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Vaera: Exodus

Updated: 16 hours ago

“In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself came out of Egypt, as it is written, “This is done because of that which God did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Pesachim 116b, cited at Chabad.org

In parashat Vaera, (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) the cataclysmic Ten Plagues commence, reaching their apex in the subsequent chapters with the death of the firstborn of Egypt. This set the stage for their dramatic Exodus, causing shockwaves throughout human history. Today, approximately three thousand five hundred years later, this first redemption is

remembered and celebrated by Jews all over the world. 


The Passover is also being (re)discovered by believers in Yeshua of Nazareth. Ironically, this development is not without controversy, despite the fact that ancient believers celebrated the Passover for hundreds of years after the crucifixion before its observance was eventually stamped out by Rome, at least in public [1]. 


During the Seder, the Passover meal, a text called the Haggadah (“Telling”) is read, which recounts the events of the Exodus. One version of the text describes the spiritual condition of the Israelites prior to the Redemption,


“In the Passover Haggadah we say: “If God had not taken our forefathers out of Egypt, we, our children, and our children’s children, would still be enslaved to Pharaoh…Our sages explain that the Children of Israel had become so entrenched in the paganism and depravity of Egypt, that the Exodus came at the very last possible moment, as they approached the very brink of total indistinguishability from the Egyptians. Had they remained slaves in Egypt a moment longer, there would have been no “Children of Israel” to redeem.” Rebbe’s Haggadah, cited at Chabad.org [2]


It is said that Israel descended to the forty-ninth gate of impurity. If they were to sink through the final fiftieth gate, they would be lost forever. Like the star player of a sports team scoring the game winning shot at the last second, so too did HaShem rescue Israel from the depths of depravity at the last possible moment. 


That process of redemption began with the birth of the savior, Moshe. Prior to his entry into the world, the old Pharaoh had a dream of a lamb,


“And Pharaoh told that he, being asleep, had seen in his dream, and, behold, all the land of Mitzrayim was placed in one scale of a balance, and a lamb, the young of a sheep, was on the other scale; and the scale with the lamb in it weighed more. He then sent and called all the magicians of Mitzrayim, and told them his dream. Immediately Jannes and Jambres [3], the chief of the magicians, opened their mouths and answered Pharaoh: “A certain child is about to be born in the congregation of Israel, by whose hand there will be destruction on all the land of Mitzrayim.” Targum Yonatan on Exodus 1:15, Sefaria.org


The Ben Ish Chai, R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832 – 1909 CE), comments,


“…the Midrash, which told us that Pharaoh had a dream and saw a lamb on one side of a scale and all the Egyptians on the other side; and the lamb outweighed them. In that dream, he did not see himself among the Egyptians. His advisors told him that the lamb is a symbol of the redeemer of Israel, and the dream caused his heart to become hardened and he refused to let them go…” Ben Ish Chai, Aderet Eliyahu, Volume 1: Bereshit-Shemot, M. Abromovich Publishers, Bnei Barak, pg. 215 


The lamb was a symbol of the redeemer of Israel, Moses. The Midrash teaches that the Last Redeemer (Messiah) will be like the First Redeemer (Moshe). Thus, the lamb is a symbol of the Messiah as well. The parallels between the Messiah and Moses are manifold as the Midrash says,


“My beloved is like a gazelle’, as the gazelle appears and then disappears, so the first redeemer appeared and then disappeared. R. Berekiah in the name of R. Levi said: Like the first redeemer was, so will the final redeemer be. The first redeemer was Moshe, who appeared to them and then disappeared. . . The final redeemer will also appear to them and then disappear. . . For he will disappear from their sight and will then again appear to them…” Numbers Rabbah 11, Soncino Press Edition, cf. Ruth Rabbah 5:6


