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The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, [1876], at

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Chapter II


"Thus hath said the Lord, 'By this thou shalt know that I am the lord; behold I will smile . . . . the waters of the river, and they shall be turned to blood.'"

When a human being designs to injure another, or to take vengeance on an enemy, he comes upon him suddenly and without warning. Not so, however, does God act. He warned Pharaoh of every plague which He brought upon Egypt, in order to give him the opportunity for repentance.

Why were the waters first smitten? Because the Egyptians worshipped the river Nile, and the Lord said, "I will first smite the god and then its nation," according to the proverb, "I will first smite the gods, then the priests will be terrified."


Why did the Lord punish the Egyptians with blood? Because they shed the blood of innocent infants, therefore was the water of their rivers turned to blood.

"And the Lord said unto Moses, say to Aaron, Take thy staff and stretch out thy hand over the waters of Egypt."

Why could not Moses himself smite the river?

Because the waters had protected and guarded him when he slumbered, a helpless infant, in the ark of bulrushes, and the wise sayings teach us, "Into the well wherefrom thou drawest water thou shouldst cast no stones."

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We are apt to think the frog superfluous, not requisite in the economy of the universe. Not so,--every living thing has its purpose, and the frogs became an instrument in Pharaoh's punishment. The river Nile brought forth frogs in abundance, but they strayed not from its banks. Then God said, "Thou sayest, 'the river is mine,'--verily I will show thee that even thy house is not thy own; the frogs shall enter into it, even into thy kneading trough, they will sit in thy dough and consume it."

The frogs caused the Egyptians morn annoyance than that occasioned by the mere pecuniary loss which they carried with them, for they were very noisy; therefore it is written, "Moses cried (i.e., spoke with a loud voice) to the Lord, on account of the frogs."


"Say to Aaron . . . and smite the dust of the earth."

Why did not Moses himself smite the dust?

Because Moses hid in the dust the body of the Egyptian whom he found smiting a Hebrew, and the dust concealed his action. Therefore were the plagues involving the water and the dust wrought through Aaron.

Why were the Egyptians afflicted with this plague?

Because they had forced the Israelites to sweep the streets and to work in mortar, dust, and bricks. Therefore was the dust of the streets turned to lice. The magicians were unable to produce the lice, because they could not imitate articles smaller than a barleycorn; therefore they said, "This is the finger of God."

The Multitude of Beasts.

"Rise up early," &c.

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God said to Moses, "This man persists in his obstinacy, despite the plagues already brought upon him; therefore say to him that the next will be more dreadful than the others all combined; bid him let Israel go."

The beasts swarmed first into the house of Pharaoh, because he was the first to oppress Israel, and then into the houses of his servants, because they followed in his lead.

Why were these beasts brought upon the Egyptians? Because they had forced the Israelites to endanger their lives by hunting wild beasts.

We find that the frogs died in the land of Egypt, but that the beasts were removed. Why this difference? Because the frogs were worthless, but the Egyptians might have profited from the furs of the wild beasts.


Why was this plague brought upon them?

To show that the plagues were directed only against the Egyptians, for as the Bible tells us, "There had not died of the cattle of the Israelites even one." Even cattle belonging to a Hebrew and in the possession of an Egyptian was saved, as was also the cattle owned in shares by an Egyptian and an Israelite.


Why did He bring boils upon them?

Because they had compelled the Israelites to clean their houses and courts, thus making their blood impure, and producing boils.

Why were the magicians unable to stand before Moses on account of the inflammation?

Because they had advised that every son born to Israel should be cast into the river.

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"The Lord hardened," &'c.

When the Lord saw that the five plagues already brought upon Pharaoh did not cause his repentance, he said, "Even should he wish to repent hereafter, I will harden his heart that he may receive the full measure of his punishment."


"Behold, then will I let rain about this time to to-morrow," &c.

Moses made a mark upon the wall of Pharaoh's house, saying, "When the sun shall shine to-morrow upon this spot there will be hail, therefore bring in thy cattle," &c.

Again, the compassion of God is displayed to us. Even in his anger He was still mercifully inclined towards the wicked people and their cattle. He intended the plague of hail to destroy vegetation, not life; therefore He warned the people to keep themselves and their flocks under shelter.

"The lord said . . . Stretch out thy hand towards the heaven," &c.

Although "the heavens are the heavens of the Lord," yet "the earth hath He given to the children of men" (Psalm 120: 16).

An emperor, ruling Rome and Syria, might issue a decree forbidding Romans to visit Syria, and Syrians to visit Rome. So God in creating the world pronounced the heavens "the heavens of the Lord," the residence of godly beings.

"But the earth hath He given to the children of men;" the earth must be the scene of their sojournings. Yet, "whatsoever the Lord willeth hath He done, in the heavens and on the earth; in the seas and in all the deeps" (Psalm 135:16).

