the withdrawal of Divinity that precedes it. Because the Divine revelation that accompanied the Giving of the Torah was so great, the Egyptian exile had to last for a relatively long time.

By the same token, the present exile has lasted so long because the Divine revelations that are to accompany the messianic redemption will be greater than any the world has yet seen.5

According to the Midrash,6 Moses said to God: "The generation of the dispersion deserved to be punished because they rebelled against You. But this generation has not rebelled against you, so why do you subject them to such oppression?" According to Rabbi Yitzchak Luria,7 God answered: "Indeed, this generation is the reincarnation of the generation of the dispersion. Because that generation sinned by building a tower out of bricks and mortar,8 I am rectifying their souls by forcing this generation to make mortar and bricks."9

In this sense, the phrase "God said, I am God" means that God's attribute of justice (indicated by the Name Elokim), meting out punishment in kind, is really just a disguised form of His attribute of mercy (indicated by the Name Havayah). By subjecting the people to this servitude, God was rectifying and healing them of their past sins.10

[3] I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob: God chides Moses: "Even though I did not fulfill My promises to the patriarchs, they did not complain. You, however, do complain."

We explained above that Moses complained because his relationship with God was chiefly intellectual, whereas the patriarchs' relationship with God was chiefly emotional. Here, God responds to Moses' complaint by saying that the redemption from Egypt will reveal God's transcendence. This implies that the natural mutual exclusivity of intellect and emotions will be overridden, making it possible for someone who is predominantly intellectual—such as Moses—to internalize the advantages of emotionality, as well. This new reality will have two implications for Moses:

  • God's behavior will no longer challenge Moses' faith in Him, and therefore he will not question it. As we will see, this supra-rational relationship with God is a fundamental aspect of the bond forged between God and the Jewish people through the Torah.
  • Moses will develop a greater appreciation for applying the insights and understanding gleaned from intellectual inquiry to the real world. The nature of intellectual inquiry is such that it absorbs us in what we are thinking about, removing us somewhat from reality. We become less sensitive to other people's needs and less concerned with concretizing our ideals. By integrating the advantages of emotionality, Moses will overcome this drawback of intellectualism. Inasmuch as the purpose of the Torah is to bring Divine consciousness down to earth, this concern with the real world is also a fundamental aspect of the bond forged between God and the Jewish people through the Torah.

These lessons apply to us, as well. Those of us who are of a more intellectual bent must integrate the patriarchs' emotional surrender to God, taking care that our intellectualism not distract us from the needs of others or the exigencies of reality. On the other hand, those of us who are of a more emotional bent must try to emulate the intellectualism of Moses, setting aside daily time to study even the most abstract and seemingly irrelevant aspects of the Torah.

Just as this inter-inclusion of intellect and emotion set the stage for the exodus from Egypt, so will it hasten the coming Redemption.11

I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shadai ["God Almighty"]: Even though this Divine Name does not appear in the Torah until the history of the patriarchs, we are taught that it was already revealed in the world at creation. Shadai means "who is enough," referring to how God halted the process of creation by saying "enough!" as it were, once it had proceeded exactly as far as He intended.

However, the word Shadai can also mean "who has enough," i.e., that God's power is sufficient to supply His creation with all its needs. This aspect of God is the source of all the miracles that take place without openly overriding the laws of nature. This is the additional aspect of this Name that was revealed to the patriarchs.

With the Giving of the Torah, the Name Havayah was revealed in the world; this Name is the source of a higher order of miracles, those that openly defy nature's laws.12

I was not known to them by My Name God: Another way of expressing the idea that the patriarchs did not experience a true manifestation of the Name Havayah, even though they were aware of it, is to say that there are two such Names, one that is manifest within nature and one that transcends it.13 The patriarchs experienced the former but not the latter.14

[6-8] I am God…: The repeated use of the Name Havayah here—and especially the explicit statement, "you shall know that I am God"—illustrates the point made above: that the purpose of the exile was that we reach the Divine consciousness signified by this Name.

