Ten Plagues, for who? – Va’eira


In this week’s parsha we read about the first seven of the Ten Plagues that HKB”H unleashed on Pharaoh and Egypt.  There are many different ways the Mefarshim explain the Ten Plagues. Some (like Rashi) say that the makeup and order of the plagues is akin to the strategy of a military general waging war on an enemy. In last year’s shiur I explored the principle that the Ten Plagues were a re-enactment of the Creation of the World (Torat Hamincha). In this shiur I would like to examine a different approach to the Ten Plagues that I have not found elsewhere, which בסייעתא דשמיא Hashem opened my eyes to, that correlates with a central theme in my sefer מאיר פנים.

Let’s begin with a short introduction to lay the foundation for this principle. The Ten Plagues were obviously not random. The fact that there were ten of them and why specifically those ten - was by Divine design, for a specific purpose. A plague is something negative/destructive that causes suffering and anguish and is a form of punishment. The question is who was being punished and for what? The obvious answer is that the plagues were a punishment for Pharaoh and Egypt, for their crimes against Am Yisrael.

Pharaoh had a nickname – התנים הגדול, the large snake. We find this in the haftarah this week –

דַּבֵּר וְאָמַרְתָּ כֹּה אָמַר ה' א-לוקים הִנְנִי עָלֶיךָ פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם הַתַּנִּים הַגָּדוֹל הָרֹבֵץ בְּתוֹךְ יְאֹרָיו אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לִי יְאֹרִי וַאֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִנִי (יחזקאל כט, ג)

A significant portion of the interaction between Moshe, Aharon and Pharaoh revolved around snakes - Aharon’s staff turning into a snake, which the Egyptian magicians duplicated and finally Aharon’s swallowing up theirs.  We also find a correlation between the words פרעה and נחש.

The gematria of נחש is 358. The gematria of פרעה is 355, plus the three words פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם (שמות ו, יא) makes 358 (שפתי כהן על התורה, שמות). Another hint is in the passuk וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל מֹשֶׁה בֹּא אֶל פַּרְעֹה (שמות י, א), the word בא in gematria is 3 and if you add that אל פרעה, to the word פרעה, you get 358, נחש (''חומת אנך' להחיד"א, תחילת פרשת בא, אות ה). Pharaoh had another nickname – חָפְרַע.

כֹּה אָמַר ה' הִנְנִי נֹתֵן אֶת פַּרְעֹה חָפְרַע מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם בְּיַד אֹיְבָיו וּבְיַד מְבַקְשֵׁי נַפְשׁוֹ וכו' (ירמיהו מד, ל)

חפרע in gematria is 358, נחש ('חומת אנך' להחיד"א, ירמיה פרק מד).

 In מאיר פנים, פרק טו, and briefly in last year’s shiur on parshat Bo, I describe how יציאת מצרים was, in essence, part of the remedy and כפרה for the sin of Adam and Chava and the עץ הדעת, which involved the baking and eating of a chametz bread.

Pharaoh was a reincarnation of the נחש הקדמון (or at least a product of the זוהמה שהטיל הנחש בחוה) and I will show, one by one, how the Ten Plagues in Egypt were in fact punishment, מידה כנגד מידה, for what the נחש caused to Adam and Chava in Gan Eden.

דם – When Chava sinned with the עץ הדעת, her anatomy and physiology changed. Before the sin, the birth process was meant to be instantaneous, a kind of a “polaroid” moment – “Click, mazal tov it’s a ……”. However the moment she ate from the עץ הדעת, she became נידה. (אבות דרבי נתן, הוספה ב לנוסחא א, פרק א). According to the Midrash Tanchuma, חוה was punished מידה כנגד מידה because שהיא שפכה דמו של אדם. Since Chava’s sin was caused by the נחש, the plague of דם was just punishment.

