The story of the ten plagues is one of the most enigmatic parts of the Torah. It is quite difficult to fully grasp even one miracle of Hashem, but the story of the ten plagues contains countless miracles occurring either simultaneously or in seemingly brief intervals. Additionally, some of the plagues seem rather unusual and are not the kind of thing one would expect.
One example of a plague that objectively makes sense is the plague of blood. If Hashem’s goal was to bring about fear and anxiety in Pharaoh and the Egyptians, blood everywhere seems like a good start; having water, a symbol for life, turn to blood, a symbol for death, would truly inspire fear in one’s adversaries. Then comes the second terrifying plague: frogs. Frogs? While I am not a big fan of frogs, I wouldn’t describe my aversion to them as being based on fear. Having a multitude of frogs invade one’s home would be unnerving and a bit nauseous, but when contemplating the awesome power of Hashem, plagues like inescapable blood, wild animals, and the killing of the first-born seem a bit more alarming and intimidating than an invasion of frogs.
One can see why frogs were used based on two related points. First, five out of the ten plagues used animals as a means to wreak havoc on the Egyptians. Second, each Egyptian deity had a corresponding animal as its symbol, except for the main Egyptian deity, who was called Ra. Ra’s symbol was the sun, which might be more than coincidental when considering the plague of darkness. It is possible that Hashem was sending a message to the Egyptian people by using their deities against them.
Before the implementation of the last plague Hashem says (12:12), “Veavarti Beeretz Mitzrayim Balailah Hazeh Vehikeiti Kol Bechor Beeretz Mitzrayim Meiadam Vead Beheimah, Uvechol Elohei Mitzrayim E’eseh Shefatim, Ani Hashem,” “And I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I will kill all first-borns in the land of Egypt, from man to beast, and with all the deities of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am Hashem”. Rashi notes on “Uvechol Elohei Mitzrayim,” “and with all the deities of Egypt,” that Hashem destroyed objects of Egyptian worship on the night that He carried out the tenth plague. Rashi says, “Shel Eitz Nirkevet Veshel Matechet Nimeset Venitechet Laaretz,” “[Idols] of wood rotted, and metal ones dissolved and melted to the ground.” It is said that the first plague was water turning to blood because the Egyptians revered the Nile; the plague demonstrated that the Nile was controlled by God (Tanchuma Shemot Rabbah 9). Sobek, Hapi, and Khnum are all Egyptian deities associated with the Nile, and Heket was an Egyptian deity associated with resurrection who took the shape of a frog. The plague of frogs similarly de‑legitimized this god. In fact, one can find numerous animals associated with Egyptian deities that correspond to animals used in or affected by the plagues.
It might be a major error to assume that the only goal of the ten plagues was to strike a chord of terror in Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Since the plagues were aimed at the Egyptian people, Hashem might have been using symbols that were relevant to the average Egyptian in order to send a message. Perhaps Hashem was trying to show them that their deities were of no use to them. By destabilizing Pharaoh’s reign and the religious culture of the Egyptians, perhaps Hashem was trying to tell the Egyptians that their current way of life was now coming to an end.