Last week, we learned of the first seven of the Ten Plagues. This week, in Parsha Bo, God sends the last three plagues upon Egypt: Swarms of locusts that covered the entire land; six days of intense darkness; and the death of the first born of all people and animals, except the Israelites.
The first verse of our parsha explains why God has sent the Ten Plagues upon Egypt: “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them – that you may know that I am God.” (Exodus 10:1)
The Egyptians merited such terrible punishments because of their pride.
Pride can be a fine thing, mostly when connected with the accomplishments of others. When you do something well – take a beautiful photo, or complete a great school project, or go out of your way to help someone – your parents are proud that they raised such a great kid. When your group does something fine – your science class successfully completes a complex experiment, or your patrol makes a great campout dinner – you feel pride in being part of your group.
Pride can also be a good reward for hard work. When you make a good grade after hours of study, or see little children enjoying some playground equipment you fixed, you feel pride in what you have accomplished.
But the Egyptians became prideful for all the wrong reasons. Pharaoh “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). That is, he forgot the Israelite who saved Egypt from famine by storing food during the seven years of plenty so the people would not starve during the seven lean years. Instead, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites and took pride in the power he had over them. He caused them to toil endlessly to build cities, sometimes on unstable land so that the buildings would fall and have to be rebuilt over and over. He felt threatened by how numerous the Israelites had grown, and thought his rule was so important he had the right to kill Jewish boys.
So God sent ten plagues that not only made the Egyptians suffer, but showed that God ruled even the forces of nature that the Egyptians thought were controlled by their idols.
This lesson was not only meant for Pharaoh and his servants. Remember the second part of the parsha’s opening sentence, “and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them – that you may know that I am God”. We must recall the lessons of our deliverance from Egypt, and teach them to our children. We will carry out this mitzvah in a couple of months, when we retell the story of the miracles that brought the Exodus at the Passover seder.