צפרדע – In the Gemara  it details the repercussions of Adam eating from the עץ הדעת, which we said above was - a chametz bread. Adam’s curse of בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם meant that in order to eat, he would now have to plow, sow, reap, sheave, thresh, winnow, sort, grind, sift, knead and bake (ברכות נח, א) – a lengthy,  laborious process. There is a concept that the last action in a mitzvah, the one that ends it off, is the most important.  This is why hagba is considered such an important kibbud and equivalent to all those who were called up to the Torah beforehand (מגילה לב, א). If so, the final action of the bread preparation process, listed above – the baking – is שקול כנגד כל הפעולות. As a baker, I can attest to this fact. The final stage of baking is the “litmus test” affirming that all the prior stages have been done correctly. Now we understand why HKB”H said to Pharaoh that the צפרדע would also be ובתנוריך ובמשארתיך (שמות ז, כח). Of all the places in the home to specifically mention, it is the dough in the ovens! Why didn’t HKB”H say “in your laundry baskets, your garage?”  No …. specific mention is given davka to the bread in the oven! מן הסתם in order to make a chametz bread, thinking that by doing so she would be able to create life independently of Adam and HKB”H, Chava would have had to bake it – in an oven! The gematria of צפרדע is תלדי, hinting to Chava’s punishment בעצב תלדי בנים. Therefore the נחש that tricked her into doing so was punished with צפרדע – specifically in the oven.

כנים – Lice originate from the earth, the עפר. Since the curse of the נחש was ועפר תאכל (בראשית ג, יד), it is from this source that the כנים came. But it is more profound than that. Lice are associated with hair, they live and breed in hair. According to the Gemara, when HKB”H presented Chava to Adam Harishon for the first time, He acted like the שושבין at a wedding and led her up the aisle, as it were, and the Gemara says that HKB”H braided Chava’s hair (ברכות סא, א) to make her beautiful in Adam’s eyes (this incidentally is the origin of the custom to braid challah on Shabbat – from my book “The Jewish Bread Bible”, chapter 5). Since the נחש spoiled Chava in Adam’s eyes when he caused Chava to sin, thus nullifying the “wedding gift” of braided hair that HKB”H gave to Chava, the נחש was appropriately punished in something related to hair.

ערוב – Until Adam sinned with the עץ הדעת, he was a purely spiritual being, totally unconnected with the physical world and his animalistic nature, the יצר הרע. By causing Adam and Chava to sin, the נחש caused them to descend to the level of the animals - ומותר האדם מן הבהמה אין. HKB”H’s punishment of the נחש was to unleash the entire animal kingdom against him.

דבר – In Pikei Avot it says - דבר בא לעולם על מיתות האמורות בתורה שלא נמסרו לבית דין, ועל פירות שביעית (אבות ה, ח). There are two reasons that דבר occurs in the world – that someone who is liable for death sentence by a Beit Din is not handed over to them and punished, and because insufficient respect is paid to קדושת שביעית, in other words – ביזוי הקדשים. According to Chazal the sin of עץ הדעת involved עבודה זרה, שפיכות דמים וגילוי עריות, which are all punishable by death. By all rights Adam and Chava should have been put to death immediately by HKB”H and not allowed to live hundreds of years before they actually perished. Only because HKB”H had mercy were they not summarily executed. However the fact that Adam and Chava were not immediately punished by the “Beit Din”, resulted in דבר being unleashed on the world. Adam Harishon was born מהול. Chazal tell us that Adam was מושך בערלתו – immediately after sinning with the עץ הדעת, Adam grew an ערלה which was ביזוי הקדשים. As the נחש caused Adam to sin and bring דבר to the world, similarly did HKB”H punish the נחש. דבר in gematria is מקולל and בימי קדם.

שחין – Boils is an affliction of the skin. Before the sin, Adam and Chava were ערומים ... ולא יתבששו (בראשית ב, כה). Following the sin they felt ashamed to show their skin and HKB”H made for them כתנות עור, clothes made from animal skin, a lower form of body covering. For “spoiling” Adam and Chava’s skin, HKB”H afflicted the נחש with שחין. A hint that this plague was connected to Adam and Chava is that the gematria of שחין אבעבעת is בראשית.

ברד – The plague of hail was one of the most spectacular supernatural displays. Two elements, which were seemingly diametrically opposed, existed at the same time and in equilibrium with each other. Hail (frozen water) encasing fire - ואש מתלקחת בתוך הברד (שמות ט, כד). By the laws of nature water douses fire, or fire evaporates water - you cannot have the two living in perfect harmony. After Adam and Chava sinned, the angels complained to HKB”H – “Now that Adam has eaten from the עץ הדעת and acquired knowledge, if he eats from the עץ החיים, he will also acquire eternal life”.  Subsequently HKB”H posted the Kruvim and the להט החרב המתהפכת (בראשית ג, כד) to prevent access to עץ החיים. What exactly was this להט החרב המתהפכת ? The word להט refers to flame, intense heat, the Rambam says that it resembled lightning. According to another opinion (דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות) it is a reference to גיהנם which alternates between intense heat and cold to punish the רשעים – fire and ice! For denying Am Yisrael access to the Torah (עץ החיים) for thousands of years (2448 years to be precise – between חטא עץ הדעת and מתן תורה), HKB”H punished the נחש with fire in ice.

