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G-d said to Moses: … Go to Pharaoh in the morning; behold he is going down to the water - meet him on the banks of the river. Tell him that G-d… said: 'Let my people go'… The water… that I shall strike shall turn into blood' (7:14-17)
Thus the Torah opens its record of the Ten Plagues, with which G-d struck Pharaoh and the Egyptians before their final release from their land of bondage.
With the first plague - blood - Moses warned Pharaoh in private to 'let my people go'; on his early morning walk. With the second - frogs - Moses was to give the same warning, but this time to 'come to Pharaoh' (7:26) - to his palace, in front of his courtiers (c.f. 10:7). And with the third - lice - there was no admonition. Moses brought on the plague without saying anything to Pharaoh, or even meeting him. And that plague did not affect his mere environment, but the Egyptians - bodily, physically.
This cycle repeats itself with the fourth plague - wild animals - where again, Moses warned Pharaoh in private to 'let my people go'. As ineffective, despite the plague, he brought the oncoming fifth plague - pestilence - to Pharaoh by 'coming to Pharaoh' - in his home, in company. With the boils, the sixth plague - like the third - there was no warning. And as the lice, the boils affected the Egyptians: bodily, physically.
And then the cycle went over one final time. With the seventh plague - hail - Moses warned Pharaoh in private. With the eighth - locusts - the warning was delivered in front of Pharaoh's courtiers - who unsuccessfully tried to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go. And the ninth - like the third and the sixth - extreme darkness - came without warning, affecting the Egyptians bodily and physically.
R. Ze'ev Zechariah Breuer (Siach HaShulchan) notes this pattern. He writes that the three parts of the cycle are to teach people the following. A teacher sees a student doing something wrong - that affects the wellbeing of the class: for example a student that spreads malicious rumors about others. First he should warn him in private. If there is no improvement and he has no alternative, he should warn him in front of his classmates. And if there is no progress whatsoever, he should punish him.
This idea may be extended further. Even if the student is punished a first time, the teacher should not reject him entirely. He should start the cycle again. The fourth time should be a warning in private, bearing in mind the severity of the previous punishment. Perhaps he finally might get it. If that doesn't work, the penny might drop after a more public caution. Or being actually punished on the sixth occasion…
Or he might even 'get it' at some point on the third cycle…
But so far and no further. If that cycle has repeated itself three times and there is no perceptible signs of progress in the errant student coming to terms with the errors of his ways, on the tenth occasion (represented by the tenth plague - the ultimate killing of the firstborn), the axe falls. The aberrant student has reached the end of the road…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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