[6-7] I will free you…save you from their servitude…redeem you…I will take you to Myself: The four verbs in this passage allude to four ascending levels in our relationship with God:

  • I will free you: This refers to shunning evil. By shunning evil, we become free agents, unencumbered by its oppressive grip on us.
  • I will save you from their servitude: This refers to doing good, i.e., actively performing God's commandments. Only by actively engaging in good deeds can we be saved from backsliding into enslavement to evil.
  • I will redeem you: This refers to studying the Torah, since the Torah is the means by which we access God's infinity even while in this finite world, and thereby are redeemed from the limitations of nature.
  • I will take you to Myself: This refers to clinging to God Himself, whose essence transcends all categorization, both the finite and the infinite.15

[9] But they did not listen to Moses, because of their anguish of spirit and harsh labor: Each one of us possesses an "inner Moses," which is our awareness and knowledge of God.16 The reason why we often do not sense it or hear its voice is because of the "anguish of spirit and harsh labor," that is, because of the travails of our exile. But it is present nonetheless.17

[12-13] "Even the Israelites have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh listen to me?"…God spoke to Moses and to Aaron…He commanded them to speak to the Israelites…in order to take the Israelites out of Egypt: The people by this point had all but given up hope. God therefore told Moses to enlist Aaron's help in buoying up their spirits. Moses, the transmitter of the Torah, personified the descent of Divinity into the world. In contrast, Aaron, who was to become the progenitor of the priestly line, personified the ascent of the world into Divinity that occurred through the priestly rites. It was therefore necessary for him to be involved in uplifting the people so they could leave Egypt.

Allegorically, the Israelites signify the Divine soul within each of us, while Pharaoh signifies the human soul (with its animal drives) within us. Egypt, as we know, signifies the constricted consciousness of the material world. Moses' question to God, in this context, was: "If, because of its suffering in exile, the Divine soul—which is by nature foreign to the physical world—has despaired of being liberated from the constrictions of materiality, how can I hope to inspire the human-animal soul to want to leave? The material world is its natural habitat!"

To this, God replied, "Indeed, you and your approach are not able to inspire the human/animal soul in this way. This aspect of the personality cannot relate directly to pure, Divine concepts and values. For this, you must enlist the help of Aaron, someone who is able to speak to individuals on their level."

We, too, must find and enlist the Aaron within us when we seek to inspire the human/animal side of ourselves (or others) to reorient itself toward Divinity.18

[13] God spoke to Moses and to Aaron…He commanded them regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh…in order to take the Israelites out of Egypt: According to Rabbi Dovber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, there were two obstacles preventing the redemption from Egypt from happening the way God wanted it to:

  • Moses and Aaron at this point were too absorbed in the spiritual dimension of life to be capable of serving as channels for God's revelations to the world.
  • Pharaoh, the arch-opponent to Godly revelation, knew that the impending plagues would unequivocally demonstrate God's existence and omnipotence. He was willing to do anything—even release the Israelites from slavery—rather than allow the great revelations of God attending the plagues to occur.

In order to overcome these two obstacles:

God commanded Moses and Aaron regarding the Israelites: i.e., He connected19 them to the people and, through them, to the physical world.

And Pharaoh: He connected them to Pharaoh, forcing Pharaoh to hold on to the Jews and to refuse to let them go. And all this was—

In order to take the Israelites out of Egypt.20

[26] Aaron and Moses…Moses and Aaron: In Kabbalah, Moses and Aaron personify the two Divine Names Havayah and Elokim, respectively.21 The Name Havayah signifies God's transcendence, while the Name Elokim signifies His immanence hidden within creation. The allusion to these two Names in both orders refers to the union of these two Names, i.e., the awareness that God's transcendence informs His immanence.

There are two ways we can experience this consciousness: as a gift from God, or as a result of our own efforts. The former experience is more transcendent, but the latter permeates our consciousness more thoroughly and permanently.22 Both ways are necessary and are an inherent part of the Giving of the Torah.

The phrase "Aaron and Moses"—the "natural" way we would expect the two brothers to be listed, in their order of birth—alludes to the way God confers this consciousness upon us, descending "naturally." The phrase "Moses and Aaron"—referring to their consistency—alludes to the permanence of Divine consciousness that we attain on our own.23

In terms of our daily lives, Moses, the transmitter of the Torah, signifies the study of the Torah and performing its commandments, while Aaron signifies prayer, inasmuch as the daily prayers correspond to the sacrificial rites performed by the priests, Aaron's descendants. Just as, in these verses, Moses sometimes precedes Aaron and Aaron sometimes precedes Moses, so must the study of the Torah sometimes precede prayer while sometimes prayer must precede the study of the Torah.

