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The First Rebbe of Ger known as the Chiddushei Harim zt’l zy’a taught that through the Ten Plagues G-D brought upon Egypt reveal the Ten D-vine utterances through the world came in to existence. Each plague opened up another utterance of Creation. As each plague the D-vine origins of creation one of the ten forms of prayer. (see Lekutei Yehudah II:45).
The Rabbi’s observation is profound as Shemoth 20:2 bases faith in G-D on Israel’s Exodus experience. Further the Gerrer Rebbe’s observation casts the Ten Plagues as much more than mere retribution. If punishing Egypt was the whole agenda certainly G-D could visit complete destruction in an instant. Certainly a broader lesson was intended.
According to the Holy Zohar (I:82a) the Ten Plagues had their origin some four centuries earlier when the then reigning Pharaoh took Sara Our Mother A’H (see Bereshith 12:11-20). The Zohar prefaces this observation with stating “. . .[W] hatever exists is G-D’s creation and He knows from the outset what would be in the future . . .” The Zohar notes similar language used in Bereshith 12:17 concerning Sara and Devarim 6:22 describing the Exodus as an additional connection between the events. Forcibly taking what is not yours a lack of faith in G-D providing one with one’s needs. Consequently the plagues came to demonstrate how whatever one has is only through G-D allowing it to be so.
Rabbi Avraham Danziger ZT’L ZY’A wrote in his Toldoth Adam commentary shows how each plague was in specific response to specific torments and humiliations the Egyptians cause Bene Yisrael to endure. Bene Yisrael were tasked with drawing water and denied the opportunity to bathe therefore G-D turned the Egyptians’ water to blood. Because the Egyptians made noises and otherwise took action to disturb Bene Yisrael’s sleep G-D brought frogs in to the Egyptians’ homes to croak all day and night. The Lice plague was visited on Egypt because they made Bene Yisrael sweep up marketplaces. The Egyptians endangered Bene Yisrael by having them capture wild animals consequently G-D brought the plague of wild beasts. The Egyptians worked Bene Yisrael with rigorous work like beasts therefore G-D caused a cattle pestilence to afflict Egypt’s domestic animals. The plague of boils was in response to the lashings and blows the Egyptians administered to Bene Yisrael. Similarly, the hail plague was visited upon Egypt because the Egyptians stoned Bene Yisrael. The Egyptians had Bene Yisrael work the fields consequently G-D brought locusts to destroy Egypt’s crops. Egypt sought to darken Bene Yisrael eyes, cause the nation to lose hope G-D brought darkness upon Egypt. The Egyptians killed the leaders among Bene Yisrael therefore G-D smote the first born of Egypt.
The Toldoth Adam’s comments seem to have their source in the Midrash Tanchuma. However, what is inspiring about this the plagues may have been pay back but each plague was delivered with precision. Consequently it becomes clear that all along G-D was paying attention and from the fact a specific Evil was so completely devastated by a specific plague implies that whatever suffering may have been experienced it too was measured by Providence.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ibn Abuchav ZT’L ZY’A in Menorath Hameor views the plagues as G-D expressing His sovereignty over creation Blood and Frogs are associated with water, Lice and Wild Beasts with earth, Pestilence and Locusts with air and Boils and Hail with fire. The Darkness plague demonstrated G-D’s rule extended to the cosmos as well. The final plague against the First Born of Egypt was G-D’s vengeance on Bene Yisrael’s behalf.
The Menorath HaMeor’s approach is unique in emphasizing the plagues came as a repudiation of Pharaoh’s self-deification specifically and indeed the fallacy of idolatry generally.
The important thing is that these three different approaches are not mutually exclusive and each represents another level of abstraction or emphasis. Were the plagues mainly to discipline Egypt or to inspire Bene Yisrael? Or both? The correct answer is, all of the above. However each approach shares a common theme that if one reflects on the Ten Plagues recognizes they were could only be of D-vine origin. If the plagues were not from the Creator how could the Plagues be so exact in their nature or show the totality of control? Rather the Plagues therefore reveal the D-vine nature of creation.