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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Va'era

Why Wasn’t the Plague of Blood Enough?

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In our parsha, Pharaoh is struck with the first plague, that of blood. Seemingly, Moshe could have sufficed with this plague, for if Moshe had turned to Pharaoh and said, "I am not stopping the plague until you free Bnei Yisrael" (and he wouldn’t have relied on Pharaoh’s promises) without a doubt, Pharaoh would have relented and released Bnei Yisrael. What was the need for ten plagues?

According to the p'shat, during the first plague, Egypt had water, just not from the Nile River, "And all of Egypt dug around the Nile for drinking water, for they could not drink from the waters of the Nile (Shemot 7:24; see Ibn Ezra). Nonetheless, even in such a situation it is impossible to hold out for a long time, for the Nile is the primary source of water for Egypt. Furthermore, according to the derasha of Chazal (which is based on the p'shat in Shemot 7:19) all the water sources in Egypt turned to blood, even water that was in their homes, "In all of the land of Egypt- even in the baths and pools that were in their homes" (Rashi 7:19). If so, the question returns: why was there a need for the other plagues?

It seems that the conclusion is that there is an independent need for the plagues, beyond merely freeing B'nei Yisrael from Egypt. A close analysis of the verses demonstrates that the Torah repeats again and again certain phrases, such as "In order so that you shall know that I am Hashem in the land" (Shemot 8:18). The purpose of the plagues is to practically demonstrate G-d’s providence in the world. This means that the plagues are meant not only to punish Pharaoh, and not just to release B'nei Yisrael from bondage, but also to reveal the name of G-d in the world.
It is reasonable to assume there is added meaning to the plagues of Egypt that we will encounter through analyzing an additional question. The Torah describes how Hashem hardens the heart of Pharaoh. If so, why was Pharaoh punished, for it was Hashem who hardened his heart?!

It seems both questions are dependent on each other. It is possible to say that Hashem didn’t do any direct action to harden the heart of Pharaoh but gave Pharaoh the feeling as if he can oppose Hashem. This feeling is nurtured in Pharaoh through the Ten Plagues. Hashem strikes the house of Egypt with the plague of blood. As a result, Pharaoh promises to release Am Yisrael, and following his promise the plague of blood is removed. Afterwards, Pharaoh retracts his promise and he feels as if he can act in opposition to G-d, fool Him, and in the end the plague will be removed.

It is possible that this is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, giving him the feeling that as if he is the one is control of the situation. Therefore, the Ten Plagues were needed (for they brought about hardening his heart) and therefore there is no problem in punishing Pharaoh, for Hashem didn’t harden his heart, but only created a situation that enabled him to feel as if he can fool G-d (I heard this from My Rav and teacher HaRav Meidan, and similarly see Abarbanel Shemot 7:3; Sefer HaIkarim, 4:25).

So too with us, we do not always see Hashem’s providence clearly. If only we saw how G-d punishes every sin or rewards for every mitzva, we would not have freedom of choice, and we would certainly only do G-d’s will. Hashem gives us the possibility to act, as if, against His will, but we need to be careful that we should not harden our own hearts, that we shouldn’t feel as if we can do whatever we want. Freedom of choice is given to us in order to enable us to recognize that our freedom is to do the will of G-d in this world.
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