R’ Shloma Majeski comments on this passage,


“The definition of Jewish belief is that which is written in Torah. That defines Jewish belief. This possibility – that Moshiach comes, and after his coming and revelation there’s an interruption, and then he completes the process – this is found in a number of places in Torah. . . the Midrash says, just like a deer is revealed, and hidden, and again hidden. I guess it means that when it runs, it runs between the trees – you see it and then you don’t see it. That’s what happened with Moshe Rabbeinu in Egypt. . . The Midrash concludes the same thing will be with Moshiach: He will be revealed, then he will be hidden, and then he will be revealed again. In fact, the Midrash says that when he will be hidden, it will be a very difficult time. There will be people who will stop believing in him because of that, and that ultimately he will come…Rabbeinu Bechaye, at the end of the parsha (Shemot), says, “Moshe Rabbeinu came, then he was hidden, and then he came back to take the Yidden out of Mitzrayim.” And he writes that the same will be with Moshiach, as it says, “Kimei tzeis’cha m’Eretz Mitzrayim ar’enuniflaos.” This redemption will be similar to the redemption in the times of Mitzrayim. “The Chasam Sofer, one of the greatest masters of halacha in our recent generations, also wrote in his seifer, Toras Moshe, on this parsha, Shmos. At the end of the parsha, he says that the fact that Moshe was gone for six months was a very big test. The same will be b’yimei Moshiach Tzidkeinu, yinelam achar nisgaleh (in the days of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, he will be concealed after he is revealed), and we will need special assistance from Hashem to stand up to this test. As mentioned before, the Arizal in Seifer Shaar HaGilgulim also says the same thing – that he’ll come, and like Moshe Rabbeinu, he will disappear, go away, we won’t have him. Then he’ll come back and take all the Yidden out of Galus.” Rabbi Shloma Majeski, A Preface to Moshiach: Setting the Record Straight, Moshiach & Geula, BeisMoshiach.org [4]

Historicity of Moses & The Exodus

Because the Exodus lays a foundation for the Biblical faith and the hope for a future redemption, it is no wonder that it is relentlessly attacked as ahistorical, with numerous scholars declaring that the events of the Exodus never happened. Some religious scholars, even modern rabbis, have ceded the historical argument, emphasizing that the meaning of the Exodus is true, as opposed to its historicity. If the Exodus never happened, what about Moses? Did he even exist? Many mythicists say no. [5]


Some atheists and religious individuals agree that faith and evidence are opposed. For the religious, no facts will change their mind. For the atheist, no faith will change their ‘facts’. For both, there is no need for evidence when one has faith, and there is no need for faith where one has evidence. This separation must be maintained at all costs. 


These arguments should be emphatically rejected. The Bible does not claim that faith and evidence are opposed. It is a false dichotomy, a Berlin Wall blocking understanding on both sides of the discussion between believers and non-believers. Our culture pressures believers to reject the importance of evidence while concealing pertinent facts from the eyes of unbelievers. Yet the New Testament teaches in the book of Hebrews,


כִּי הָאֱמוּנָה הִיא בִטָּחוֹן בְּמַה־​שֶׁנְּצַפֶּה לוֹ וְהוֹכָחַת דְּבָרִים

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen.” Hebrews 11:1, Tree of Life Version


Faith is the evidence of realities not seen. Not only is the meaning of the Exodus true, but it was a literal historical event that changed the course of human history. Not only did Moses exist, he really received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810 CE) points out an interesting fact regarding the gematria (numerical value) of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher, 


“The name Moshe Rabbeinu (משה רבינו, Moses our Teacher) has the numerical value (gematria) of 613, the same as the number of commandments in the Torah. Moses embodies the entire Torah.” Likutey Halachot III, pg. 314, cited in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah, Exodus/Leviticus, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 27


Thus, when one denies the existence of Moses, they deny the validity of the Torah. If one denies the validity of the Torah, then one denies the One who gave the Torah, and the foundation of the entire Bible itself. While it is beyond the scope of this book to fully explore the historicity of Moses and the Exodus, we will make a few comments in passing.


Manetho, Hecataeus & The Hyksos

In his work Against Apion, the first century Jewish historian Josephus mentioned an Egyptian priest named Manetho. Manetho lived in the 3rd century BCE [6], and is also mentioned by other ancient writers such as Plutarch, Julius Africanus, Eusebius and George Syncellus. 

According to Josephus, Manetho mentioned Moses and the Exodus, describing the event from the Egyptian perspective, he is cited as saying,


“It is said that the priest who framed their constitution and their laws was a native of Hêliopolis, named Osarsêph after the god Osiris, worshiped at Hêliopolis; but when he joined this people, he changed his name and was called Moses.” Manetho, Delphi Ancient Classics Book 85. Kindle Edition.


He also identifies the Hebrews with the nomadic group called the Hyksos,


“Abisha the Hyksos.” Detail of Tomb of Khnuhotep II. Circa 1900 BCE.

“Their race as a whole was called Hyksôs, that is ‘king-shepherds’: for hyk in the sacred language means ‘king’, and sôs in common speech is ‘shepherd’ or ‘shepherds’; hence the compound word ‘Hyksôs’. Some say that they were Arabs.” In another copy the expression hyk, it is said, does not mean “kings”: on the contrary, the compound refers to “captive-shepherds”. . .Thummôsis, the son of Misphragmuthôsis (he continues), attempted by siege to force them to surrender . . . Finally, giving up the siege in despair, he concluded a treaty by which they should all depart from Egypt and go unmolested where they pleased. On these terms the Shepherds, with their possessions and households complete, no fewer than 240,000 persons, left Egypt and journeyed over the desert into Syria. There, dreading the power of the Assyrians who were at that time masters of Asia, they built in the land now called Judaea a city large enough to hold all those thousands of people, and gave it the name of Jerusalem.” Manetho. Delphi Ancient Classics Book 85. Kindle Edition. 