ארבה –In Gan Eden, Adam and Chava enjoyed 5-star hotel service, with every type of food imaginable and 24/7 room service. All Adam had to do was walk under any tree he wished to eat from and the food would gracefully detach from the tree and land in his hands (כתובות קיא, ב) – hamburger trees, pizza trees, falafel trees, donut trees (well, perhaps not donut trees!), etc. After the sin, HKB”H kicked Adam and Chava out of the hotel and cursed the earth. It was impossible to successfully grow any crops – until Noach was born and the curse was lifted. By causing Adam to sin, the נחש in effect cut off his food supply chain and he had to survive on thorns, thistles and weeds. The aftermath of a plague of locusts is - decimation of the food supply. For the misery the נחש caused Adam, HKB”H punished him by devastating his food supply.

חושך – As kids, did you ever play “hide and seek”?  There are actually two ways to play the game. The first is to count to ten and while the “seeker” is counting, you run and hide – in a closet, behind a tree … The second way is to blindfold the “seeker” and you run and hide in plain sight, keeping very quiet - he/she simply cannot see you. Either way the game involves the “seeker” not seeing you. In the plague of חושך, the Egyptians could not “see” each other. The darkness was so thick and impenetrable that they could not even move. It was like a game of hide and seek of national proportions. After Adam sinned, the Torah tells us – he played a game of “hide and seek” with HKB”H as it were. ויקרא ה' א-לקים אל האדם ויאמר לו איכה. ויאמר את קלך שמעתי בגן ואירא כי עירם אנכי ואחבא (בראשית ג, י). Obviously the concept of HKB”H not being able to find Adam or see him is ludicrous. What the passuk is actually referring to is the opposite. Until the sin, Adam was able to see HKB”H באספקלריא המאירה, but after the sin, his vision of HKB”H was severely diminished and highly filtered - almost as if he was not able to see. The Zohar Hakadosh tells us that when Adam was expelled from Gan Eden, he was banished to a layer of the world called ארץ. Just as there are Seven Heavens (חגיגה יב, ב), seven spiritual levels in שמים (see my shiur on parshat Haazinu), there are similarly seven layers or “spheres” that comprise the earth. In the layer Adam was banished to, ארץ, there was complete חושך, the kind experienced during the plague of חושך. After Adam did teshuva, HKB”H elevated him to the level called אדמה – the level we exist on, where there is light and we can see the stars and planets. This plague was מידה כנגד מידה for what the נחש caused to Adam.

מכת בכורות – According to Gemara the נחש “slept” with Chava - שבא נחש על חוה הטיל בה זוהמא (שבת קמו, א) and as a result Kayin (Chava’s firstborn) was born (חזקוני, וישב).  According to קהלת משה (א, ג) Pharaoh was in fact a gilgul of Kayin. The passuk says כי שבעתים יֻקָם קין (בראשית ד, כד), the word יקם is ראשי תיבות for יתרו, קרח, מצרי - the מצרי referring to Pharaoh who was one of the gilgulim of Kayin (together with Yitro and Korach), who, all together, atoned for the neshama of Kayin. The קהלת משה goes on to say that Moshe was a gilgul of Hevel, משה is ראשי תיבות for משה, שת, הבל. Moshe was the one designated to punish Kayin’s gilgul Pharaoh, because he was שבעתיים – twice “seven” – seven generations from Avraham and he had seven names ירד, גדור, חבר, שׂוכו, יקותיאל, זנוֹח ומשה (מגילה יג, א). On Moshe’s staff, which was created בערב שבת בין השמשות and passed through seven generations until it reached Moshe, were inscribed the letters דצ"ך, עד"ש, באח"ב (לב אריה, פרשת בא, כ) the ראשי תיבות of the Ten Plagues. To punish the נחש and his descendent Pharaoh for muddying the bloodline of Chava’s firstborn son, Kayin, HKB”H brought the plague of בכורות in Egypt as the clincher that finally forced Pharaoh to set Am Yisrael free.

From this we see that the Ten Plagues were in fact a punishment not only of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but also for their progenitor, the נחש הקדמון in Gan Eden and they were מידה כנגד מידה for the damage and harm caused to Adam and Chava.

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