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

Author: Louis Ginzberg

The Plagues Brought Through Aaron

From the infliction of the first of the plagues until the passing of the last, after which the Egyptians yielded all that Moses and Aaron demanded, there elapsed a whole year, for twelve months is the term set by God for the expiation of sins. The deluge lasted one year; Job suffered one year; sinners must endure hell tortures for one year, and the judgment upon Gog at the end of time will be executed for the length of one year.[174]

Moses announced the first plague to Pharaoh one morning when the king was walking by the river’s brink. This morning walk enabled him to practice a deception. He called himself a god, and pretended that he felt no human needs. To keep up the illusion, he would repair to the edge of the river every morning, and ease nature there while alone and unobserved. At such a time it was that Moses appeared before him, and called out to him, "Is there a god that hath human needs?" "Verily, I am no god," replied Pharaoh, "I only pretend to be one before the Egyptians, who are such idiots, one should consider them asses rather than human beings."[175]

Then Moses made known to him that God would turn the water into blood, if he refused to let Israel go. In the warning we can discern the difference between God and man. When a mortal harbors the intention to do an injury to an enemy, he lies in wait for the moment when he can strike an unexpected blow. But God is outspoken. He warned Pharaoh and the Egyptians in public whenever a plague was about to descend, and each warning was repeated by Moses for a period of three weeks, although the plague itself endured but a single week.

As Pharaoh would not lay the warning to heart, the plague announced by Moses was let loose upon him and his people—the waters were turned into blood. It is a wellknown proverb, "Beat the idols, and the priests are in terror." God smote the river Nile, which the Egyptians worshipped as their god, in order to terrify Pharaoh and his people and force them to do the Divine will.

To produce the plague, Aaron took his rod, and stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt. Moses had no part in performing the miracle, for God had said to him, "The water that watched over thy safety when thou wast exposed in the Nile, shall not suffer harm through thee."

Aaron had scarcely executed the Divine bidding, when all the water of Egypt became blood, even such as was kept in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone. The very spittle of an Egyptian turned into blood no sooner had he ejected it from his mouth,[176] and blood dripped also from the idols of the Egyptians.[177]

The transformation of the waters into blood was intended mainly as a punishment for the oppressors, but it was at the same time a source of profit for the oppressed. It gave the Israelites the opportunity of amassing great wealth. The Egyptians paid them large sums for their water, for if an Egyptian and an Israelite drew water from the same trough, the portion carried off by the Egyptian was bound to be useless, it turned into blood. To be sure, nothing helped the Egyptians in their distress, for though they drank water from the same cup as an Israelite, it became blood in their mouth.

However, this plague did not impress Pharaoh as a punishment inflicted in the name of God, because with the help of the Angels of Destruction the magicians of Egypt produced the same phenomenon of changing water into blood. Therefore he hearkened not unto the words of Moses.[178]

The next was the plague of the frogs, and again it was Aaron that performed the wonder. He stretched forth his hand with his rod over the rivers, and caused frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. Moses, whose life had been preserved by the water, was kept from poisoning his savior with the reptiles. At first only a single frog appeared, but he began to croak, summoning so many companions that the whole land of Egypt swarmed with them. Wherever an Egyptian took up his stand, frogs appeared, and in some mysterious way they were able to pierce the hardest of metals, and even the marble palaces of the Egyptian nobles afforded no protection against them. If a frog came close to them, the walls split asunder immediately. "Make way," the frogs would call out to the stone, "that I may do the will of my Creator," and at once the marble showed a rift, through which the frogs entered, and then they attacked the Egyptians bodily, and mutilated and overwhelmed them. In their ardor to fulfil the behest of God, the frogs cast themselves into the red-hot flames of the bake-ovens and devoured the bread. Centuries later, the three holy children, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were ordered by Nebuchadnezzar to pay worship to his idols on penalty of death in the burning furnace, and they said, "If the frogs, which were under no obligation to glorify the Name of God, nevertheless threw themselves into the fire in order to execute the Divine will concerning the punishment of the Egyptians, how much more should we be ready to expose our lives to the fire for the greater glory of His Name!"[179] And the zealous frogs were not permitted to go unrewarded. While the others were destroyed from Pharaoh and the Egyptian houses at the moment appointed as the last of the plague, God saved those in the bake-ovens alive, the fire had no power to do them the least harm.[180]

Now, although the Egyptian magicians also brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt through the help of demons, Pharaoh nevertheless declared himself ready to let the people go, to sacrifice unto the Lord. The difference between this plague and the first was, that water turned into blood had not caused him any personal inconvenience, while the swarms of frogs inflicted physical suffering, and he gave the promise to Moses to let Israel go, in the hope of ridding himself of the pain he experienced. And Moses in turn promised to entreat God for him on the following day. It could not be done at once, because the seven days’ term had not yet elapsed. The prayer offered by Moses in behalf of Pharaoh was granted, all the frogs perished, and their destruction was too swift for them to retire to the water. Consequently the whole land was filled with the stench from the decaying frogs, for they had been so numerous that every man of the Egyptians gathered together four heaps of them.[181] Although the frogs had filled all the market-places and stables and dwellings, they retreated before the Hebrews as if they had been able to distinguish between the two nations, and had known which of them it was proper to abuse, and which to treat with consideration.[182] Beside sparing the Hebrews in the land of Egypt, the frogs kept within the limits of the land, in no wise trenching upon the territory of the neighboring nations. Indeed, they were the means of settling peaceably an old boundary dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia. Wherever they appeared, so far extended the Egyptian domain; all beyond their line belonged to Ethiopia.

Pharaoh was like the wicked that cry to God in their distress, and when their fortunes prosper slide back into their old, impious ways. No sooner had the frogs departed from him, his houses, his servants, and his people, than he hardened his heart again, and refused to let Israel go. Thereupon God sent the plague of the lice, the last of those brought upon Egypt through the mediation of Aaron. Moses could have no part in it, "for," said God, "the earth that afforded thee protection when she permitted thee to hide the slain Egyptian, shall not suffer through thine hand."[183]

The Egyptian magicians having boasted that they were able to produce the first two plagues,—an empty boast it was, for they did not bring them about with their enchantments, but only because Moses willed them to do it,—God put them to shame with the third plague. They tried in vain to imitate it.[184] The demons could not aid them, for their power is limited to the production of things larger than a barley grain, and lice are smaller. The magicians had to admit, "This is the finger of God." Their failure put an end once for all to their attempts to do as Moses did.

But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and God spake to Moses, saying, "This wicked fellow remains hard of heart, in spite of the three plagues. The fourth shall be much worse than those which have preceded it. Go to him, therefore, and warn him, it would be well for him to let My people go, that the plague come not upon him."[185]


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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "The Plagues Brought Through Aaron," 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,

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "The Plagues Brought Through Aaron." 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.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'The Plagues Brought Through Aaron' 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