While Manetho’s account contains inaccuracies, it nevertheless preserves a kernel of the historical event of the Exodus, the person of Moses and an echo of the official Egyptian response to their monumental defeat by the God of the Hebrews. 


Josephus also mentions a Greek historian by the name of Hecataeus of Abdera (4th century BCE), who was a student of Greek philosopher Pyrrho. He wrote a work named Aegyptiaca, or On the Egyptians (the same title as Manetho’s work). His mention of the ‘Jews’ in this work was the first occurrence in Greek literature. Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE), citing Hecataeus, writes the following,


“Since we are about to give an account of the war against the Jews, we consider it appropriate, before we proceed further, in the first place to relate the origin of this nation, and their customs. In ancient times a great plague occurred in Egypt, and many ascribed the cause of it to the gods, who were offended with them. . . Therefore the native inhabitants concluded that, unless all the foreigners were driven out, they would never be free from their miseries. All the foreigners were forthwith expelled, and the most valiant and noble among them, under some notable leaders, were brought to Greece and other places, as some relate; the most famous of their leaders were Danaus and Cadmus. But the majority of the people descended into a country not far from Egypt, which is now called Judaea and at that time was altogether uninhabited. The leader of this colony was one Moses, a very wise and valiant man, who, after he had possessed himself of the country, amongst other cities, built that now most famous city, Jerusalem, and the temple there, which is so greatly revered among them. He instituted the holy rites and ceremonies with which they worship God; and made laws for the methodical government of the state. He also divided the people into twelve tribes, which he regarded as the most perfect number; because it corresponds to the twelve months within a whole year. 4 He made no representation or image of gods, because he considered that nothing of a human shape was applicable to God; but that heaven, which surrounds the earth, was the only God, and that all things were in its power. But he so arranged the rites and ceremonies of the sacrifices, and the manner and nature of their customs, that they should be wholly different from all other nations…” Diodorus Siculus, Book 40.3 [7]


There are other possible echoes of the Exodus in the writings of Lysimachus of Alexandria, Chaeremon of Alexandria, Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, Tacitus and Plutarch.

The Aamu & The Habiru

The Hebrews may also be identified with a group called the Aamu, a group of Western Asiatic foreigners, who may have been Canaanites. The name Aamu (𓂝𓄿𓅓𓅱’ ꜥꜣmw) sounds remarkably similar to עם (am, people), as in עם ישראל, Am Yisrael (the People of Israel). 

Moreover, there are numerous reports of a group named the Habiru (or Apiru) in numerous letters called the Amarna Tablets. These letters discuss the activities of the Habiru in the land of Israel during the late Bronze Age IIA [8], recording remarkable parallels to the book of Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. 

Conflicting Timelines, Part I

A huge controversy exists about the route of the Exodus and the location of Mount Sinai in Arabia [9]. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover this concept, but numerous books, documentaries and scholarly debates have explored this topic. However, one thing is clear, in order to locate evidence, one must not only look in the right place, but also the right timeline. Unfortunately, the chronology of ancient Egypt is notoriously difficult to pin down. Modern archaeologists, untrained in Rabbinic methodology of interpretation, have placed the Exodus around 1200 BCE, and following a surface reading of the Torah, place them in the cities of Ramses and Pithom [10]. The book of Exodus says,


וַיָּשִׂ֤ימוּ עָלָיו֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן עַנֹּת֖וֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־רַעַמְסֵֽס׃

“So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities (or store cities) for Pharaoh: Pithom and Ramses.” Exodus 1:11, Sefaria.org


Since it is well known that Pi-Ramesses was a capital city located in Goshen, in the region of the Nile Delta, built by Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279 – 1219 BCE), the logical conclusion is that this pinpoints the time frame wherein the Exodus happened. This also identifies the two Pharaohs of the book of Exodus as Seti and Ramesses II, hence the popular depictions in The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt. Seti’s predecessor, Ramesses I (1292 – 1290 BCE), may have founded the city. 


While many scholars insist this is the correct date of the Exodus, they ironically claim that there is no evidence supporting the Biblical narrative! [11]


Their conclusion: An Israelite presence or Exodus has not been found, and the events described in the Bible did not happen. Considering that the Torah reports that up to two million people left Egypt, it seems unreasonable that there would be no extant evidence of this dramatic event. 

