Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vaera: Were The Ten Plagues Natural?

A previous post which attracted interest, and which was recently discussed in posts and comments at DovBear here and then here, mentioned Shadal's suggestion that the Egyptian magicians "created" frogs by making frog-eggs, in water, hatch earlier than usual, using their "magical," scientific tricks. And then I gave some modern scientific basis for this, showing that stirring up the water makes eggs hatch early, so that they are not eaten by predators.

Since this is a topic of interest, I thought I would make available, in English, Shadal's position on the makkot in general, and whether they were natural, etc.. This is somewhat related to how he seems to have held that the magicians' arts made use of scientific knowledge, rather than actual magic.

On the words וַיֵּהָפְכוּ כָּל-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר, לְדָם, in plague of blood, in parshat Vaera, in Shemot 7,
כ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה, וַיָּרֶם בַּמַּטֶּה וַיַּךְ אֶת-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּיְאֹר, לְעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה, וּלְעֵינֵי עֲבָדָיו; וַיֵּהָפְכוּ כָּל-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר, לְדָם. 20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.
כא וְהַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר-בַּיְאֹר מֵתָה, וַיִּבְאַשׁ הַיְאֹר, וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ מִצְרַיִם, לִשְׁתּוֹת מַיִם מִן-הַיְאֹר; וַיְהִי הַדָּם, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם. 21 And the fish that were in the river died; and the river became foul, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the river; and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt.
Shadal writes:
כ] ויהפכו כל המים אשר ביאר לדם : דעת אייכהארן ואחרים אחריו כי הדם וכל שאר המכות הם ענינים טבעיים ההווים במצרים בכל שנה ושנה, ושאמנם כוונת משה היתה שיבן פרעה כי ה' אלהי העברים הוא הפועל הענינים ההם וכי הוא המושל בכל הארץ ; והנה ידוע כי מימי נילוס אחר שגבהו ורבו על אדמת מצרים בתמוז נראים כאדומים ועבים (אם מאדמימות אדמת כוש שהם באים משם, ואם מרוב השרצים שבהם שמאדימים המים גם בשאר ארצות וגורמים להמון העם להאמין בירידת דם מן השמים), ויעלה באשם, גם רעים הם לשותיהם .

"and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood"
: The opinion of Eichhorn and others after him is that the "blood" and all the remaining plagues were natural occurrences which came about in Egypt every single year, and yet that the intent of Moshe was that Pharaoh should understand that Hashem, the God of the Hebrews was the One who made happen all these natural occurrences, and that He was the ruler in all the land; And behold, it is known that the waters of the Nile, after they rise up and inundate the land of Egypt in Tammuz, they appear read and thick. (Whether from the redness of the land of Cush, from whence they come, or whether because of the multitude of creeping creatures within them, which redden the water, even in other lands, and cause the common folk to believe in the descending of blood from the heavens.) {Josh: A short interjection: This folk belief could well stem from actual occurrences of red rain, as occurred in Kerala, due to "spores from a locally prolific terrestrial alga."} And they come up foul, and they are also bad for those who drink them.

. והנה אייכהארן אומר כי משה ואהרן לא השיבו מימי היאור כולם אדומים כרגע בנטיית המטה, אלא האדימו בתחבולה כלי אחד שמילאו ממימי היאור, וכוונתם כי האל, אשר לימדם להאדים המים אשר בכלי, הוא האל אשר הוא סיבה לאדמימות מימי היאור והוא האומר לפרעה שישלח את עמו
And behold, Eichhorn says that Moshe and Aharon did not render all the water of the Nile red in an instance, with the stretching out of the staff, but rather, with a stratagem the rendered red a vessel which they filled from the waters of the river, and their intent was that God, who taught them how to render red the water in the vessel -- he is the God who is the cause of the reddening of the waters of the river, and He is saying to Pharaoh to send out his nation.

. ויפה השיב על זה ראזנמילר , כי ענין הלקיחה ממימי היאור ושפיכתם אל היבשה לא היה אלא לעיני ישראל (ד' ט'), אבל עכשו לעיני פרעה לא היה הדבר כן, כי לא לקחו ממימי היאור, אך נטה ידו על היאור ומיד כל המים אשר ביאור נהפכו לדם ; מלבד כי לא ייתכן שיחשוב משה להטות לב המלך אליו ע"י ענינים טבעיים ההווים בכל שנה, אם לא היה עושה לפניו איזה מופת היוצא מנוהג שבעולם

And Rosenmuller responded well on this, that the matter of taking from the river and spilling it on the dry ground was only to the eyes of Israel (see Shemos 4:9). However, now, to Pharaoh's eyes this is not so, for they do not take from the water of the river, but rather he stretches his hand upon the river, and immediately, all of the water which is in the river transforms to blood.

