9.6. The Sixth Plague: Boils (9:8-12)

The setup:

(8) Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Each of you take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh.

(9) It shall become a fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and cause an inflammation breaking out in boils on man and beast throughout the land of Egypt.”

The actual plague:

(10) So they took soot of the kiln and appeared before Pharaoh; Moses threw it toward the sky, and it caused an inflammation breaking out in boils on man and beast.

(11) The magicians were unable to confront Moses because of the inflammation, for the inflammation afflicted the magicians as well as all the other Egyptians.

Pharaoh’s reaction:

(12) But the Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not heed them, just as the Lord had told Moses.

(10) So they took soot of the kiln and appeared before Pharaoh; Moses threw it toward the sky, and it caused an inflammation breaking out in boils on man and beast: Although we read previously (9:6) that “all the livestock of the Egyptians died,” we need not take that literally. It is possible, for example, that only the cattle that was out in the fields was killed, but not the animals that remained indoors.

(11) The magicians were unable to confront Moses because of the inflammation: Previously, the magicians failed to reproduce Aaron’s results, but now they cannot even protect themselves from the ongoing calamity. This even further shatters the image of an inviolable Egypt.

For the inflammation afflicted the magicians as well as all the other Egyptians: There is no inflammation among the Jews, however. The distinction between the Jews and the Egyptians is now becoming even more pronounced.

(12) But the Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not heed them, just as the Lord had told Moses: First (8:28) “Pharaoh became stubborn this time also,” then (9:7) “Pharaoh remained stubborn,” and now “the Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh.” Throughout the earlier plagues Pharaoh had enough self-control to suppress his emotions and fears, and to remain stubborn. But by now he so lacks inner strength that God from above must “stiffen the heart of Pharaoh.”

As already noted, this “stiffening” of Pharaoh’s heart does not deprive him of his freedom of choice. On the contrary, the effect is that even the harshest plagues do not affect Pharaoh emotionally, nor possess him with fear. The “stiffening” restrained Pharaoh’s emotional response, so as not to interfere with his adopting rational decisions (rational in Pharaoh’s opinion, at least). It was therefore this stiffening of Pharaoh’s heart that allowed him to act freely, and to choose without fear the path that he himself wished to tread.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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