In some instances, we may need to study the Torah or fulfill some commandment first in order to be properly prepared to express our love for God through prayer. Other times, we might need first to connect ourselves to God through prayer in order to study the Torah and fulfill its commandments out of proper, selfless devotion to God.24

From another perspective, Aaron signifies our intellectual bond with God, while Moses signifies our supra-intellectual bond with God. In this context, "the Israelites" signify our Divine nature while "Pharaoh" signifies our human/animal nature.

Therefore, when discussing how to speak to the Israelites, Aaron is given precedence, since it is usually enough to use the intellect to rouse our inner Divinity and generate feelings of love for God. Our Divine side responds well to logic and philosophical demonstrations. But when discussing how to speak to Pharaoh, Moses is given precedence, for in order to get the human/animal side of our personalities to answer God's calling, the force of intellect and logic is not enough. We must therefore emulate Moses and excite it with supra-intellectual revelations of God. Chief among these techniques is recounting how God has performed miracles through the sages of the Torah throughout history, up to our present time.25

From still another perspective, Moses personified the descent of Divinity into the world, while Aaron personified the ascent of the world into Divinity.26 Since the Exodus from Egypt was the ascent of the world toward Divinity, Aaron is mentioned first in this context. And since it was necessary to break Pharaoh's evil with a direct revelation of Divinity—intentionally without regard to his inability to withstand such a revelation—Moses is mentioned first in this context.27

Chapter 7


[1] I have made you a master over Pharaoh: Literally, this reads, "I have made you God over Pharaoh." In other words, God here assured Moses that he would be able to invoke God's power to overcome Pharaoh.

This was necessary because Pharaoh was then at the height of his power. The origin of evil is the world of Tohu, which is higher on the rung of Divinity than the world of Tikun, the origin of holiness. This does not mean that evil is better than holiness, only that it possesses more innate power. Indeed, the major challenge of life is to harness the power inherent in evil for the purpose of goodness and holiness. But when evil manifests its source—that is, it asserts its perceived independence from God—it is too powerful for the forces of holiness within creation to overcome.

In such instances, only God Himself can help. God's essence transcends both Tohu and Tikun and can break the otherwise invincible power of evil. For this reason, God had to assure Moses that He would come to his aid.

The same holds true in every generation. The leaders of each generation, who are worthy to stand in Moses' stead due to their complete self-abnegation before God, are able to invoke God's Divine power to overcome the forces of evil. We, as individuals, can partake of this power when we are properly connected and devoted to the generation's leaders.28

[2] You shall repeat before Pharaoh everything that I shall command you, exactly as you heard it from Me, in Hebrew.

At this point, Pharaoh, the embodiment of evil in his day, was at the height of his power. No human power could resist him; only God Himself. This is why God told Moses, "Observe! I have made you a master [Elokim, literally, 'God'] over Pharaoh." He channeled His own Divine power through Moses.

This is why God told Moses to repeat verbatim—in Hebrew!—what he heard from Him. The purpose of his pronouncements was to break the power of evil even while it was at its greatest power. Moses, as a human being, was not involved in this at all; he was simply the channel through which God's power could attack Pharaoh. Only after this power had been broken was there place for Aaron to speak to Pharaoh on a human level.

Moses was able to serve as a conduit for this Divine power two reasons: first, because he was the Divinely-appointed leader of his generation, through whom God's blessing flows into the world in any case; and second, because Moses had already despaired of using his own gifts to accomplish his mission. Once he was void of all ego and pretension, he could serve as a transparent conduit for God's power.

Similarly, there are times in our lives when our animal nature seems to have the upper hand. At such times, the best way to overcome it is to rage against it, insult it, and humiliate it. Exposing it for what it is breaks its power over us. We derive this power to brazenly oppose the forces of darkness from the "spark" of Moses within each of us.

