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The Passover issue has been dedicated by Sammy Ryness of London, England, in memory of his late father-in-law, Tzvi Yitzchok ben Yechiel Z"L, who passed away on 13 Adar II 5757.



The Ten Plagues (Makot) with which Hashem punished the Egyptians were carefully chosen to demonstrate to all the nations of the world the omnipotence of Hashem. Much has been written about the specific lessons learned from each of the Makot in both Midrashim and later commentaries (see Parasha-Page, Bo 5754). However, the breadth of the Torah is boundless. Despite the volume of literature on this subject, every time it is re-analyzed yet another dimension to the ten plagues can be revealed.


In Midrashic literature, the world is viewed as being constructed of four basic elements: earth, water, air and fire (Bamidbar Raba end of 14:12; Zohar 1:27a, 2:23b-24b; Sefer Yetzirah Ch. 3; Moreh Nevuchim 2:30; Ibn Ezra Tehilim 66:12; Ramban Bereishit 1:1; Ohr Hachayim Bereishit 6:5 and others.) These "elements" closely parallel the three forms of matter -- solid, liquid and gas -- and energy. Earth and water are the "lower" two elements -- gravity causes them to sink -- while air and fire, which are bouyant and rise, are the "higher" elements. Interestingly, the names of the four Angels of the Divine Chariot (Micha'el, Gavri'el, Refa'el, Nuri'el, who represent the various forms of life on this world -- see Parasha-Page, Bamidbar 5756) have the same numerical value (Gematria) as the Hebrew words for these four elements (Aish, Ru'ach, Mayim, Afar), as pointed out by Sefer Hapeliyah (1:23a).

Aside from these four elements, Hashem introduced into the world a fifth, entirely intangible element: the soul, or the force of life. There are two sub-categories of "soul" -- the animal soul and the human soul. The verse delineates these two sub-categories in Kohelet 3:21, "Which person conducts himself with the realization that the spirit of man rises to the heaven (after a person leaves this world) while the spirit of the animal sinks to the ground?" As is evident from this verse, the soul of man is associated with the upper elements, which rise, while the soul of the animal is associated with the lower elements, which sink. In order to demonstrate His full dominion over all of Creation, Hashem brought ten plagues upon the Egyptians. Hashem demonstrated his power over each of the five elements of Creation (the four basic elements and the soul) with two Makot.


The plagues of Blood and Frogs showed Hashem's power over the element of water (the higher of the two lower elements). In the plague of Blood, Hashem showed that He could *alter* the element of water, turning the elixir of life into a sign of death. The plague of Frogs showed that He controls the *natural* properties of water, by causing the Nile River to suddenly produce thousands of frogs, which dispersed over the land of Egypt.

The plagues of Lice and Mixed Beasts demonstrated Hashem's control over the most mundane of the elements, earth. In the plague of Lice, Hashem *transformed* the inert earth of Egypt into swarms of lice (Shmot 8:12, Rashi Bereishit 47:29), demonstrating that he could change the natural properties of earth at will. In the plague of Mixed Beasts He made the earth of Egypt as attractive to wild beasts as their natural habitats -- Egypt became a veritable safari! (See Parasha-Page for Va'era 5755; see also Ibn Ezra, Perush he'Aruch to Shmot 9:1, who describes the plague of Mixed Beasts as a plague of the land since the land produced - and produces - all living beings, Bereisit 1:24.)

The plague of Pestilence completed Hashem's demonstration of control over the lower elements of creation, as we shall soon explain. This concludes the first half of the ten Makot.

The second half of the Makot opens with the plagues of Boils and Hail, which show Hashem's control over the element of fire. In the plague of Boils, He caused ashes from a furnace to wreak havoc on the Egyptians, causing the eruption of excruciatingly painful boils. Hail showed Hashem's ability to *alter* the nature of fire. A fire raged within the frozen hail that rained on Egypt (Shmot 9:24, and Rashi). Hashem changed the very essence of fire, making it able to coexist with the ice of the hail.

These were followed by the plagues of Locusts and Darkness, which showed Hashem's dominion over the element of air (the lower of the two "upper" elements). Hashem brought the swarms of locusts with a strong east wind and later removed them in a similar manner. During the plague of Darkness, Hashem *changed* the nature of normally transparent air, making it temporarily opaque (see Rabbeinu Bachye, Shmot 10:21, at length -- "the air of the land of Egypt became black and lost its transparency because Hashem closed the sunlight out from it..."; see also Sforno to Shmot 9:14 who comments that the Plague of Darkness left a lasting mark on the air of Egypt).

Pestilence and the Death of the Firstborn were plagues of the fifth element: the soul. Pestilence claimed the lives of the cattle of Egypt, displaying Hashem's mastery over the bestial soul, which is grouped with the lower elements of water and earth. The last plague, the Death of the Firstborn, was a clear example of Hashem's sovereignty over the soul of mankind, concluding the second half of the ten Makot.

(I later found that this understanding of the structure of the Makot is mentioned in brief by Rabbeinu Bachye in "Kad Hakemach" in his second sermon for Pesach. However, Rabeinu Bachye groups Dever (and Arbeh - probably a typo) with the Makos of "fire" and Makas Bechoros with the Makos of "air", and he does not mention the "fifth" element -- see also his first sermon for Pesach, which includes a discourse on the four basic elements of Creation. I thank Hashem for having led me in the footsteps of such a great Torah authority. See also Ibn Ezra in his Perush he'Aruch to Shmot 9:1 citing Rebbi Yehudah ha'Levi, and Tzror Hamor [Harav Avraham Saba, Venice 1546] Parshat Va'era s.v. "V'Amar Ha'atiru," whose words concur, in part, with what we have suggested.)


The Egyptians referred to each of the plagues as "a Finger of Hashem" (see also the section of the Passover Hagadah immediately following the list of the ten Makot). Perhaps the Makot were given such a title because each of the Makot was meant to show Hashem's power over one of the *five* elements of Creation.

The splitting of the Red Sea, on the other hand, was referred to as "the Great Hand of Hashem" (Shmot 14:31). It was considered to be five times as miraculous as the "Fingers of Hashem" (Passover Hagadah, ibid.). When Hashem split the sea, He punished the Egyptians and saved the Jews with all five elements of Creation at once: He changed the *earth* under the Egyptian chariots into mud (Shmot 14:24-25, and Rashi), while the bottom of the sea was as solid as dry land for the Jews; He split the *waters* of the Red Sea to save the Jews, and brought them together again to drown the Egyptians; His pillar of *fire* burned off the chariot wheels of the Egyptians (Shmot 14:24,25) while lighting the way for the Jews; and a strong east *wind* rent the sea for the Jewish nation to cross (14:21), and ceased in time to drown the Egyptian oppressors -- the deaths of whom showed Hashem's control over the soul of man as well.

May we merit to see the days that all of Hashem's creations will learn to respect and serve their Creator faithfully!

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