Besides for the fact that it does not make sense that Moshe thinks to sway Pharaoh's heart to him via natural matters which occur every year, if he did not perform before him some wonder which is different from the natural order.

והנה ידוע כי גם במעשה הנפלאות האל אוהב לשמור דרכי הטבע במקצת, וכן במכות מצרים ייתכן לפי דעתי שמדרך ארץ מצרים להיות בה כיוצא במכות האלה בצד מה, קצתן בשנה זו וקצתן בשנה אחרת, אפס כי בשנה ההיא נתקבצו ובאו כולן, וגם נתחדש בכל אחת מהן איזה ענין שלא היה מדרך הטבע. וכן כאן במכת הדם אנו רואים שנתחדש באדמימות המים ההם איזה ענין לרוע עד שמתה הדגה שבהם, מה שלא מצאנו בדברי עוברי ארחות ימים, וזו ראיה כי ביאוש המים והפסדם היה חזק הרבה יותר משאר שנים והיה יוצא מן המנהג הטבעי, וכאילו נהפכו המים לדם ממש
And behold, it is known that also in the wondrous acts, God loves to keep the natural order somewhat. And so to by the plagues of Egypt is is appropriate, in my opinion, that the land of Egypt was accustomed to something akin to these plagues, some of them one year and some of them another year. However, in that year all of them gathered together and came, and also in each of them there some novelty in them, some matter which was not of the natural order. And so too here, by the plague of blood, we see that there was a novelty in the redness of these waters some extreme bad matter, until the fish in them died {see pasuk 21}, which we do not find in the words of the chroniclers {??}, and this is a proof that the foulness of the water and their loss was much, much stronger from other years, such that it was different from the natural order, and it was as if the waters were actually transformed to blood.
And then on the next pasuk:
כב וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, בְּלָטֵיהֶם; וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב-פַּרְעֹה וְלֹא-שָׁמַע אֲלֵהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה. 22 And the magicians of Egypt did in like manner with their secret arts; and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had spoken.
he writes:

כב ] ויעשו כן חרטמי מצרים : נ"ל כי מה שכתוב בפסוק כ"א ויהי הדם בכל ארץ מצרים, לא היה מיד, אלא שהכתוב מסיים סיפור הפיכת המים לדם ; אבל באותו רגע שהיכה אהרן את היאור לעיני פרעה מיד נהפכו מימי היאור לדם, ומיד לקחו החרטומים כלי מים שלא מן היאור שעדיין לא נהפך לדם והפכו אותו בתחבולותיהם לדם, ואח"כ נתפשטה המכה בכל המים אשר בבתי מצרים ובכל מקוה מימיהם.
"And the magicians of Egypt did in like manner": It appears to me that that which is written in verse 21, "and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt," was not immediately. Rather, the verse concludes the story of the changing of the water to blood. But at that instant in which Aharon smote the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, immediately, of the waters which were in the river turned to blood. And immediately {thereafter} the magicians took a vessel of water which was not from the river, and thus which had not yet turned to blood, and changed it using their stratagems to blood. And after that the plague spread out to all the waters which were in the houses of Egypt and in all their collected pools of water.

5 comments:

Dan Klein said...

I am working on a translation of Shadal on Shemot, using the original edition rather than the Schlesinger version that is now available online. The Schlesinger unfortunately omits some of Shadal's most interesting references to outside sources. For example, in the original edition, the comment about a folk belief in raining blood includes a reference to Diderot's Encyclopedie, s.v. "Pluie prodigieuse." This article is available online, and although I have not worked out a full translation, it appears to say that this folk belief could be traced to red secretions of certain butterflies.

I'm always glad to see attention being paid to Shadal. Keep up the good work!

Eliyahu said...

Great to hear you're working on Exodus. Thank you for the first volume. I have it, enjoy it, & I gave it as as a present to at least two friends.
Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but I wasn't sure which edition you actually used for Genesis even though you made clear the problems of the Shlesinger edition.
Is there any possibility that you would include the hebrew in volume ii?

Dan Klein said...

And thanks to you, Eliyahu. The edition of Genesis that I used was the 1871-1876 Hamishah Humshei Torah Meturgamim Italkit U-Meforashim Ivrit (vol. 1, 1871). Unless I take a leave of absence from my day job and get funding, it will be several more years before Exodus can come out, though I am about halfway through. Inclusion of the Hebrew would have to be up to the publisher, but I wouldn't bet on it because of the added length and expense.

Eliyahu said...

Thanks for the info.
Yashar Kochacha. I will be waiting. I hope you get funding.

Anonymous said...

Dan
I would also love to see a hebrew text, but at least have the hebrew words with hebrew letters and not "tranliterations"
I find those anoying
Keep up the good work

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