12/13 Jan: Shabbat Vaera comes in 4:01 pm, goes out 5:10pm
Abarbanel (Portugal/Italy d. 1508) organized the plagues and divided them into three groups, and each triad has a purpose: The first (dam, tz’fardea, kinnim) shows G-d’s existence, the second (arov, dever, sh’hin) highlight’s G-d’s providence, and third (barad, arbeh, hoshekh) proves G-d’s ability to change the course of nature. Each of these purposes shows G-d’s power in a different way.
But why did G-d have to send the plagues at all? G-d states, “I could have stretched out My hand and stricken you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been obliterated from the earth. Nevertheless I have spared you for this purpose: in order to show you My power and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world” (Shemot 9:15-16).
According to this view, G-d could have completely destroyed Pharaoh and all of Mitzrayim but chose to inflict suffering instead. The Israelites could have been freed with an ark and a Parashat Noah-like annihilation. Yet during this formative shaping of the Israelite community, it was important to create a space for publicizing G-d’s power over the G-ds of the Mitzrim. In this vein, Rashi (France, d. 1105) explains on Shemot 7:19, G-d smote the Nile and turned it to blood to show that G-d’s power is stronger than the G-d that the Mitzrim worshipped.
While it may seem like G-d is more interested in demonstrating G-d’s power than correcting behaviour — I think there is a middle ground. G-d won’t stand for immoral behaviour and uses the demonstration of power as a means of correcting behaviour. G-d must show G-d’s presence so people will act morally.
Rabbi Paul Arberman.