He descended upon the earth at Mount Sinai; at the

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time of the creation He said, "Let the waters gather together in one place," and when it pleased Him so to do, He made the sea dry land, even as it is written, "And the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea."

In the same manner God gave Moses permission to rule over the heavens, to stretch his hands towards them, and bring down a hailstorm over the land of Egypt.

Why were they punished with hail?

Because they had compelled the Israelites to plough their fields, sow their grain, care for their trees, and to perform all the menial labour incidental to the cultivation of the soil. Therefore God sent this hailstorm to destroy the products of the ground, that the Egyptians might reap no profit from the enforced labour of His people. When God saw that they disregarded His warning, and neglected to put their cattle under shelter, He caused the cattle to die from the effects of the storm.

The hailstones were very large, each of them being about the size of an infant's head; and as they touched the ground they burst into flame.


Why did God bring the locusts into Egypt?

The Israelites had sowed the fields with grain, and the locusts were brought to destroy all that had escaped the hail.

This plague was so grievous as to wring from Pharaoh the acknowledgment, "I have sinned against the Lord your God that I did not let Israel go." "And against you" (Moses and Aaron), "that I have driven you out of my house."

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"But for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings."

Why, is it not written, "There was light in the land of Goshen?"

Because, wherever the Israelites were, there was light for them; but to an Egyptian, even in the same room with an Israelite, all was impenetrable darkness.

The Slaying of the First-Born.

"Thou shalt not see my face any more."

Such were the words of Pharaoh, when Moses appeared before him, to warn him for the last time of the doom awaiting him should he still oppose the exodus of Israel. Moses answered:

"Thou hast spoken well. Nevermore will I come to thee, but thou wilt come to me, and thy servants and thyself will entreat me, bending, to depart from thy country, and then will I go."

Some of the Egyptians, fearing Moses's prophecy, slept that night in the houses of the Israelites. But the death-stroke found them, and the Israelite awakening, found an Egyptian's corpse beside him.

Great was the distress in Egypt. Pharaoh called to Moses and Aaron, and said, "Arise!" They replied, "What would Pharaoh with us? Has he come to us?" "Arise!" he cried, "arise and go."

The Israelites went forth from Egypt on the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan; on this same night, many years later, the army of Sennacherib, encamped before Jerusalem, was slain by the Lord. King Hezekiah, and the inhabitants of the besieged city, celebrated the feast of Passover according

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to the command of God, and sang praises and hallelujahs to His Holy Name.

But Hezekiah was heavy at heart, and he said:

"To-morrow the city may be taken." Yet, lo, when they arose in the morning, the Lord had again passed over for His people, and the invading army lay dead in its camp.

Before inflicting the last plague, God warned Pharaoh, as it is written, "I will smite all the first-born of Egypt."

Had God wished to make this the first, instead of the last of the plagues, He could have done so; but He desired to increase the severity with the number of the plagues, and accordingly the lightest he sent first.

"The Lord will pass through the land of Egypt and smite all the first-born."

A certain king sent his son to a distant country, the people of which received him with great honours, and conferred distinction upon him, finally making him their ruler. When his father heard this, he said:

"What honour shall I do them in return? I will call that country after the name of my son."

After some time had elapsed, he again received news from the distant land; its people had taken away the honours conferred upon his son, and made him a slave He therefore went to war with them and delivered his son.

Joseph went down to Egypt and was made governor. Great respect was also paid to Jacob, for whose death "the Egyptians mourned seventy days."

For this God named Egypt after the garden of Eden, as it is written, "As the garden of the Lord is the land of Egypt." When, however, the Israelites were oppressed and reduced to slavery, God made war upon Egypt, through the medium of the ten plagues, and through the last delivered his "son," Israel, from bondage.

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During the night, while the Hebrews sang praises to God, Pharaoh came to the place where Moses and Aaron dwelt, and he cried, "Arise, get thee out," &c. Then the people scattered themselves among the Egyptians, borrowing vessels of gold and silver. But Moses sought the sepulchre of Joseph, and carried forth his bones, according to the charge transmitted to him.

"And it came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years," &c.

These years are counted from the time that God appeared to Abraham in the vision known as "The Covenant of the Pieces," and told him that his seed should be "strangers in a land not theirs." They lived in Egypt, however, only two hundred and ten years. Upon the same month and day, as they had entered Egypt, they left it. On that date Joseph was released from prison, and in subsequent years it witnessed the performance of many wonders in behalf of God's people.

In King Hezekiah's time Jerusalem was delivered from Sennacherib; during the Babylonian captivity, Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednego were delivered from the fire of furnace, and Daniel came forth unharmed from the lion's den.

Next: III. The Death of Moses