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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Va'era

Why was the blood plague not sufficient?

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Why was the blood plague not sufficient?

In this week’s Parasha, Pharaoh is punished by the first plague, the blood plague of blood. Apparently, the blood plague would have sufficed. If Moses had said to Pharaoh "I will not stop the plague until you free Bnei Yisrael" (instead of relying on false promises), there is no doubt that, in the end, Pharaoh would have given in. That being the case, what was the necessity of ten plagues?

According to the simple ("pshat") explanation, even during the blood plague there was water that was not necessarily in the Nile River.

"And all the Egyptians dug about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river" (Exodus ch. 7, 24 – see Eben Ezra there). Although, even in such a situation, one cannot survive for long, being that the Nile River is the main water source in Egypt.

Furthermore, according to the drasha of our sages (based on the pasuk in Exodus 7, 19) everything in Egypt turned into blood, including water that was in the Egyptian’s homes "In all of the land of Egypt- even in the public bath houses and in the private bathrooms of people’s homes" (Rashi, ch. 7, 19). In this case, we return to our primary question, why were the rest of the plagues necessary?

It seems that the answer to this is that there was an independent significance to the rest of the plagues, aside from enabling Bnei Yisrael to be released from slavery. If we carefully and closely read the Psukim, we can see that the Torah repetitively mentions some sentences, such as "to the end that thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth" (Exodus 8, 18).

The purpose of the plagues, in this case, was to show G-d’s providence on earth. The plagues were inflicted, not solely to punish the Egyptians, nor solely to free Bnei Yisrael, but rather to also reveal G-d’s great name and existence in the world.

There may be an additional objective to the plagues, which we will be able to understand by exploring another question. The Torah describes how Hashem stiffens Pharaoh’s heart. If so, if his heart was stiffened, then how could it be possible that he was punished?

These two questions above can actually be integrated. It could be assumed that Hashem did not directly do anything to stiffen Pharaoh’s heart, but rather made Pharaoh be convinced that he could resist Hashem’s will. Throughout the infliction of the plagues this feeling became firmly entrenched in Pharaoh’s heart. Hashem punished Egypt with the blood plague. As a result, Pharaoh promises to release Bnei Yisrael from slavery, and following his promise the plague is withdrawn. So now, Pharaoh breaks his promise again, and his sense that he can mock Hashem by making promises and then breaking them, while concomitantly bringing the end of the plague, is strengthened.

In other words, stiffening Pharaoh’s heart was actually an action designed to give Pharaoh the feeling that it is he who is controlling the situation. Thus the reason for the ten plagues. Punishing Pharaoh was not problematic because Hashem did not stiffen his heart but rather created a situation in which Pharaoh could feel as if he were mocking and manipulating Hashem.

In reality, we too do not always clearly see Hashem’s supervision, eye to eye. If, in reality, we were to clearly see how, for every sin we are punished and for every good deed we are rewarded, we would not have free will, and thereby would automatically be fulfilling G-d’s will. However, we do have free will and Hashem gives us the opportunity to act as we wish, but it is up to us to be cautious and not to stiffen our own hearts, and not to feel as if we are free to do whatever we please. In essence, we are granted free will in order to recognize that true freedom is to fulfill Hashem’s will.
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