The same is true regarding our mission to oppose the forces of darkness in the world at large. In this effort, we are all emissaries of the leader, the "Moses" of our generation. Of course, we must always convey God's message in a pleasant and peaceful way, just as God commanded Moses to address Pharaoh respectfully. But at the same time, we must approach our "Pharaohs" fearlessly and forcefully. If we remain true to the Divine message "Moses" communicates to us—just as Moses had to convey God's message to Pharaoh without embellishment—we can break the power of darkness and help bring God's redemptive light to the world.29

You shall repeat before Pharaoh everything that I shall command you: The people heard God's message to Moses only indirectly, through Aaron, while Pharaoh was privileged to hear it directly from Moses. Is this fair? Why should Pharaoh be so highly rewarded for his evil?

The answer to this question lies in the way the Torah describes Aaron's role in each context. To the people, he simply transmitted Moses' message, acting as his "mouth"30 both in regard to the language of the message (Hebrew) and its content. His function was simply to compensate for Moses' speech impediment. Thus, there was no deficiency in the Divine message the people heard from Aaron—in fact, they heard it more clearly through him than they would have had they heard it directly from Moses.

To Pharaoh, however, Aaron was Moses' "prophet." He translated the message into Egyptian and garbed it in his own words, using his understanding of Pharaoh's psychology to phrase the message in what he considered to be the most effective way. This was necessary because the Divine message Pharaoh heard from Moses was totally incomprehensible to him.

Thus, although Pharaoh heard God's message verbatim, in the final analysis, the people heard it more directly.31

[3-5] I will harden Pharaoh's heart…Pharaoh will not listen to you…The Egyptians will recognize that I am God: In many instances,32 the Torah states that the purpose of the plagues was to convince Pharaoh and the Egyptians of God's reality and power in order that they release the Jewish people as He had commanded.

On the other hand, God promised Abraham that He would punish the Egyptians for enslaving the Jewish people,33 and He fulfilled this promise with the plagues.34 This being the case, God would have had to inflict the plagues on the Egyptians whether or not they acknowledged His existence and power, and even if Pharaoh had agreed to release the Jews when Moses first asked him to.

Similar reasons are given for why God took away Pharaoh's free choice. In the basic, contextual sense of the Torah, God did this in order to punish Pharaoh for brazenly boasting that he was a totally free agent and did not have to listen to God.

But there are other reasons, as well. According to some opinions,35 God made Pharaoh stubborn as a punishment for having enslaved the Jewish people. By making him stubborn, God forced him to endure punishment commensurate with his crime of oppressing the Jews. Making Pharaoh stubborn was thus God's way of fulfilling His promise to Abraham that He would punish the nation who enslaved the Jewish people.

According to yet other opinions,36 God made Pharaoh stubborn in order to make him witness a sufficient number of plagues to convince him of God's existence and omnipotence and inspire him to finally submit to God's request of his own accord.

We could attempt to reconcile these two opinions regarding the purpose for the plagues by assuming that God had to convince the Egyptians of His reality and power so they could realize it was He who was punishing them for enslaving the Jews. But elsewhere,37 the Torah implies that convincing the Egyptians was an end in and of itself, as well.

Rather, the solution is that convincing the Egyptians was itself their punishment. Since the entire civilization of Egypt was based on the denial of God (i.e., either of His existence or of His presence), demonstrating His existence and omnipotence exposed the sham of their culture and demoralized them completely.

But in still other places,38 the Torah implies that the plagues were meant to impress the Jews and educate them regarding God's mastery over nature.

This can be explained by recalling that, in essence, the purpose of everything that happens in the world—including the creation of the world altogether—is for the sake of the Jews, to better enable them to fulfill their Divine mission. Even when there is also some other purpose behind what happens, its ultimate purpose is for the Jews' benefit.

This is the lesson here for us. No matter how insignificant the Jewish people seem to be in the scheme of world affairs, we must always recall that ultimately, all that happens is for our sakes, despite the fact that God certainly orchestrates humanity's affairs with an eye to the needs of every creature, person, and nation. Therefore, we should never succumb to fear in the face of world events,39 but rather strengthen our commitment to studying the Torah and fulfilling its commandments in preparation for the imminent, ultimate, messianic redemption.40

I will harden Pharaoh's heart: Evil itself possesses no desire to do evil; indeed, it possesses no free choice at all. It is only because God desires that some evil occur that it happens.

