Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Message of the Ten Plagues

The Sefas Emes, R' Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Gur, d.1905, taught in the name of his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim:
כי עשר מכות נגד עשרה מאמרות ועל ידי זה באו אחר כך לעשרת הדברות
“The Ten Plagues parallel the Ten Utterances [with which the world was created] and through this they came afterwards to the Ten Commandments.”
The Ten Plagues enabled the Jewish people to make the transition from the Ten Utterances of Creation to the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. What was this transition and how did the Plagues make it possible?

Rav Yosef Albo (d.1444), in his Sefer HaIkkarim, writes (1:4):
העקרים הכוללים והכרחיים לדת האלקית הם שלשה, והם: מציאות השם, וההשגחה לשכר ולענש, ותורה מן השמים.
“The basic and essential principles for a Divine religion are three, (1) the existence of God, (2) supervision for reward and punishment, and (3) Torah from Heaven.”
The concept of the עשרה מאמרות  - Ten Utterances of Creation - refers to the basic principle that God is the Creator of the Universe. However, in order to accept the Torah and its commandments we need to recognize that not only did God create the universe, but that He watches over the behavior of every individual human beings and that He cares about what we do. This is the concept of “השגחה לשכר ולענש” – “supervision for reward and punishment” – and it is an essential prerequisite for accepting the Torah. This principle was taught to the Jewish people by the precise מדה כנגד נדה (“measure for measure”) punishments with which God struck the Egyptians in the Ten Plagues.

Thus, the עשרה מאמרות (Ten Utterances of Creation) teach us מציאות השם (the existence of God) and the עשר מכות (Ten Plagues) teach us the principle of השגחה לשכר ולענש (supervision for reward and punishment) bringing us to the עשרת הדברות (Ten Commandments) which are the essence of תורה מן השמים (Torah from Heaven).

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