However, beneath the layers of the city of Pi-Ramesses, a significant Canaanite presence has been found. In the city named Avaris, this was the seat of power for the kings of the Hyksos, whom Manetho identified as the Hebrews. Archaeologists have also identified within this city enormous storage facilities and silos [12], which sounds remarkably similar to the actions of Joseph during the seven years of plenty before the seven years of famine,


“And he gathered all the grain of the seven years that the land of Egypt was enjoying, the seven years that were in the land of Egypt and stored the grain in the cities; he put in each city the grain of the fields around it. So Joseph collected produce in very large quantities, like the sands of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.” Genesis 41:48-49


One may ask if the Israelites lived in the city of Avaris, why does the Bible use the names of Rameses and Pithom if the two were separated by up to two centuries? The Torah sometimes identifies locations with anachronistic names, as in The War of the Nine Kings, as described in Genesis 14,


“And they returned, and came to Ein-Mishpat (the Well of Judgment), which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites.” Genesis 14:7


How is it possible that they smote the ‘country of the Amalekites’, when Amalek was not yet born? Amalek was the grandson of Esav, as Genesis states:


“Timna was a concubine of Esav’s son Eliphaz. She gave birth to Amalek for Eliphaz.” Genesis 36:12


The Rabbis noted this “contradiction” and explained that the Torah intentionally used this to indicate a future prophecy,


“And they smote all the country of the Amalekites. Amalek had not yet arisen, yet you say, ‘And they smote all the country of the Amalekites!’ But, ‘He declares the end from the beginning’ (Isaiah 46:10)” Genesis Rabbah 42:7, Soncino Press Edition [13]


Secondly, we must understand the time frame of the book of Exodus itself. A casual reading can sometimes convey the impression that events described within a handful of verses occurred over a short span of time. The book of Exodus is no exception. It may be surprising to know that the few verses describing the time of Moshe’s birth to his escape to Midian cover a span of forty years. He remained in Midian for an additional forty years, and confronted Pharaoh at the age of eighty. By the time the Torah was written by Moshe, he may have used the updated names for these cities, in order to preserve the memory of their location. This would allow the next generation of Israel, who would know the historic Jewish city of Avaris as Ramses to be able to identify the correct location. 


Moreover, whereas Avaris was occupied by Israel from the time of Yosef until the Exodus, the Torah actually says they were in the process of building Ramses and Pithom. If the Israelites were in the process of building these cities, then it makes sense that the previous generation lived in Avaris. In fact, Rashi, R’ Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105 CE) states,


“PITHOM AND RAMESES – These cities already existed, but were not adapted originally for this purpose. Now they strengthened them and fortified them to serve as store cities.” Rashi on Exodus 1:11, Sefaria.org


Notice that the cities already existed. History is always more complex than what is popularly understood. Humanity, filled with contradiction, has a tendency to color outside of the lines and boundaries that later generations draw. 


To underscore this point, many scholars misinterpret the Torah to say that Israel spent 400 or so years in Egypt, whereas the actual length was 210 [14]. This roughly corresponds to the dating error in archaeology. Dating the Exodus to circa 1450 BCE resolves numerous issues and yields surprising discoveries that have strong parallels to the book of Exodus. 


The Ten Plagues


During this early time frame, an Egyptian manuscript named the Ipuwer Papyrus [15] was written. Currently held in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, the document appears to describe disastrous events in the land of Egypt that many have viewed as significantly parallel to the Ten Plagues.

Exodus

Ipuwer Papyrus

“…all the waters of the river were turned to blood.” Exodus 7:20

“The river is blood.” Ipuwer Papyrus 2:10

 “and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt.” Exodus 7:21

“Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere.” Ipuwer Papyrus 2:5-6

“And all the Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink; for they could not drink the water of the river.” Exodus 7:24 

“Men shrink from tasting… and thirst after water.” Ipuwer Papyrus 2:10 

“…and the fire ran along the ground…fire mingled with the hail, very grievous.” Exodus 9:23-24

“Truly, gates, columns and  walls are consumed by fire.” Ipuwer Papyrus 2:10

“…and the flax and the barley was smitten.” Exodus 9:30-31

“Truly, grain has perished on every side..” Ipuwer Papyrus 6:3

“The hand of the HaShem  is upon your cattle which is in the field…a very grievous sickness.” Exodus 9:3

“All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan…” Ipuwer Papyrus 5:5

“And there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt...” Exodus 10:22 

“The land is without light.” Ipuwer Papyrus 9:11


“…there was a great cry in Egypt.” Exodus 12:30

“It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.” Ipuwer Papyrus 3:14


The parallels between the Ipuwer Papyrus and the Plagues are not easy to discount, with the exception of the time frame objection cited above. On a deeper level, these Ten Plagues also correspond to the Ten Commandments, and were essentially a reversal of creation which was created by Ten Words [16]. The parallels between creation and the plagues may be summarized as follows,

  1. Plague 1 – Waters Turned to Blood Exodus 7:19 uses the word מקוה to describe the “bodies” of water, the same word used in Genesis 1:10 [17] among other parallels.

