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    Were the 10 plagues fair? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Was it fair to bring the Ten Plagues upon the ordinary Egyptians?

    Egyptians drowning in the sea, Venice Haggadah, 1609

    A. Rabbinic commentary is full of concern for the Egyptians.

    The Midrash says that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the Egyptian army drowned as the waters came flooding back, the angels in heaven were about to rejoice. But God stopped them and said, “The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?” The Bible says, “Rejoice not when your enemy falls; be not glad when he stumbles” (Prov. 24:17).

    In relation to the Ten Plagues, once again the sages are careful not to gloat at the discomfiture of the ordinary Egyptians. They point out that it was the Egyptian gods whom the plagues attacked.

    The Nile was worshipped as the source of life and prosperity, which is why its waters were turned to blood. The frogs were regarded as sacred and there was devastation when they were allowed to run everywhere. The earth was worshipped, as were its crops: hence locusts were sent to eat up every piece of vegetation. The sun was a god, and it had to be checked by a plague of darkness. The first-born son of Pharaoh, regarded as divine, was attacked and killed.

    Deities that could be defeated are gods that failed.

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