We should therefore always remember that any manifestation of "Egypt"—that is, some limitation in our Divine mission or obstacle to it—has no intrinsic reality; there is no independent entity here that we have to contend with. The "Pharaoh" opposing us is just God's way of challenging us to summon deeper powers and determination to overcome them, thereby revealing deeper levels of our bond with Him.41

The Egyptians will recognize that I am God: The Name of God used here is the Name Havayah, which, as we have seen, indicates God's attribute of mercy, the opposite of judgment. In this context, the purpose of the plagues was to introduce God's mercy to the Egyptians. As worshippers of nature, the Egyptians were fully acquainted with God's power of blind judgment, by which survival belongs to the fittest, but they did not yet know that God is greater than nature, and can override the unforgiving laws of nature when He sees fit.

Thus, we will see that what impressed Pharaoh most was Moses' ability to stop the plagues, rather than to initiate them. The necromancers of Pharaoh's court were indeed able to duplicate some of the plagues, for they knew how to manipulate nature to an extent, and were thus able to summon the forces of nature to wreak destruction. But they could not reverse or check these forces. Only Moses, by invoking God's mercy through prayer, could do so.42


The Egyptians will recognize that I am God: As we have seen,43 when the world of Tohu collapsed, 288 general sparks of Divine energy ("light") fell into the realm of evil. In order to liberate the fallen sparks of Tohu, it is necessary to break through the hard shells encasing them. The hard shell is the facade of materialism the conceals the true Divine reality of all things.

Of these 288 general fallen sparks, 202 became embedded in Egypt.44 The purpose of the ten plagues, in this context, was to break the stubborn materialistic outlook of Egypt so the Divine sparks embedded in it could be released. This is why there had to be ten plagues: Just as there are ten sefirot of holiness, so are there ten parallel sefirot of evil. Each plague broke45 another facade of nature.46

[8] Take your staff… it will become a serpent: God did not merely change Aaron's staff into another inanimate object; He transformed it from a lifeless staff into a living animal.

Changing something into something else can only be accomplished by changing the letters of God's speech that are enlivening the object. It was necessary to do this for a number of the plagues.47

Allegorically, a staff signifies the direct, orderly descent of God's beneficence into reality, which creates and sustains the many levels of creation as it proceeds further "down" the hierarchy of reality. A serpent, in contrast, signifies the evil of Egypt, which is simply a reincarnation of the primordial snake of the Garden of Eden, the embodiment of exaggeratedly self-assertive ego.

By changing Aaron's staff into a serpent, God proved to Pharaoh that even he owes his existence to God's creative energy. The fact that Pharaoh did not sense this, and even brazenly asserted that he himself was a god,48 demonstrates that Pharaoh's spiritual source is the very bottom of God's "staff," i.e., the lowest point of Divine revelation, where its intensity is so dimmed that the creatures created by it sense only their reality, and not God's.

When the serpent reverted to a staff and Aaron's staff swallowed the Egyptian serpents, it showed that not only is God's creative energy the original source of Egypt's life force, it is also the source of Egypt's continuous existence from minute to minute. At any moment God can change the serpent back to a staff, annihilating evil and making it disappear without a trace.49

[14] Pharaoh's heart is unmoved: Until this point, the Torah has used the verb "to harden" (לחזק)50 to refer to Pharaoh's stubborn heart. The adjective used in this verse (כבד) for "unmoved" also means "liver," so that the verse can read, "Pharaoh's heart became a liver."

One meaning of this is that Pharaoh's heart has been emptied of all emotion, and is as unfeeling as his liver.51 Another meaning is that Pharaoh's heart, rather than constantly pumping blood out of itself, as the heart normally does, is now filled with blood constantly, as is the liver. As we will see,52 warm blood allegorically signifies enthusiasm for the material side of life. When confronted with God's message, Pharaoh chose to ignore its validity and instead identify fully with gross materialism.53


[10] After a short while it reverted back into its former state, a staff: The purpose of transforming the staff into a snake was to demonstrate God's mastery over nature. Once that had been demonstrated, the Divine energy that was miraculously keeping the staff in snake-form was spent, and the staff simply reverted back to its natural state. No additional act or miracle was required. In contrast, when God changed Moses' staff into a serpent,54 it was to show him that he had figuratively "become a serpent" by slandering the Jewish people. The nature of the miracle was not that the staff was being held in an unnatural state; it had actually been transformed into a serpent. Therefore, a specific, deliberate act (Moses' grabbing it by the tail) was required to change it back.55

The Ten Plagues

If we examine the literary structure of the Torah's description of the ten plagues, a clear pattern emerges:


Warning or announcement

Lesson for Pharaoh

1) Blood

"Go to Pharaoh in the morning… Station yourself…"

"Through this you will recognize that I am God"

2) Frogs

"Come to Pharaoh…"

No lesson articulated

3) Lice

No warning articulated

No lesson articulated

4) Mixed Horde

"Rise early…Station yourself…"

"Thus you will realize that I am God in the midst of the land."

