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Rabbi Yehuda’s famous statement groups the Makkot into three groups of three (Detza”ch, Ada”sh, Bea”chav):

·         Blood, Frogs and Lice

·         Arov, Dever, and Boils

·         Hail, Locusts and Darkness

[For our purposes, we will leave Makkat Bechorot as a separate and distinctive plague, in a category of its own.]


It has long been pointed out (see, for example Rashbam Shemot 7:26) that the first two Makkot of each of these groups comes with a warning, while the third plague comes upon Pharaoh without warning.


Indeed, the plagues of lice, boils and darkness come suddenly upon the Egyptians without any prior warning. Moreover, these three plagues come directly upon the human body and, as the Midrash points out, they contain explicit suggestions of man’s helplessness, as the magicians are unable to likewise bring about the plagues of lice and boils (“ve’lo ya’cholu”) and the darkness renders them likewise powerless (“And no man could see his friend.”)


What is the common idea which underlies these final plagues of the series?


The Egyptians seem to have a particular obsession with defeating death and attaining eternal life. Their focus upon embalming, constructing pyramids and elaborate tombs complete with provisions intended for the afterlife were all part of this attempt to outwit death and evade man’s ultimate fate.


The three final Makkot all attack the bodies of the Egyptians. In fact, these plagues seem designed to remind each individual Egyptian of his own mortality. The lice and the boils suggest the ultimate decay of the body, and the darkness which is often compared to death in the Tanakh. And so, these three plagues come suddenly upon the Egyptians, intimating their inevitable death, whose terrible suddenness cannot be prevented. And the critical message of the plague is, of course, that only God controls man’s death. No man in the world, not even the mighty Egyptian magicians, can prevent man from dying and his body from decomposing.


It is perhaps for this reason that the symbol of the snake appears so often in the story of Egypt. A cobra is often used on the royal crown as a symbol ofsovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt. Indeed, the Egyptian is like the snake in that the snake also attempts to outwit death. In our first encounter with the snake in the garden of Eden in Gen. 3:4, the snake unforgettably informs Chava, “You shall not die!”


And so, this third plague in each series comes to the individual as an individual, to tell him that with all the grandeur and beauty in Egypt, despite their Nile, their palace, their riches and their magnificent burials, they cannot control their ultimate fate and they too shall die.


Nevertheless, this is not the end of the story. Because, the Midrash tells us, there is one way to outwit death. The Midrash tells us that those people who heard God’s voice at Har Sinai never were afflicted with lice in their lifetime and their bodies did not decompose after death. It appears that this Midrash intends to offer a formula for defeating death. How can man escape the ultimate fate of the human condition? Only by listening to God’s voice, by incorporating Matan Torah into our persona and by intuiting our lives in something truly eternal.


Hag Kasher Ve Sameach!





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