Parashat Vaera: The Ten Plagues and Creation
** This Week's Parasha Insight with Rabbi Eli Mansour Dedicated By Steven Levy & Chaby Orfali and Families In Loving Memory of Eliyahu Ben Sinbol **
The Torah in Parashat Vaera tells of the miraculous plagues which G-d brought upon the Egyptians. The commentators explain that these plagues not only were punishments for the Egyptians’ cruelty towards Beneh Yisrael, but also, and primarily, but also served an educational purpose – to demonstrate G-d’s existence and unlimited power of the earth.
Rav Abraham Saba (1440-1508), in his work Seror Ha’mor, adds that G-d brought ten plagues to correspond to the ten "Ma’amarot" – pronouncements with which He created the world. The Mishna famously teaches in Pirkeh Abot (5:1) that G-d created the world by uttering five pronouncements. Nine times in the story of creation we find that Hashem "spoke" to bring something into existence, and the tenth pronouncement was the word "Bereshit," with which G-d began the act of creation by creating matter. Each of the ten plagues delivered upon Egypt corresponds to one of these ten pronouncements. This point is developed at length by the Maharal of Prague (Rav Yehuda Loew, 1520-1609), who explains in detail how each plague is associated with one of the ten "Ma’amarot." For example, the plague of darkness corresponds to the pronouncement, "Yehi Or" – "Let there be light" (Bereshit 1:3). The plague of the firstborn corresponds to the pronouncement of "Bereshit," as the word "Reshit" means "the first." The plague of Arob (wild beasts) corresponds to the pronouncement with which G-d created the animal kingdom ("Toseh Ha’aretz Nefesh Haya" – Bereshit 1:24).
The question, however, arises, what is the meaning behind this correspondence? Why did G-d choose to bring ten plagues that would correspond to the ten pronouncements with which G-d created the universe?
The Seror Ha’mor explains that the purpose of the plagues was to show the Egyptians – and Beneh Yisrael – that G-d created the world and exerts complete control and authority over it. To prove this, He in a sense undid the process of creation. This is comparable to somebody who is holding a magnificent suit, and he tells people that he is the tailor who made it. They don’t believe him – and so he takes the suit apart and then sews it back together. Only somebody who made the suit, he says, could know how to take it apart and put it together. Likewise, Pharaoh and the Egyptians denied the existence of a single G-d who created the world, and so G-d proved them wrong by reversing the process of creation, undoing and then restoring each of the ten pronouncements with which the world came into existence.
Developing this point further, Beneh Yisrael in a sense experienced creation. They witnessed G-d undoing the world’s creation and then putting it back together. Nobody witnessed the original act of creation – and so G-d reversed each stage of creation and then restored it, essentially allowing Beneh Yisrael to see the process of creation firsthand.
This explains why in Kiddush we proclaim that Shabbat serves as both a "Zecher Le’ma’aseh Bereshit" – commemoration of the act of creation – and a "Zecher Li’ysi’at Misrayim" – commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. These are not two different statements – because Yesiat Misrayim was, in a sense, the act of creation, as G-d "unraveled" nature and then put it back together to show that He is the Creator.
This also answers the question posed by numerous commentators as to why G-d began the Ten Commandments by pronouncing, "I am Hashem your G-d who took you from the land of Egypt," rather than proclaiming that He is the G-d who created the universe. The answer, quite simply, is that these are actually one and the same. The process of the Exodus was, in essence, a repeat of the act of creation, as G-d reversed each stage of creation and then reinstated it, thereby proving that it was He who created the world and exercises absolute control over it for all time.