Parashat VaEira begins the story of Bnei Yisrael’s redemption from Egypt. For hundreds of years, Bnei Yisrael endured slavery, waiting for Hashem to free them from their bondage. He initiates this process by delivering the Eser Makkot, which not only free Bnei Yisrael, but also punish the Egyptians. Why must Hashem free Bnei Yisrael with ten separate Makkot? Hashem does not have to utilize any Makkah to free Bnei Yisrael, let alone ten! We know that Hashem has infinite power and can free Bnei Yisrael however He wants. Why does He choose the long, drawn-out process of the Makkot?
Perhaps one goal of the Makkot is to help Bnei Yisrael in the future. After leaving Egypt they will begin their journey to Eretz Kena’an, which they will have to conquer by fighting seven nations. Hashem sends the Makkot so that the nations of the world will be intimidated by Bnei Yisrael and their God. We encounter this idea in Sefer Yehoshua. Before his first battle in Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua sends spies to Yericho. When the king of Yericho discovers that there are spies in his city, the spies are forced to hide in the house of Rachav. She tells them that the city’s inhabitants are paranoid because they have heard about the miracles that Hashem performed for them, including, among others, the Eser Makkot. The Pasuk states (Yehoshua 2:11), “VaNishma VaYimas Levaveinu,” “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts did melt.” Similarly, Chazal tell us that the Girgashi nation, one of the seven nations of Kena’an, is not counted amongst the nations of Eretz Kena’an because its people flee the land, fearing imminent attack from Bnei Yisrael. We also encounter this idea when Moshe sends the Meraglim to scout out the land. When they return, they report that the cities are fortified with walls. Rashi (BeMidbar 13:18 s.v. HeChazak Hu HaRafeh) explains that the majority of the cities in Kena’an are walled – a sign that they require extra defense – showing the nations’ fear of Bnei Yisrael.
The Pesukim in this week’s Parashah suggest a different explanation of why ten Makkot are necessary. When Hashem describes to Moshe what will happen when He brings the Makkot He states, “VeYade’u Mitzrayim Ki Ani Hashem,” “And Egypt shall know that I am Hashem” (Shemot 7:5). Hashem is not only interested in helping Bnei Yisrael, but also needs to punish the Egyptians so they can recognize that He is the one and only God. This is a gradual process. We first see the Egyptians realizing this when Par’oh’s sorcerers tell Par’oh, “Etzba Elokim Hi,” “This is the finger of God” (8:15). The realization that Hashem is God eventually spreads throughout Egypt because of the Makkot.
Unfortunately, these answers do not completely answer the original question. If Hashem wants to scare the other nations or to teach the Mitzrim that He is God, He can simply perform one grand Makkah. Why must there be a drawn-out process with ten separate Makkot?
The beginning of Parashat Bo suggests another answer. Before the Makkah of Arbeh, locusts, Hashem tells Moshe (10:2), “VeEt Ototai Asher Samti Vam ViDatem Ki Ani Hashem,” “And My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am Hashem.” That is, Bnei Yisrael will know that Hashem is God. Thus, the Makkot are brought one at a time so that Bnei Yisrael themselves can learn about Hashem. Like an athlete training for an important game, Bnei Yisrael need time to prepare for their departure from Egypt. They have been slaves for hundreds of years and are accustomed to having others make decisions for them. If Hashem does only one Makkah there is the danger that Bnei Yisrael will view Yetzi’at Mitzrayim as a simple shift from one master, Par’oh, to another master, Hashem. This logic will make Torah and Mitzvot seem like a burden to them. Therefore, Hashem uses a lengthy process that will help Bnei Yisrael gradually come to accept the necessity and gift of Galut.
Chazal’s special name for Sefer Shemot is Sefer HaGe’ulah, the Book of Redemption. Since the primary story of this Sefer is Yetzi’at Mitzrayim one would think that the name should be Sefer HaYetzi’ah, the Book of Going Out. (Editor’s note: The Septuagint does identify Sefer Shemot as such, leading to today’s common title The Book of Exodus.) We make this distinction because Sefer HaGe’ulah not only implies a physical redemption, but also a psychological redemption. Bnei Yisrael need time to gain confidence in Hashem and learn how life will be different under His rule. It is not until the final Makkah, Makkat Bechorot, when Bnei Yisrael achieve sufficient Emunah in Hashem that they are capable of slaughtering the Egyptians’ god, the sheep, before their eyes. This new attitude signifies that the full redemption has begun and that Bnei Yisrael have become willing servants of Hashem.
We, the Jewish people, must persistently strengthen our connection with Hashem. Even during hard times we must remember that He is always looking out for us. And, during the good times in our lives, we must maintain our positive attitude toward Talmud Torah and Avodat Hashem. Let us strive to do so and thereby constantly enjoy a strong spiritual connection with Hashem.