A Guide to Wizardry: Egypt Edition by Leo Metzger


In Parashat VaEira, we read that the magicians of Par’oh duplicate the first three Makkot, plagues, with ease. When Moshe and Aharon turn the staff into a snake, the Egyptian magicians respond with a seemingly equal feat of magical proportions. Following each of the first two plagues, the magicians scoff that Moshe is not doing anything impressive. However, they are unable to duplicate the third Makkah, Kinim, lice.

Throughout history, many have asked whether there truly existed a time when men could bend nature to their will. Some staunchly reject the very idea and say that it is no more than simple sleight of hand and mastery of deception, while many contend that there actually existed an art through which one could bend nature to his will, as shown in other places in Tanach. For instance, King Shaul employs a necromancer to help him speak to his late advisor, Shmuel. Many of the commentators argue that the Tanach would not relate this incident had there not been an element of truth involved. Furthermore, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 68a) relates a story in which Rabi Akiva teaches his students about magic. He demonstrates it by making cucumbers grow and wither in a matter of minutes. Some commentators explain that when Hashem created the world, He made it so that angels who were paired with other heavenly powers controlled nature. The commentators state that there was once a time where people knew how to control these forces through incantations and rituals of many types.

The Egyptian magicians were able to use these incantations and the spirits they controlled to recreate the first two plagues performed by Moshe and Aharon. However, the Egyptian magicians could not compete with them when it came to the plague of lice. It was beyond their power, and they knew that Moshe and Aharon, with Hashem backing them up, were far greater than any influence they possessed.

We have accomplished a great deal in the fields of science and engineering, and to an extent, it is to our credit. However, encounters with our limitations, similar to Par’oh’s magicians’ encounter with Makkat Kinim, serve as reminders of Hashem’s presence in our lives. We must never forget who holds the power to perform miracles, and must always remember that Hashem is the source of all the good in the world.

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