5) Epidemic

"Come to Pharaoh…"

No lesson articulated

6) Inflam-mation of the Skin

No warning articulated

No lesson articulated

7) Hail

"Rise early…Station yourself…"

"So that you will know that there is none like Me in all the world."

8) Locusts

"Come to Pharaoh…"

No lesson articulated

9) Darkness

No warning articulated

No lesson articulated

10) The Firstborn

Given while Moses and Aaron were already in Pharaoh's presence

"In order that you may know that God is differentiating between the Egyptians and Israel."

We see here that the ten plagues are subdivided into three sets of three, followed by the single, tenth plague. With regard to the warnings, there are three cycles of (1) warning Pharaoh at the Nile, (2) warning him in the palace, and (3) no recorded warning. With regard to the lessons, Moses mentions the lessons only before the first of each set of three.

As we will see later, the first nine plagues were intended to teach the Egyptians certain truths about God's existence and providence. The purpose of the tenth plague was not didactic in nature at all; its purpose was rather to actualize the redemption (i.e., to finally separate and withdraw the Jews from the Egyptians).

Specifically, the first set of three plagues was intended to demonstrate God's existence, the second set His providence, and the third set His power. These three lessons are alluded to in God's words to Pharaoh: "that I am God [i.e., that I exist],"56 "that I am God in the midst of the earth [i.e., that My providence pervades all creation]"57 and "that there is none like Me [i.e., as powerful as I am] in all the earth."58 This explains why the lessons are given only for the first plague of each set of three and why the warnings follow a pattern repeated for each set of three.59

[17] I am now going to strike the water…and it will turn into blood: Water is cold, whereas blood is warm. There are two types of coldness and two types of warmth: a person whose primary orientation in life is material will be cold to spiritual concerns and warm to material concerns; a person whose primary orientation is spiritual will be cold to material concerns and warm to spiritual concerns.

River water—particularly the water of the Nile—signifies the coldness of materiality toward spiritual concerns. As we have noted, the annual flooding of the Nile gave the Egyptians the impression that their sustenance was due simply to the regular, orderly functioning of nature, without any need of recourse to a supernatural God. Such an environment fostered indifference to the notion that there is a Divine force that surpasses and controls nature.

In contrast, rainwater signifies the coldness of spirituality toward material concerns. The Land of Israel's dependence upon rainwater was conducive to keeping its inhabitants aware of their dependence on God's good graces for their sustenance. This awareness of God bred a healthy indifference toward the facade of the laws of nature's stranglehold over life.

The very first of the ten plagues, the ten stages by which Egypt was subdued, was transforming the coldness of its water into the heat of blood. Allegorically, this signifies the transformation of cold indifference to Divinity into warm enthusiasm for it. This had to be the first step because indifference can quickly lead to a drastic decline in commitment. Once this was precluded, the path was open to additional, more specific stages through which God's reality could be impressed on Egypt's (and the world's) awareness.

A similar lesson applies to anyone striving to leave the slavery of Egypt—the tyranny of his or her material drives and bodily desires. Our first step in this process must be to replace our a priori cold indifference to all things Jewish and holy with warm enthusiasm for God, His Torah, and its commandments. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that it is possible to remain aloof and neutral, indifferent to both spirituality and materiality. If we neglect our responsibility to cultivate an energetic and enthusiastic attitude toward the Torah and its commandments, we face the specter of a swift decline into the decadence of Egypt.60

[28] Into your ovens: As explained above,61 the plague of blood signified how Egypt's cold indifference toward God must be replaced with warm enthusiasm for it. Once this has been accomplished, the second stage is to replace the erstwhile Egyptian enthusiasm for materiality with cold indifference to it. Inasmuch as frogs are cold creatures, their invasion of the Egyptians' ovens signified how the heat of Egyptian materialism was taken over by cold apathy.62