  2. Plagues 2, 3, 4 – Frogs, Lice and Flies Corresponding to Water, Earth and Air

  3. Plague 5 – Pestilence of the Animals A reversal of Genesis 2:18-20, where the animals are created for man.

  4. Plague 6 – Boils The original body of light that Adam was originally created exchanged for a body of flesh because of sin. That skin is now punished.

  5. Plagues 7 & 8 – Hail & Locusts The world of vegetation is destroyed, reversing Genesis 1:12, where the earth brings forth plants.

  6. Plague 9 – Darkness A reversal of Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light.” 

  7. Plague 10 – Death of the Firstborn A reversal of Genesis 1:27, “Let us make man in our image.” 

These ten stages correspond to the Ten Sefirot [18], as R’ Ari Kahn explains,

“In this mystical tradition, the Ten Plagues are parallel to the ten kabbalistic Sefirot, in reverse sequence. The first plague, blood, was parallel to Malchut, Kingship: God is King of the Universe. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was the life force of Egypt, and the Nile was in turn created by Pharaoh. Therefore, turning their beloved Nile to blood was a direct attack on the beliefs and superstitions of the Egyptians, a means of making God’s mastery of the physical universe apparent.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, Va’eira: Frogs

Thus in the minds of the idol-worshiping Egyptians, the God of the Hebrews proved Himself more powerful than all of their “gods”. Their perception may have been as follows,

  1. The Hebrew God killed Hapi, the Nile “god” causing its blood to flow. Khnum, the guardian of the Nile, failed as well.  

  2. Heqet, frog-goddess of fertility became a stench to all the land. 

  3. Khephera, the scarab-god stood by and did nothing when the flies and gnats multiplied. Geb, the god of the earth, was missing in action. 

  4. Ptah and Hathor, bull-god and goddess were of no help to the animals and flocks.

  5. Imhotep and Serapis, the gods of medicine and healing could not heal the grievous sores upon the Egyptians.

  6. Renunet and Nepri, the gods of grain and crops were powerless against the locust swarm. 

  7. Noot, the god-protector of land from destruction from the sky, couldn’t stop the hail mixed with fire. 

  8. All of the “gods” who ruled over the terrestrial sphere, from the Nile, frogs and animals, grains and crops were defeated but what about the sun-god Amun Ra? The God of the Hebrews blotted him out! 

  9. In a certain sense, the highest “god” of Egypt was Pharaoh himself as he was actually a living, breathing being unlike the statues that lined every monument and building. The God of the Hebrews slew the firstborn of Egypt and threw him and his entire army down in the sight of all Egypt and the nations! 

The Prophet Ezekiel prophesied of Pharaoh,

“Speak and communicate, thus says God, “Behold I am against you Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great crocodile that crouches in the midst of the streams who says the (Nile) River is mine, for I created it.” Ezekiel 29:3

R’ Ari Kahn observes,

“Pharaoh believed that he was god of the Nile, that he created the Nile. This insight allows us to understand why the children were thrown into the Nile.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, Aish.com

Yet modern documentaries and researchers have proposed a theory for a logical explanation for the Ten Plagues, where each plague has a cause and effect relationship:

  1. A red toxic algal bloom (red tide) could have produced large quantities of toxins that killed the fish.

  2. The toxic water drove the frogs to leave the river and probably die upon the shore.

  3. The lack of frogs in the river would have let insect populations, normally kept in check by the frogs, increase massively.

  4. Biting flies and mosquitoes transmitted livestock diseases, sparking an epidemic

  5. The Minoan Eruption on the Aegean Isle of Thera (also known as Santorini), caused an apocalyptic rainstorm in Egypt, mixing the hot brimstone with the solid precipitation from high altitudes, thus “fire and hail”. This may have been described in the Tempest Stele of Pharaoh Ahmose (c. 1550 BCE) [19]. 

  6. A locust swarm swept up whatever was left of Egypt’s crops due to surrounding damage. Locust swarms are not uncommon in the Middle East. 

