Sending Moses to Pharaoh again, God clarifies the pedagogy behind the plagues: “that you may know that I am the Lord”. Moses and Aaron tell Pharaoh to free the Israelites or face a plague of locusts. By this time, Pharaoh’s courtiers are disheartened and they too entreat Pharaoh to relent. Pharaoh is willing to let the men go to worship God, but insists on keeping the women and children, to which Moses responds “We will go, young and old. We will go with our sons and daughters”. Pharaoh refuses to permit the entire people to go.
Moses holds out his rod, and God brings an east wind, which covers the entire land with locusts; they devour every remaining plant, fruit, grass and tree in Egypt. Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron, admits his guilt before God and asks Moses to intercede. When Moses does, God removes the locusts, but Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he refuses to let the Israelites go.
Moses then stretches out his arm and God brings a plague of darkness, so thick it can be touched. It covers the land for three days, while all the Israelites enjoy light in their dwellings. In a panic, Pharaoh is willing to permit the people to go, but insists that the flocks and herds remain behind. Moses refuses, and Pharaoh kicks him out, saying that if he sees Moses again, Moses shall die. Moses responds that his words are confirmed above; the two will never again meet. God turns the hearts of the Egyptians to the Israelites, and Moses is himself highly esteemed by the Egyptian people. The Israelites “borrow” objects of silver and gold from the Egyptians, who willingly give them over.
The final plague is the death of the firstborn.
The establishment of the festival of Pesach (Passover) interrupts the progression of plagues. On the tenth day, each household selects a lamb (or joins with other families and shares a lamb). When the lamb is slaughtered, its blood is spread on the door posts, and it is roasted and eaten in its entirety that same night, with matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs). Throughout the week of Pesach, the Israelites are to eat only unleavened bread and remove all traces of hametz (leaven) from their possession. This celebration is for all generations: “When your children ask you, what do you mean by this rite?, you shall say: It is the Passover sacrifice to the Eternal One, because God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when God smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses”.
In the middle of the night, God strikes down the firstborn Egyptians (and the firstborn cattle, as well). The outcry of the Egyptians is so great that even Pharaoh awakes and he summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to leave with the entire Israelite people and their flocks and herds. The Egyptian people also urge the Israelites to hurry. Along with the Israelites, other peoples, too, flee into freedom. The night of their journey into freedom has been commemorated throughout the ages.
Based in The Bedside Torah, by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Questions for discussion
1- Did God really need the plagues for the Egyptians to recognise him or was there a different way?
2- Did the Israelites simply steal the gold and silver of the Egyptians? Does the fact that God told them to do it makes it right?
3- Moses and Pharaoh were supposed to never meet again after the plague of darkness, so how could it be possible that Pharaoh summoned Moses after the death of the firstborn and told him to leave?