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Va'eira - The Plague of Wild Animals

Each animals’ natural climate accompanied it to Egypt, so that they would feel comfortable and not be inhibited in attacking the Egyptians

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Shemos, 8:17: “Because, if you do not send out My people, behold, I shall incite against you, your servants, your people, and your houses, the swarm of wild beasts; and the houses of Egypt shall be filled with the mixture (Arov), and even the ground upon which they are.”

Shemos, 8:20: HaShem did so, and a severe swarm of wild beasts came to the house of Pharaoh and the house of his servants, and throughout the land of Egypt the land was being ruined because of the mixture.”

Seven of the Ten Plagues are featured in the Parsha. The fourth plague is that of wild animals.  The Be’er Yosef[1] asks a number of questions about the Torah’s account of this plague:

The Torah calls the plague, ‘Arov’, meaning mixture, indicating that numerous types of wild animals together attacked the Egyptians.  The Be’er Yosef asks why the Torah names the plague based this particular aspect, when it would seem to be more logical to call it ‘mishlachas’, which means a swarm, as that describes the essence of the actual plague, as opposed to one feature of the Plague.

His second question is what is the meaning of the clause, ‘and even the ground upon which they are’. What does this refer to? 

Finally, he notes that in its description of the actual plague, the Torah states that, ‘throughout the land of Egypt the land was being ruined’.  In what way was it being ruined by the animals?

He addresses the first question of why does the Torah name the plague after the fact that it was a mixture: He suggests that this was a fundamental aspect of the miraculous nature of the plague.  Had one type of wild animal attacked the Egyptians, then while it would have accomplished the task of harming them, it would not have been as effective in proving that the plague was Divine Intervention, since it does sometimes happen that one type of animal attacks in groups.  However, the fact that numerous types of animals, who often fight with each other, all united to attack the Egyptians, was a clear demonstration of an open miracle. 

He then notes that since there were so many different types of animals, they originated from very different environments – some lived in warmer climates, while others lived in colder places.  He notes that it is well-known that animals are far more comfortable in their own environments, and indeed if they are in unsuitable environments, they can become ill. 

Accordingly, he writes that HaShem made an additional miracle that each animals’ natural climate accompanied it, so that they would feel comfortable and not be inhibited in attacking the Egyptians.  He adds that this change of climate included changing the actual temperature of the surface of the land underneath the animal so that they would totally feel at home.  Thus, when, for example, a polar bear, walked on the land, it became cold, and when an animal that is used to hot surfaces walked on the land, it then became hot, and the land’s temperature kept changing, according to which animal walked on it. 

With this explanation he offers a fascinating answer to the third question of the meaning of the clause, ‘throughout the land of Egypt the land was being ruined’. He writes that it is well-known that land suffers from drastic changes in the climate and temperature of the land causes significant damage to the ground.  Therefore, the fact the ground was constantly changing from hot to cold and back again from the constant flow of different animals, caused it to destroyed.

These ideas are fascinating, but how can they be applied to our daily lives?  The main purpose of the Ten Plagues was to teach Emunah to the Egyptians and to the world.  They also served a function of punishing the Egyptians in a most exacting way, measure for measure for how they treated the Jewish people during the slavery.  We know that that HaShem rewards the good far more than He punishes the evil, so if it is true that He ensured that every detail of the Plague meant that the Egyptians would be punished more, then all the more so, when He does good to His people, every detail is geared at providing more goodness to us.

The problem is that a person can tend to get used to the countless kindnesses that HaShem does for him, and instead he may to take them for granted, and focus on the few ‘negatives’ that are in his life.  

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt addresses this issue in his amazing book about suffering, “Why Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People”.  He describes the period of his wife’s cancer, before she died, and the incredible work they both did in appreciating what they had.  Every day, throughout the day they would share five acts of kindnesses that HaShem had one for them. 

So, for example, at 10am, one of them would thank HaShem for providing them with a wonderful breakfast, and they would try to make the pleasure more real by describing and savoring it with each other, sharing, for example, that they enjoyed the sensation of crunching the cornflakes between their teeth and chewing them; how the milk was cold and felt good on their throat; And the sugar gave me a sweet sensation.[2]

This would continue every few hours in the day, thanking HaShem for such ‘mundane’ things as a nice walk, pleasant weather, how the kids went to school in a good mood, and so on.  He notes that they found this process had a profound effect on their outlook. 

The example of the Plague of Arov reminds us of the detailed nature of Divine Providence.  Exercises such as those of the Rosenblatts can help us realize that HaShem gives the same ‘attention’ to our own lives and to start to recognize the myriad, precise ways in which HaShem provides for us.

Notes & Sources
[1] Written by Rav Yosef Salant, zt”l.
[2] ‘Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People’, pp.76-77.