The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus

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Author: Louis Ginzberg

Measure for Measure

God divided the ten punishments decreed for Egypt into four parts, three of the plagues He committed to Aaron, three to Moses, one to the two brothers together, and three He reserved for Himself. Aaron was charged with those, that proceeded from the earth and the water, the elements that are composed of more or less solid parts, from which are fashioned all the corporeal, distinctive entities, while the three entrusted to Moses were those that proceeded from the air and the fire, the elements that are most prolific of life.[170]

The Lord is a man of war, and as a king of flesh and blood devises various stratagems against his enemy, so God attacked the Egyptians in various ways. He brought ten plagues down upon them. When a province rises up in rebellion, its sovereign lord first sends his army against it, to surround it and cut off the water supply. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he brings noise makers into the field against them. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he orders darts to be discharged against them. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he orders his legions to assault them. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he causes bloodshed and carnage among them. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he directs a stream of hot naphtha upon them. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he hurls projectiles at them from his ballistae. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he has scaling-ladders set up against their walls. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he casts them into dungeons. If the people are contrite, well and good; if not, he slays their magnates.

Thus did God proceed against the Egyptians. First He cut off their water supply by turning their rivers into blood. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He sent the noisy, croaking frogs into their entrails. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He brought lice against them, which pierced their flesh like darts. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He sent barbarian legions against them, mixed hordes of wild beasts. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He brought slaughter upon them, a very grievous pestilence. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He poured out naphtha over them, burning blains. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He caused His projectiles, the hail, to descend upon them. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He placed scaling-ladders against the wall for the locusts, which climbed them like men of war. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He cast them into dungeon darkness. They refused to let the Israelites go, and He slew their magnates, their first-born sons.[171]

The plagues that God sent upon the Egyptians corresponded to the deeds they bad perpetrated against the children of Israel. Because they forced the Israelites to draw water for them, and also hindered them from the use of the ritual baths, He changed their water into blood.

Because they had said to the Israelites, "Go and catch fish for us," He brought frogs up against them, making them to swarm in their kneading-troughs and their bedchambers and hop around croaking in their entrails. It was the severest of all the ten plagues.

Because they had said to the Israelites, "Go and sweep and clean our houses, our courtyards, and our streets," He changed the dust of the air into lice, so that the vermin lay piled up in heaps an ell high, and when the Egyptians put on fresh garments, they were at once infested with the insects.

The fourth plague was an invasion of the land by hordes of all sorts of wild animals, lions, wolves, panthers, bears, and others. They overran the houses of the Egyptians, and when they closed their doors to keep them out, God caused a little animal to come forth from the ground, and it got in through the windows, and split open the doors, and made a way for the bears, panthers, lions, and wolves, which swarmed in and devoured the people down to the infants in their cradles. If an Egyptian entrusted his ten children to an Israelite, to take a walk with them, a lion would come and snatch away one of the children, a bear would carry off the second, a serpent the third, and so on, and in the end the Israelite returned home alone. This plague was brought upon them because they were in the habit of bidding the Israelites go and catch wolves and lions for their circuses, and they sent them on such errands, to make them take up their abode in distant deserts, where they would be separated from their wives, and could not propagate their race.

Then God brought a grievous murrain upon their cattle, because they had pressed the Israelites into their service as shepherds, and assigned remote pasturing places to them, to keep them away from their wives. Therefore the murrain came and carried off all the cattle in the flocks the Israelites were tending.

The sixth plague was a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and upon beast. This was the punishment of the Egyptians, because they would say to the children of Israel, "Go and prepare a bath for us unto the delight of our flesh and our bones." Therefore they were doomed to suffer with boils that inflamed their flesh, and on account of the itch they could not leave off scratching. While the Egyptians suffered thus, the children of Israel used their baths.

Because they had sent the Israelites forth into the fields, to plough and sow, hail was sent down upon them, and their trees and crops were destroyed.

They had been in the habit of saying to the Israelites, "Go forth, plant ye trees for us, and guard the fruit thereon." Therefore God brought the locusts into the Egyptian border, to eat the residue of that which was escaped, which remained unto them from the hail, for the teeth of the locust are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the jaw teeth of a great lion.

Because they would throw the Israelites into dungeons, God brought darkness upon them, the darkness of hell, so that they had to grope their way. He that sat could not rise up on his feet, and he that stood could not sit down. The infliction of darkness served another purpose. Among the Israelites there were many wicked men, who refused to leave Egypt, and God determined to put them out of the way. But that the Egyptians might not say they had succumbed to the plague like themselves, God slew them under cover of the darkness, and in the darkness they were buried by their fellow-Israelites, and the Egyptians knew nothing of what had happened. But the number of these wicked men had been very great, and the children of Israel spared to leave Egypt were but a small fraction of the original Israelitish population.

The tenth plague was the slaying of the first-born, and it came upon the Egyptians because of their intention to murder the men children of the Israelites at their birth, and, finally, Pharaoh and his host were drowned in the Red Sea, because the Egyptians had caused the men children of the Israelites to be exposed in the water.[172]

Each, of the plagues inflicted upon Egypt had another parallel in the cruel treatment accorded to the Israelites. The first was a punishment for the arrogant words spoken by Pharaoh, "My Nile river is mine own, and I have made it for myself."

The plague of the frogs God brought down upon the Egyptians, "because," He said, "the frogs, which sometimes inhabit the water, shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation destined to be the bearers of the Torah, and the Torah is likened unto water."

God sent vermin upon them, saying, "Let the lice made of the dust of the earth take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation whose seed is like unto the dust of the earth."

Hordes of beasts, lions and wolves and swarms of serpents, came down upon them, "because," God said, "these animals shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation that is likened unto lions, wolves, and serpents."

A fatal pestilence was brought upon them, "because," God said, "death shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation that faces death for the glorification of the Name of God."

They were made to suffer with burning blains, "because," God said, "the boils coming from the ashes of the furnace shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation whose ancestor Abraham walked into the fiery furnace for the glorification of the Name of God."

He made hail to descend upon them, "because," He said, "the white hail shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy a nation whose sins shall be white."

The locusts came upon them, "because," God said, "the locusts, which are My great army, shall take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation that is called My hosts."

"Darkness," said God, "which is divided from the light, shall come and take vengeance upon the Egyptians for desiring to destroy the nation upon which shineth the light of the Lord, while gross darkness covers the other peoples."

The tenth plague, the slaying of the first-born, God inflicted, saying, "I will take vengeance upon the Egyptians for having desired to destroy the nation that is My firstborn. As the night divided itself for Abraham, that his enemies might be vanquished, so I will pass through Egypt in the middle of the night, and as Abraham was proved by ten temptations, so I will send ten plagues upon Egypt, the enemy of his children."[173]

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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "Measure for Measure," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=759IB4DXKHIASZB.

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "Measure for Measure." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=759IB4DXKHIASZB.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'Measure for Measure' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 2: From Joseph to the Exodus. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=759IB4DXKHIASZB.