  7. The sun was blocked out by volcanic ash. 

One researcher explains,

“The most popular naturalistic theory of the Plagues of Egypt began in 1957 with Greta Hort, a scholar of medieval English literature and religion, who published a theory explaining the Plagues as an interconnected series of catastrophic natural events. This “ecological domino” effect started with a Plague of Blood consisting mainly of a massive “red tide” of algae in the Nile River plus red mud…” [20]

Some have suggested that for this to be a real test of faith, there had to be an element of doubt within it. Perhaps this naturalistic explanation aided Pharaoh in rejecting the evidence that there was a Primal Cause, a Creator who had power over all the forces of nature and so-called ‘gods’ of Egypt. Ultimately, we cannot know the scientific mechanism of how HaShem caused the plagues, but we do know that He caused them. While this naturalistic domino effect theory is disputed and unproven, it does not discount their miraculous nature. Explaining the how does not discount the Who. This applies to all areas of faith and science. 

For example, when the Torah says the river became blood, this does not exclude the possibility of a red algal bloom as an explanation. We have the principle of dibberah Torah k’lashon bnei Adam, the Torah speaks in the language of man. Biblically, for the river to have become “blood”, it does not require platelets and plasma to be literally flowing through it. While it could be literal, methods of Jewish interpretation do not require this. 

Pharaoh’s Heart


HaShem brought the plagues as a testimony to Israel and the nations that He alone was the Creator. Paganism’s fruit has brought humanity nothing but hurt, pain and death. HaShem loved Israel and the Egyptians, and wanted everyone to know unequivocally who their Source of Life was,

“And the Egyptians shall know that I am the HaShem, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” Exodus 7:5

It is important to understand that with each of the early plagues, Pharaoh had the choice to repent. The Midrash says, 


“Following each of the first five plagues, it is written, “And Pharaoh hardened his heart”, regarding the sixth plague it says, “And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” When God saw that Pharaoh did not relent after the first five plagues, He said: “Even if Pharaoh now wished to repent, I shall harden his heart, in order to exact full punishment from him.” Midrash Rabbah, cited in Aish.com [21]


Thus Exodus states,

“And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them.” Exodus 9:12

This is a challenging text. How is it ‘fair’ that Pharaoh’s choice was taken away? R’ Ari Kahn answers,

“The punishment Pharaoh actually receives is quite exact, measure for measure: Just as Pharaoh had closed his heart and ignored G-d, now Pharaoh was punished by losing the sensitivity of his heart, which he had hardened himself. At that point, Pharaoh lost the ability to repent. This is part and parcel of the punishment, this loss of the ability to rectify his ways. The punishments he receives are for his earlier deeds, not for the later rebellion.” [22]

Then R’ Kahn makes a fascinating suggestion: Pharaoh’s hardened heart was not to take away his free will, but it “restore the equilibrium of choice” that was taken away by the undeniably miraculous plagues:

“We can now answer our previous question by turning the issue around. Surely it was the plagues which took away, or at least limited, the free choice of Pharaoh. Surely a beaten, abused Pharaoh does not have the freedom to make a rational, dispassionate decision regarding belief in G-d. In order to allow Pharaoh the freedom of choice to either accept or reject G-d, his heart had to be hardened, effectively restoring the equilibrium to Pharaoh’s impaired, plague-ridden decision making process.” R’ Ari Kahn, M’oray HaAish, Pharaoh’s Heart [23]

The Power of Teshuvah

As the first redemption was, so the last redemption will be. The conditions that prevailed before the Exodus from Egypt will prevail before the coming of the Messiah. 

History recurs in cyclical patterns. Before Abraham was born, Nimrod sought to kill him by killing babies. Before Moshe Rabbeinu was born, Pharaoh tried to kill him by killing babies. Before Yeshua was born, Herod tried to kill him by killing babies. One thread in common is that society will be killing babies. This should cause our society to shudder in repentance. R’ Nachman of Breslov revealed the conditions that the world would endure prior to the coming of the Messiah,

“It is said that before the arrival of Mashiach, there will be a flood. It will not be a flood of water, but of atheism and immorality. It will cover all the high mountains, even in the Holy Land, where the original flood did not reach. But this time, it will come with such strength that the water will splash over the land. This means that it will influence even virtuous hearts. There will be no way to combat this with sophistication. All the royal ministers will be scattered, and the entire kingdom will not be firm on its foundation. The only ones who will uphold it will be the simple Jews who recite psalms in simplicity. Therefore, when the Messiah comes, they will be the ones to place the crown on his head (Rabbi Nachman’s Stories: Simplicity, #21, pg. 473).” Cited in the Commentary to Likutey Moharan II, Volume 12, Breslov Research Institute, pg. 448

We have seen the fulfillment of this statement in our own days. The conditions surrounding the Exodus from Egypt are now repeating on a global scale, thus requiring HaShem’s direct intervention  in the world to bring all of creation to teshuvah, repentance.  Revelation says,

“The first sounded, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. One third of the earth was burnt up, and one third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up…The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk…Great hailstones, about the weight of a talent, came down out of the sky on people. People blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, for this plague is exceedingly severe.” Revelation 8:7, 9:20, 16:21

