Purpose of the Plagues


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Three Purposes

The Torah gives three main reasons for the Plagues, and it is unclear how they relate to each other:

  • Vengeance for the Egyptians' actions – Shemot 4:23:

    וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ שַׁלַּח אֶת בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי וַתְּמָאֵן לְשַׁלְּחוֹ הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הֹרֵג אֶת בִּנְךָ בְּכֹרֶךָ.

    And I said to you, let my son go, so that he may worship me; and you refused to let him go. Now I will kill your firstborn.

  • Compelling Paroh to release the Israelites – Shemot 3:19-20:

    (יט) וַאֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי לֹא יִתֵּן אֶתְכֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַהֲלֹךְ וְלֹא בְּיָד חֲזָקָה. (כ) וְשָׁלַחְתִּי אֶת יָדִי וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶת מִצְרַיִם בְּכֹל נִפְלְאֹתַי אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה בְּקִרְבּוֹ וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יְשַׁלַּח אֶתְכֶם.

    (19) And I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to leave, and not by a mighty hand. (20) And I will stretch forth my hand and I will strike Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst of them, and afterwards he will let you go.

  • Teaching belief in Hashem – Shemot 7:17 and many other verses:1

    כֹּה אָמַר ה' בְּזֹאת תֵּדַע כִּי אֲנִי ה' הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַכֶּה בַּמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדִי עַל הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּיְאֹר וְנֶהֶפְכוּ לְדָם.

    So Hashem says: In this you will know that I am Hashem; behold I will strike with the rod that is in my hand the water of the Nile, and it shall be turned into blood.

Israelites or Egyptians

According to the possibility that the Plagues come to educate, it is unclear to whom the lesson is directed. While most verses indicate that the lesson is for Paroh and the Egyptians (e.g. Shemot 7:5 "וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי אֲנִי ה'"), there are two verses that appear to say that the Plagues and the splitting of Yam Suf were designed so that the Children of Israel would learn to believe in Hashem:


וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם וְאֶת אֹתֹתַי אֲשֶׁר שַׂמְתִּי בָם וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי ה'. (שמות י':ב')

וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה' בְּמִצְרַיִם וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם אֶת ה' וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּה' וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ. (שמות י"ד:ל"א)

And so that you may be able to tell your son and your son's son what things I have wrought upon Egypt, and the signs which I have done among them, and you may know that I am Hashem. (Shemot 10:2)

And Israel saw the mighty hand which Hashem had used against Egypt, and the nation feared Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and in Moshe His servant. (Shemot 14:31)

What Should They Know?

There are also differences regarding what exactly the Plagues are designed to teach about Hashem:

  • Hashem's existence ("אֲנִי ה'‏") – Shemot 7:5, 7:17, 10:2, 14:4, 14:18
  • There is no one like Hashem ("אֵין כַּה' אֱלֹהֵינוּ") – Shemot 8:5-6, 9:14-16
  • Hashem's providence watches over the world ("אֲנִי ה' בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ") – Shemot 8:18, 9:29
  • Hashem differentiates between the Egyptians and the Israelites ("אֲשֶׁר יַפְלֶה ה' בֵּין מִצְרַיִם וּבֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל") – Shemot 11:7