Saturday, January 20, 2007

Vaera. hail, chesed and science

This is the shiur I gave this afternoon at Shapell's, Parshat Vaera

Click here to read this as a pdf

Hail, Chesed and the Foundation of Scientific Enquiry

We begin this week to read about the Ten Plagues. It is interesting to note that the plagues are divided up between this week’s parsha and next week’s. The division is not the simple ‘fifty-fifty’ split, but rather we have seven plagues in Vaera and only three in Bo. Let us try to understand why the Rabbis decided to divide the parshiot in this manner.
It is known that the Ten Plagues correspond to all the other ‘tens’ in Torah. Therefore they can be matched up with the Ten Commandments and with the Ten Utterances with which heaven and earth were created. The root of all of these ‘tens’ is from the kabbalistic concept of sefirot – the ten facets of G-d through which He interacts with the world. The sefirot (Chachma, Bina, Da’at, Chesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod and Malchut) are divided into the three ‘upper’ sefirot of chabad (Chachma, Bina and Da’at) and the seven lower sefirot. The sefirot are the mechanism by which G-d interfaces with the world, and there is a descent from the most ‘G-dly’ to the most physical. The plagues also showed G-d interacting with the world. However with the plagues the order was the other way – G-d began with the most physical, and ended with the clearest revelation of His Divine intervention in the world - the plague of the killing of the first born (I and not an angel etc.). Therefore it seems clear that the division of the plagues between the parshiot corresponds to this division between the upper and the lower sefirot. (Look at Rav Tzadok HaCohen who explains in Pri Tzadik on parshat Bo many of the connections between the plagues and the sefirot).
So the last plague in our parsha, the plague of hail, corresponds to the first and highest of the lower sefirot – chesed. Chesed is usually translated as kindness most closely associated with Avraham. The question is, how does this relate to the plague of hail?
The Torah tells us that this was no ordinary hail, but rather that there was fire burning inside the ice of the hail (Shemot 9; 23). Any crop that was not destroyed by the impact of the hail suffered from the burning of the fire. Yet we know (from the Rambam chapter 8 of yesodei hatorah) that G-d only does miracles when they are necessary, not simply to ‘show off’. So it is legitimate to ask why there was a need for a miracle within a miracle in the hail – the fire within the ice.
Pharaoh’s response to this plague is unique. Only after the plague of hail does he admit “This time I am guilty! G-d is just! It is I and my people who are wrong!” (ibid. v. 27). What was it about this plague that showed Pharaoh so clearly that G-d is just more than any of the other plagues?
One final question – this plague is also unique in that the Torah states: “Never before in Egypt, since the day it was founded, has there been anything like it.” (ibid. v. 18). About the plague of locusts (for example) it states “Never before had there been such a locust plague and never again would the like be seen” (ibid. 10; 14). We would expect that the plagues only happened once in history, and their like was never seen before nor since. Yet with the plague of hail it states that it had never happened since the day that Egypt was founded. This clearly implies that on the day Egypt was founded there was a plague like this. Egypt, like all the nations, became a distinct nation at the time of the Tower of Bavel. It was then that all the nations of the earth were separated from each other and took on their own individuality. Therefore we should look there for a hint to another plague of fiery hail. If we look at the Ba’al HaTurim on Bereishit 11; 8 he points out that the word vayechd’lu (ceased) only occurs twice in the Torah – once by the Tower of Bavel and once by the plague hail. He therefore concludes that when G-d destroyed the tower and dispersed the nations there was the same fiery hail as at the time of the plagues in Egypt. So we must now ask, what is the connection between the Tower and dispersion, and the hail?
In summary we have four questions:
1. How is hail connected to chesed?
2. Why was there a need for a special ‘miracle within a miracle’ to have fire within the ice?
3. Why was this plague more convincing for Pharaoh than any of the others?
4. What is the connection between hail and the Tower of Bavel?

to read the rest of this click on this link which will take you to a pdf file. It is too long to post on this blog (altogether it is 4 pages). Enjoy.

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