This passage highlights a few of the numerous parallels between the Exodus account and Revelation. More are as follows,  


Exodus

Revelation

Waters become blood Exodus 7:20

Waters become blood Revelation 8:8-9, 11:6, 16:3-6

Plague of Frogs Exodus 8:2-7

Unclean Spirits Like Frogs Revelation 16:13

Pestilence Exodus 9:1-3

Pestilence Revelation 6:8

Sores break out on people Exodus 9:9-10

Sores break out on people Revelation 16:2

Hail and Fire Exodus 9:22-24

Hail and Fire Revelation 8:7

Plague of Locusts Exodus 10:4-15

Locusts with Power of Scorpions Revelation 9:3

Hailstones from the Sky Exodus 8:2-7

Huge Hailstones from the Sky Revelation 16:21

Unnatural Darkness Exodus 10:21

Unnatural Darkness Revelation 8:12

Death of the Firstborn Exodus 11:4

Death Revelation 6:8


In the same vein, the Midrash reveals the connection, 

“The hailstones which were on the way down when Moses prayed were suspended in midair, and did not reach the earth. When did they descend? In the days of Joshua they descended upon the Amorites, as it is written (Joshua 10:11): “And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel… that G-d cast down great stones from heaven upon them.” The remainder will descend in the days of Gog and Magog.” Midrash Rabbah, cited at Aish.com [24]

There is an important Jewish principle in regard to prophecy. Every positive prophecy is unconditional. Every negative prophecy is conditional. In other words, negative prophecies do not have to come to pass, and can be rescinded if the people repent. This is evident in the account of Jonah, who proclaimed to Nineveh that the city would be destroyed. The judgment was delayed when the people repented. As Revelation said,


“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent…” Revelation 9:20


This illustrates clearly that judgments come to bring humanity to repentance. Like Pharaoh, each person has the opportunity to obey HaShem or harden their heart. As the prayer Unetaneh Tokef says,

וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה

“But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity mitigate the severity of the Decree.” Unetaneh Tokef

The Foundation of Faith

This brings us to the nature of choice, belief and faith. Faith is critical to our walk with HaShem. It is the foundation of our relationship and the motivation for our serving God. The book of Habakkuk says,


צַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

“…the righteous will live by his faith.”

Habakkuk 2:4


The Talmud reveals faith as the foundation of the Torah,


“Isaiah …  established the 613 mitzvot upon two, as it is stated: “So says the Lord: Observe justice and perform righteousness” (Isaiah 56:1). Amos came and established the 613 mitzvot upon one, as it is stated: “So says the Lord to the house of Israel: Seek Me and live” (Amos 5:4). Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak objects to this: “There is no proof that the verse in Amos is establishing all the mitzvot upon one; say that Amos is saying: ‘Seek Me throughout the entire Torah’, as the verse does not specify the manner in which one should seek the Lord.” Rather, say: Habakkuk came and established the 613 mitzvot upon one, as it is stated: “But the righteous person shall live by his faith”(Habakkuk 2:4).” Makkot 24a, Sefaria.org


Exodus 14:31 says,


ויַּֽאֲמִינוּ בַּֽה׳ וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ

“…they had faith in HaShem and in Moses, His servant.” Exodus 14:31


The Mekhilta comments on this passage,


“If they believed in Moses, how much more so, in the Lord! (i.e., Why need this be written?) We are hereby apprised that one who believes in the “faithful shepherd” believes in the pronouncement (i.e., the Torah) of Him who spoke and brought the world into being. Similarly, (Numbers 21:5) “And the people spoke against God and against Moses.” If they spoke against God, how much more so against Moses! We are hereby apprised that one who speaks against the “faithful shepherd” speaks against Him who spoke and brought the world into being. Great is the faith wherein Israel believed in Him who spoke and brought the world into being; for in reward for Israel’s belief in the Lord, the Shechinah reposed upon them and they chanted song (at the sea). As it is written “And they believed in the Lord and in Moses His servant. Then Moses and the children of Israel sang, etc.” And thus do you find that our father Abraham inherited this world and the world to come only in the merit of his believing in the Lord. As it is written (in this connection, Genesis 15:6) “And he believed in the Lord, and it was accounted unto him as tzedakah (righteousness).” Mekhilta 14:31, Sefaria.org


Amazingly, this is exactly the same argument that Paul uses throughout his writings, citing the same verse. The book of Romans says, 


אִם־​כֵּן הָאֱמוּנָה בָאָה מִתּוֹךְ הַשְּׁמוּעָה  וְהַשְּׁמוּעָה עַל־​יְדֵי דְבַר־​הַמָּשִׁיחַ

“So them faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Messiah.” Romans 10:17


Exodus says,

“And the people believed, and they heard that G-d had remembered the children of Israel (4:31)” “The people of Israel were redeemed from Egypt only in the merit of their faith, as it is written, “And the people believed.” Mechilta, cited at Chabad.org

 

References

  1. See the virulently anti-Semitic work of John Chrysostom (347 – 407 CE), Eight Homilies Against the Jews, Homily 3, who unintentionally provides evidence that early believers maintained observance of Passover. 