When we set out to welcome God into any particular aspect of our lives, the normal, logical procedure is to first rid ourselves of those elements of our lives that are antithetical to Divinity and only then to do whatever it is that we hope will raise our (or the world's) Divine consciousness. In the words of the Psalms, "turn from evil, and [only then] do good."63

Yet here, we see the opposite course was followed. First the evil (the cold Nile river) was turned into good (the hot blood), and only then was the evil (the hot Egyptian ovens) neutralized (by the cold frogs).

The difference lies in who is taking the initiative. When we take the initiative and work using our own, limited resources, we must first "turn from evil" before we "do good," for it is simply not appropriate for us, so to speak, to invite the king into his palace until it has been scrubbed clean. But when God takes the initiative, as He did here, He can begin by "doing good." When He reveals His presence, the revelation itself automatically drives out the evil.

Yet, we do not necessarily have to wait for God to take the initiative in order to take advantage of the second method. We can ourselves elicit intense Divine revelations that can dispel and displace negative influences, obviating the need for struggling with them. The advantage of this method is that we are spared the danger of sullying ourselves by contending directly with negativity. In the words of the Tanya, "he who wrestles with a filthy person is bound to become soiled himself."64

One sure way of eliciting such Divine revelations is by studying the inner dimension of the Torah. This study has the added advantage of enabling us to replace our inborn cold indifference to Divinity with warm enthusiasm.65

A frog's natural habitat is water; for a frog to jump into a piping hot oven is an act of self-sacrifice. God did not let this selfless act of obedience to His will go unrewarded: when it was time to end this plague, "the frogs in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields died"66—but those in the ovens remained alive.67

Chapter 8

[5] Pride yourself over me: Moses, the humblest of all people,68 certainly did not intend to boast, even before Pharaoh. Rather, his total lack of ego made him a transparent vehicle for fulfilling God's purposes, and he always identified fully with God, who was acting through him. It was in this sense that he dared Pharaoh to "pride yourself over me."69

[12] It will turn into lice: The louse is a parasite; it lives off animals and people without contributing anything to their lives (except, perhaps, a reminder to improve their hygiene!). It is therefore seen as a metaphor for evil, inasmuch as evil thrives by sucking the life force out of holiness rather than by its own merits.

Just as a louse can attach itself to a person only if his hygiene is lax, evil can only suck vitality out of holiness when we allow our Divine consciousness to lapse and either fall into misdeed or the apathy towards holiness that leaves us vulnerable to the enticements of materialism.

By infesting the Egyptians with lice, God was in effect showing them what their own philosophy of life makes them into. Their indifference to Divinity made them into "parasites"; all their achievements in literature, art, architecture, science, and so on, served only to aggrandize themselves and enhance the material aspect of life. As such, they were siphoning vitality off of the forces of holiness in the world rather than aiding them.70


[12] It will turn into lice: The word for "louse" (כינה) is akin to the word for "appellation" (כינוי). It thus alludes to the process whereby the Divinity within God's Names is diminished or "stepped-down" by altering these Names or by referring to God by other names altogether. This process is, as we have seen, the spiritual essence of exile, and is alluded to in the verse that opens the Book of Exodus: "These are the names…who came to Egypt," Egypt being synonymous with constriction and contraction.

Specifically, the numerical value of the word for "lice" (כנים) is 120, the number of permutations of the Name Elokim (אלהים),71 which, among all of God's Names, indicates the contraction of Divinity into the guise of nature, as we have explained previously.72

[19] I will make a redemptive distinction between My people and your people: The simple reason for this distinction is that unlike the first three plagues, there was no reason this time to afflict the Jews along with the Egyptians, so God spared them from this plague.

On a deeper level, however, there is a lesson here for us, too. The main miracle of this plague and its most frightening facet was that the horde attacked as a wild, anarchic mixture rather than species by species. Similarly, it is specifically when the established boundaries that have always kept society intact are challenged and defied that we must strengthen the conceptual boundaries between Jewish and non-Jewish values, attitudes, and behavior.

