In this week’s parsha 7 out of the 10 plagues are visited upon the Egyptian people. Why so many plagues? How come G-D just doesn’t bring the last plague the death of the first born and get the Jews out of Egypt?
The plagues not only are punitive they are pedagogical as well. Rav Yehudah Ha Nasi breaks down the plagues into 3 groups. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch assigns labels to these groups. The first three plagues, blood, frogs and lice all start below the earth . The next group of three, wild animals, cattle diseases and boils take place on the earth. The final group hail, locusts and darkness are above the earth or take place in the heavens.
Rav Hirsch states one reason for this matrix is to teach the Egyptians that the G-D of the Jewish people was the G-d of the entire strata of existence. Hashem has domain over the entire natural world. The Egyptians were polytheists and believed in separate domains for separate god’s. A sun god, a god of the Nile, different god’s with different jurisdictions over the natural world.
Many plagues were needed to demonstrate that G-D rules over every aspect of the natural world; Below the earth, upon the earth and above the earth.
It is this idea, the unity of all of the natural world, that allowed science to flourish. The scientific method planted in the fertile soil of monotheism was able to grow and develop. If we look at eastern civilizations which were predominantly polytheistic, although they had many great technological discoveries and innovations they did not develop the same overarching scientific theories that the West did. This is because if you view a volcano erupting (or flaming hail) as a god getting angry and the river overflowing (or turning to blood) as a different god getting angry and unrelated, you will not develop a holistic theory. If however you believe that one G-D controls everything and the natural world is interconnected and governed by related forces then you can develop all encompassing scientific theories.
The first assumption that science makes to get off the ground is that the world and all the natural occurrences are interconnected, an idea being taught to the Egyptians in this week’s parsha through the plagues.