  2. Parshat Bo In-Depth, https://www.chabad.org/parshah/in-depth/default_cdo/aid/35882/jewish/Bo-In-Depth.htm

  3. These two are referenced in 2nd Timothy 3:8, illustrating that the New Testament drew upon midrashic content.

  4. A Preface to Moshiach: Setting the Record Straight, http://www.beismoshiach.org/Moshiach/moshiach354.htm

  5. This is directly analogous to the arguments against the historicity of Yeshua. Today, no serious scholar accepts the mythicist argument in regard to Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Even the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman destroys the mysticist position in his research. Ironically, this polemic against Yeshua is still being advanced by anti-missionaries, who claim to believe in the existence of Moses. In terms of historical witness, there is much more evidence for Yeshua as compared to Moses. In other words, anti-missionaries are inconsistent in their application of weights and measures.

  6. Josephus, Against Apion, Book 1.14

  7. http://attalus.org/translate/diodorus40.html

  8.  Discussion of the pros and cons of identification between the Hebrews, Hyksos, Aamu, Habiru/Apiru, could fill volumes of books. While some of these identifications may not be exclusive to the Hebrews, they no doubt include the Hebrews who came out of Egypt. The numerous and overwhelming parallels of their characteristics and activities cannot be easily dismissed.

  9. Galatians 4:25

  10. While the location of Pithom (Heroopolis) is subject to debate, it is mentioned by numerous ancient writers, including Strabo, Arian of Nicomedia, Pliny the Elder, and Claudius Ptolemy.

  11. Did the Exodus Really Happen?, Assaf Kamer, 4.23.16, YNetNews.com

  12. https://www.auaris.at/html/history_en.html

  13. This war is a prototype of the final war of Gog u’Magog, i.e. “Armageddon”.

  14. How Many Years did the Jews Spend in Egypt? Chabad.org, Chani Benjaminson, https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/617888/jewish/How-many-years-did-the-Jews-spend-in-Egypt.htm

  15. Officially Papyrus Leiden I 344 recto.

  16. “Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath at twilight, and these are they: [1] the mouth of the earth, [2] the mouth of the well, [3] the mouth of the donkey, [4] the rainbow, [5] the manna, [6] the staff [of Moses], [7] the shamir, [8] the letters, [9] the writing, [10] and the tablets. And some say: also the demons, the grave of Moses, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say: and also tongs, made with tongs.” (Pirkei Avot 5:1, Sefaria.org). “Ten things were created on the first day of Creation, and they are as follows: Heaven and earth; tohu and vohu, i.e., unformed and void; light and darkness; wind and water; the length of day and the length of night…R. Zutra bar Tuvya said in the name of Rav, “With ten things the world was created: With wisdom and with understanding and with knowledge and with strength and with rebuke and with might and with righteousness and with judgment and with mercy and with compassion.” (Chagigah 12a, Sefaria.org)

  17. This is explored by Professor Ziony Levitt, Invoking Creation in the Story of the Ten Plagues.

  18. The Ten “Attributes” of HaShem. One may also discover parallels in the ten things created at the twilight of the first Shabbat, ten men of a minyan, ten lost tribes, the ten martyrs, etc. Rashi comments on Ecclesiastes 7:21, “These are the ten things that condemn a person. His two eyes show him sinful things, his two ears which enable him to hear idle talk, his two hands with which he robs and plunders, his two feet which lead him to sinful things, and his mouth and his heart.” (Sefaria.org). Additionally, one may discover parallels in the 10 dimensions of String Theory, or M-Theory.

  19. If the dating is correct, this may have been a different event than described in the Exodus.

  20. Brad Sparks, Red Algae Theories of the Ten Plagues: Contradicted by Science, Part 1 of 3. https://www.biblia.work/sermons/redalgae-theories-of-the-ten-plagues-contradicted-by-science/

  21. R’ Ari Kahn, M’orah Ha’Aish, Va’eira: Pharaoh’s Heart, Aish.com, https://aish.com/48937417/

  22. Ibid.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Parshat Va’era In-Depth, Chabad.org https://www.chabad.org/parshah/in-depth/default_cdo/aid/35813/jewish/Vaera-In-Depth.htm

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