Sometimes, the spirit of the times fosters the impression that boundaries are a bad thing, that the best way of exercising our freedom is by doing away with restraint and convention. Although there may sometimes be value in questioning the entrenched mores of secular society, this must be done from a stance of deep commitment to the Divine values of the Torah. Only when we are clear about what values are authentically Jewish can we properly evaluate each element of non-Jewish culture and choose what to co-opt and what to reject.

By the same token, it is imperative for us—in such times, especially—to delineate clearly who is a Jew and who is not. As we will see,73 Jewish identity is not simply a matter of a preference of faith, but is determined by a person's spiritual anatomy. Thus, when the dominant culture celebrates the cause of absolute equivalence it becomes especially crucial for us to educate ourselves regarding what it means to be a Jew and what Jewish values are.

Since Jews and non-Jews are distinguished by their spiritual anatomy, this inherent distinction is part of their essence, and not a function of their behavior—or even their beliefs. In Egypt, there were Jews who were so immersed in Egyptian culture and society that they preferred not to leave. Nonetheless, these Jews, were also distinguished from their Egyptian neighbors in the plague of the wild horde.

When we all accept this intrinsic difference between Jew and non-Jew, we will all be able to understand our true identity and be who we really are. This will make it easier for all us to connect with God, and when we all re-connect with God, this will remove all the obstacles in the way of the whole world's true and final Redemption.74

Chapter 9


[14] As devastating…as all My other plague together: This is evident from the fact that this plague forced Pharaoh to admit for the first time that he head erred by not releasing the people,75 and from Pharaoh's courtier's declaration in its wake that "Egypt is ruined."76


[18] Moses made a scratch on the wall where the sun had cast a shadow: The uniqueness of this plague was its blend of Divine mercy and judgment. Allegorically, the sun alludes to the Name Havayah and the wall to the Name Elokim.77 This plague was thus triggered by the unification of God's attributes of mercy and severe judgment, which are signified by these two Names respectively. Similarly, although this was a particularly severe plague, as indicated by the harsh warning preceding it, this very warning included merciful instructions for how to avert it. Also, the hail itself comprised both water and fire, which correlate to the Divine attributes of mercy and judgment.

Finally, the Name Havayah transcends time,78 while the Name Elokim signifies God's presence contracted into nature, including time. So, inasmuch as this plague, like all the plagues, manifested the Name Havayah,79 the fact that it was timed precisely further indicates that it embodied the union of the Names Havayah and Elokim.80

[33] They either fell to the ground later or evaporated on the spot: According to the first possibility, the plague did not disappear completely, only its effects were neutralized and the damage it was causing stopped. According to the second possibility, the plague disappeared completely.

Since this plague was the result of Pharaoh's sin, the above two possibilities are dependent on just how much power can be ascribed to Pharaoh's repentance.

Once the Torah was given, inherent goodness was fixed as the Jew's true nature. Similarly, non-Jews were given the opportunity to root their dominant nature in goodness by accepting their obligations as defined by the Torah.81 (This confers on them the status of a Righteous Gentile.) In such cases, then, the evil that envelops the soul of the (non-Jewish) sinner is a temporary affixture that adheres to his psyche only until he repents. As soon as he repents, the evil disappears, and when the evil disappears, the punishment or suffering it caused disappears with it.

In the case of a non-Jew who does not choose to root his nature in goodness, the evil that envelops his soul when he sins is not a foreign adhesion but an actual addition to his provisionally unholy nature. Therefore, when he repents of this sin, his repentance only has the power to eliminate the harmful effects of the sin—the punishment or suffering it caused—but not to uproot its effects entirely.

Before the Torah was given, it could be argued that non-Jews then were similar to present-era non-Jews who have not opted to be Righteous Gentiles, inasmuch as the opportunity to re-root themselves in goodness that came with the giving of the Torah was not yet available to them. Or, it could be argued that all non-Jews were similar to Jews and Righteous Gentiles after the Torah was given, since this distinction between Jew and non-Jew became operative only upon the Giving of the Torah.

According to the first opinion, Pharaoh's repentance was only able to stop the detrimental effects of the plague, and therefore the hail merely stopped in its tracks, but did not disappear altogether. According to the second opinion, Pharaoh's repentance obliterated his sin and its effects entirely, and therefore the hail disappeared completely.82