After the first three plagues, Hashem resumes His practice of
warning Pharaoh before bringing the fourth plague:
And Hashem said to Moshe, “Arise early in the morning and
present yourself before Pharaoh – behold, he goes out to the water – and you
shall say to him: ‘Thus says Hashem, Release My people so that they will serve
Me. For, if you do not release My people, behold I provoke (MASHLIACH) against
you, and your servants, and your people, and your household the AROV; and the
houses of Egypt shall be full of ‘AROV, as well as the ground on which they are.
And I shall set apart, on that day, the land of Goshen where My people remain,
for the AROV not to be there, so that you will know that I Hashem am in the
midst of the land. And I shall place salvation between My people and your
people. Tomorrow shall this sign be.’”
And Hashem did so, and severe AROV came to Pharaoh’s house and
his servants’ house, and throughout the land of Egypt the land was destroyed
because of the AROV (Shemot 8:16-20).
From the context it is clear that AROV is very dangerous: it fills the houses
and even destroys the land. However, there is little evidence from the text to
identify ‘AROV. Most Midrashim and commentaries agree that AROV is a “mixture”
of deadly creatures, such as lions, bears, tigers, wolves and predatory birds,
along with snakes, scorpions and insects. [That would mean that the lice of the
third plague are invited back!] This position is based on the views of R. Akiva
and R. Yehudah, that the AROV came “from above and from below” (Shemot Rabbah
Ibn-Ezra quotes the verse in Tehillim:
He released (YESHALACH) AROV against them which consumed them (78:45).
Not only does this verse use a similar verb to the one in our
passage (YESHALACH—MASHLIACH), but it also supports the contention that AROV is
a mixture of devouring creatures, although Ibn-Ezra admits that it may refer to
one such species. Rashbam sees the connection between AROV and EREV (“evening”),
and therefore argues that AROV means wolves that hunt nocturnally, citing
Yirmiyah 5:6 and Tzefania 3:3 for support. [The reader is encouraged to see the
summary of the various views on AROV in “The Living Torah” by R. Aryeh Kaplan.]
Ramban notes that Hashem’s instruction to Moshe to confront Pharaoh at the water
in the early morning precedes three plagues: DAM (blood), AROV and BARAD (hail).
This is because each one begins a grouping of plagues, in accordance with the
teaching that we quote in the Passover Haggadah:
“R. Yehudah used to assign them symbols: DeTZa”CH, AdaSH, BeACHa”V.”
In addition, each of these plagues will bring much death to the
Egyptians. So, says Ramban, when Pharaoh goes out to the water, a large
entourage will accompany him who will hear Moshe’s dire warning. They will then
be in a position either to implore Pharaoh to relent, or, if they do not, to
deserve punishment as well.
No one protests, and so the AROV comes as punishment for making the Hebrews go
out to trap wild animals for the Egytians’ amusement in zoos and circuses (Shemot
And Pharaoh called for Moshe and Aharon and said, “Go, sacrifice to your G-d in
And Moshe said, “It is not proper to do so, because the
“abomination of (TO’AVAT) Egypt” shall we sacrifice to Hashem, our G-d. Behold,
if we sacrifice the “abomination of Egypt” before their eyes, shall they not
stone us? A distance of three days shall we go in the desert, and we will
sacrifice to Hashem, our G-d as He will tell us” (vs. 21-23).
By “abomination,” Moshe either means that sacrificing animals
sacred to the Egyptians is objectionable (Rashi), or that sheep and goats are
repulsive to them (Rashbam) or that, at the time, Moshe said “god of the
Egyptians,” but changed it here, in order to degrade idolatry in the Torah (Ibn-Ezra).
And Pharaoh said, “I will release you and you will sacrifice to Hashem, your G-d
in the desert. Only, do not go too far. Entreat on my behalf.”
And Moshe said, “Behold I am going to leave you, and I will
entreat Hashem, and tomorrow the AROV will depart from Pharaoh, his servants and
his nation. Only, let Pharaoh not continue to trifle by not releasing the people
to sacrifice to Hashem” (vs. 24-27).
Moshe prays for the AROV to depart, rather than die (as happened
with frogs), so the Egyptians would not benefit from the skins of AROV, whereas
with frogs there was no such use (Shemot Rabat 11:4). He reminds Pharaoh not to
repeat his disingenuous behavior after the plague of frogs.
And Moshe left Pharaoh, and he entreated Hashem. And Hashem did according to the
word of Moshe, and the AROV departed from Pharaoh, his servants and his nation;
not one remained. But Pharaoh made his heart stubborn even this time, and he did
not release the people (vs. 26- 28).
AROV does not involve a transformation of nature, as occurred with the previous
trio of plagues. Instead, it shows that the forces of nature, created by Hashem,
are in constant need of His control: by releasing His restraining Hand, the AROV
will attack (MASHLIACH). Furthermore, by keeping the AROV out of Goshen, Hashem
demonstrates that His influence in the world is constant; He decides where the
harmful forces of the universe will function, and where they will not. In the
first group of plagues, Hashem showed that He is the world’s Creator; now, He
shows that He is also its Guide and Sustainer.
The plague of AROV features man’s different uses and abuses of those of Hashem’s
creations that are most like man: the animal kingdom. Animals, which represent
the raw forces of nature, can be made abominable through idolatry, or sanctified
to the Glory of Hashem.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The opening words of Parshat Va'era relate to Moshe's complaint in the
previous parshah concerning the disastrous consequences of Moshe's
appearance before Pharaoh seeking the release of the Children of Israel.
These opening words also address Moshe's question as to why he was sent in
the first place.
According to Midrash Rabbah, when Moshe agreed to go to Pharaoh, he
understood that the redemption of the Jewish slaves was imminent: Moshe
would present God's demand for emancipation and the slaves would summarily
be released. Were Pharaoh to refuse, Moshe expected God to immediately
unleash the plagues, one after another, and bring Pharaoh to his knees.
When this didn't happen, Moshe complained to God about Jewish suffering
and questioned his own role as God’s messenger. In reply, God assured
Moshe that the realization of the stated goal, i.e. redemption, would take
place, but not with the immediacy that Moshe had envisioned. What was
important was not to lose sight of the grand vision that God had promised
to our forefathers - the emergence of a unique nation and its settlement
in Eretz Yisrael.
Throughout the ages, Jews never lost sight of the ultimate reality of
“Am Yisrael B’Eretz Yisrael.” No day passed without multiple mentioning of
Jerusalem and “the land.” The historic restoration of Zion was destined to
be gradual rather than instantaneous.
This classic model found expression when Jews returned to Eretz Yisrael
under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemiah to rebuild the Second Temple.
They contended daily with severe challenges, starting with the painful
fact that the majority of Jews at that time chose to remain in the
Babylonian exile. But the promise to our forefathers was ever present in
the consciousness of Ezra and Nechemiah, and the emergence of the glorious
Second Commonwealth is testimony to their faith and commitment.
In modern times we witness the return of our people to the land which
expresses itself in a steady march of new immigrants. At the same time we
strive to inspire those who have not as yet made aliya and must still
internalize the words of Parshat Va'eira (6:8), “And I will bring you unto
the land concerning which I did swear to give to Avraham, Yitzchak and to
Yaakov.” May this come about speedily in our lifetime!
Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320