Two Groups of Plagues: The Difference Between Vaera and Bo
In memory of Pinhas ben Shalom (Paul) Cymbalista z”l.
Niftar 20 Nissan 5752. Dedicated by his family.
TWO GROUPS OF PLAGUES:
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VAERA AND BO
Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein
Translated by David Strauss
The first seven plagues appear in Parashat Vaera and the last three in Parashat Bo. This division is very significant. In Parashat Vaera, the struggle between Moshe and Pharaoh relates to the very recognition of God, and it is toward this objective that the plagues are directed. In Parashat Bo, on the other hand, the goal of the plagues is to take
In light of this development, the very nature of the plagues changes in accordance with the new objective. Thus, the plagues in Parashat Bo are utterly different from those in Parashat Vaera. The plagues in Parashat Vaera are characterized by the following:
1) plagues whose purpose was to harass, rather than to destroy;
2) removal of the plague, in the wake of Pharaoh's request, only on the next day;
3) the magicians' serving as Pharaoh's aides.
In Parashat Bo, all this changes. From the very beginning of the parasha, we encounter harsh plagues that are meant to destroy the Egyptian economy. The locusts do not merely vex
The reason for this is simple. In Vaera, it was necessary to bring Pharaoh to internal recognition, and therefore it was impossible to exert excessive force that would have broken him immediately. In Bo, God wishes to cause Pharaoh to send
SERVANTS INSTEAD OF MAGICIANS
In light of this, we can discern a number of changes that take place in Bo in contrast to Vaera.
First of all, the magicians leave the picture, and in their stead we encounter Pharaoh's servants. Pharaoh's servants constitute the civil administration that runs the country and worries about
And Pharaoh's servants said to him, How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: know you not yet that
In their eyes, the theological struggle is not worth the destruction of
The very same reason underlies another change in comparison to Parashat Vaera, namely, the immediate removal of the plagues, without waiting until the next day, as in the past. It is in connection with the plague of locusts that it says for the first time that Pharaoh called for Moshe and Aharon "in haste"; previously, it had merely said that Pharaoh called them, but from that point on there is great urgency. The climax is reached, of course, in the plague of the smiting of the firstborns when Pharaoh is forced to run to Moshe in his house and plead before him.
The negotiations between Pharaoh and Moshe in the aftermath of the plagues of locusts and darkness should also be understood against this backdrop. Following the threat of the locusts, Pharaoh proposes to Moshe that he would be willing to allow the men alone to go out into the wilderness to serve God, but Moshe refuses the offer and demands that the entire people be allowed to go. Later, during the plague of darkness, Pharaoh agrees to send the children as well, but Moshe insists that even the sheep and the cattle must go with them. We are not dealing here with the sort of haggling that takes place between two merchants, with Moshe raising the price at every turn, and Pharaoh being forced into ever greater concessions, but rather with Pharaoh's misunderstanding of the change that has taken place in the objective of the plagues. Since Moshe had originally spoken of a three-day journey into the wilderness followed by
The haftarot of Parashiyot Vaera and Bo also reflect this distinction that we saw in the parashiyot themselves. The focus of the haftara of Vaera (Yechezel 28:25–29:21) is "And all the inhabitants of
The background for the haftara is found in the previous prophecy, where the prophet Yirmiyahu prophesies the ascent of Bavel and the geo-political failure of
What this means is that behind every political and military decision there is a human price that will be extracted from
THE COST OF POPULAR SUPPORT
On this point there is a similarity between the haftara and the parasha. In the parasha as well, the Egyptian man on the street pays the price for Pharaoh's war against the people of
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CROCODILE AND THE FAIR HEIFER
Regarding this point, let us contrast the two main metaphors found in the two haftarot. In Yechezkel's prophecy, the main metaphor is the crocodile, whereas Yirmiyahu prophesies about a very fair heifer, and describes
A MODEST PROMISE
The haftara's conclusion with the promise to
But fear not you, O My servant Yaakov, and be not dismayed, O
The emphasis here is on the fact that the people will enjoy peace and ease and that their fears will disappear. No mention is made here of the raising of
We might add that it is possible that the redundancy in these two verses corresponds to the two prophecies that Yirmiyahu prophesied about
 It is interesting to note that here too the plague of hail stands somewhere in the middle between the two groups of plagues. On the one hand, it does not state merely, "And Pharaoh called," as in the previous plagues, but on the other hand, it does not say that Paro made haste, but only that "Par' sent and called for Moshe and Aharon." This means that Pharaoh was concerned about the cost of the plague of hail, so that he pursued Moshe so that he would stop it, but it is not so bad and damaging as the plague of locust and those that followed it.
 Rashi creates a certain time gap between the two events, but it would seem that the prophet presents the second as coming in the aftermath of the first, so that even if there is a chronological gap, the prophet still perceives them as one continuum.
 Needless to say, this difficult truth is well-known to us from the Holocaust that we suffered in the previous generation.