> Holidays > Passover > The Haggadah

Dayenu! Many Plagues

September 10, 2012 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

The number of plagues was 5-fold, corresponding to the 5-letter Name of God which represents justice.

Hundreds of Plagues

Rabbi Yossi the Galilean said: "How do you know that the Egyptians were struck by 10 plagues in Egypt and 50 plagues at the sea? Because regarding the plagues of Egypt it says: 'The magicians said to Pharaoh, this is the finger of God' (Exodus 8:15). While at the sea it says: 'And the Jewish people saw the great hand which God had used in Egypt, and the people feared God, and they believed in God and in Moses His servant' (Exodus 14:31).

How many plagues did they receive with the finger? Ten. Therefore if in Egypt they received 10 plagues then at the sea (when smitten by God's hand) they must have had 50 plagues.'"

Rabbi Yossi the Galilean said there were 50 plagues.

Rabbi Elazar says that the number of plagues was four-fold. This is an allusion to the four-letter Name of God – Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh – which represents God's attributes of kindness and mercy. Because in Rabbi Elazar's opinion, the purpose of the plagues was to sensitize the Jewish people to the love and care shown to them by God.

Rabbi Akiva, meanwhile, says that the plagues were primarily for sake of punishing the Egyptians. The number of plagues was therefore five-fold, corresponding to the five letters of Elokim – the Name of God which represents strict justice.

Multiple Plagues

Rabbi Tom Meyer

Rabbi Yossi the Galilean said: "How do you know that the Egyptians were struck by 10 plagues in Egypt and 50 plagues at the sea?...

Many people find this part of the Haggadah confusing. Basically, the idea is that each plague in Egypt was "by the finger of God," and the miracle at the Sea was "the hand of God." So there must have been five times more miracles at the Sea than there were original plagues. It's all rabbinical mathematics – multiply 10 times five.

So what? The Haggadah spoke earlier about the Sages staying up all night talking about the Exodus. What took them so long? They were trying to identify each aspect of how God interacts with us. They were examining details of how choosing spirituality brings a reward, and choosing unnecessary physicality brings a punishment. In Judaism, "reward" doesn't only mean a relief from pain, depression, suffering, anti-Semitism, etc. (although that's part of it). You also get innumerable positive things. And that's why it's so great to be Jewish.

We don't hate the body. Judaism uses the body. It's not the enemy. Just don't get swallowed by it. If God didn't want us to have a body, He wouldn't have put us in this world. But He also doesn't want you to totally surrender to the body. He shows you the consequences – all the plagues and punishments and suffering. Each plague can damage yourself, damage interpersonal relationships, damage you with God, damage your possessions, damage the ecology and the environment.

Each plague had all these different parts.

Dayenu!-That Would Have Been Enough

Rabbi Tom Meyer

"Dayenu" – Therefore, how much more so do we owe abundant thanks to God for all the manifold good He bestows upon us. He brought us out of Egypt, He executed justice upon the Egyptians and their gods. He slew their first born. He gave to us their wealth. He split the sea for us, led us through it on dry land and drowned our oppressors in it. He provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years and fed us the Manna. He gave us Shabbat, led us to Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah. He brought us into the Land of Israel and built for us the Temple to atone for all our mistakes.

To demonstrate all the positive consequences of choosing God, the Haggadah lists all the good that God has done for the Jewish people through history.

"Dayenu" has 15 stanzas, 15 aspects, 15 gifts. The first five involve leaving the lowliness of enslavement to our bodies. The second five describe miracles – i.e. how God changes nature. And the last five are closeness to God.


1) "If He had brought us out of Egypt."

Leaving Egypt is lifting you into an awareness of your soul. For many people, achieving that moment of transcendence is the greatest experience in life. They'll travel around the world and spend their entire life trying to get it. Think of a moment when you were in love. Or when you stood on a mountaintop and all of a sudden felt the beauty of everything. You knew you were a soul. You just left Egypt. That's fantastic, right? That would have been enough.

2) "If He had executed justice upon the Egyptians."

Justice means that once you have clarity and you know good from bad, you can fight evil. It is terrific to see an evil person stopped in his tracks – the bully, the exploiter. We feel lifted when somebody stands up against them with moral clarity. People pay money at the movies to see "good" triumph over "evil." In a world that is so cynical, people don't believe that "good" can win. But everyone craves to see it. And if you merit, you see it happening in real life. That would have been enough.

3) "If He had executed justice upon their gods."

This is when people who subscribe to ideologies of selfishness and greed appear to be prospering and happy – and then you see the falsehood of those gods exposed. Your intuitive sense of values is restored. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. That would have been enough.

4) "If He had slain their first born."

There's a higher level of satisfaction when "the first born" – the evil leaders who have power – get their just reward. Of course, we would prefer that any human being reform his ways and be spared the punishment. But if you can't change them, the next best thing is to see them killed. Believe me, when Hitler got it, people were happy. The whole world breathed a sigh of relief. It's more than just gaining clarity for yourself or seeing a false ideology destroyed. Here you actually see the vicious exploiters have their power broken. That would have been enough.

5) "If He had given to us their wealth."

When you surrender to your body, you don't really get the body pleasures. Because you never reach a point of satiation and satisfaction. For example, sex without love is ultimately not pleasurable. And when is enough money enough?

But when you refine your soul, you acquire all the body pleasures as well. They're in perspective, in the proper measure, and under control. You can enjoy food and marital relations – and feel you did the right thing. Direct the animal drive and you'll get the riches. That's what it means "they acquired the Egyptian's wealth." At the moment the Jews left Egypt they became a soul. And that would have been enough.


6) "If He had split the sea for us."

Have you ever seen the world opening up for you? I've asked groups of people many times, "How many have experienced a personal miracle?" Almost everyone in the room raises their hand. They don't believe other people's miracles, but they believe "something happened to me, I can't explain it, it was amazing." One student told me that he never wore a seat belt in his life. Then one day he got into his car and felt an urge to put on his seat belt. That day his car was totally destroyed. He would have been unquestionably killed. A miracle.

The sea splitting is an open miracle where nature changes. It's much more pleasurable when you see an open miracle, right in front of you. Most of us have not seen that level. But from what we have seen, we can infer the potential of even greater miracles.

When you choose to be a soul, the physical world opens up for you. The tension releases. You don't have to fight nature as we're so used to doing. At the sea, God released us from that constraint. That would have been enough.

7) "If He had led us through on dry land."

This is when you don't just get the miracle, but it's with ease. The road to Oz opens right up. Ease on down the road. It's going where you want to go. And you don't just see the miracle, you actually pass right through it. You and the road are one. You pass through nature and into the arms of the Almighty. Into miracle. Into Israel. Into the soul. That would have been enough.

8) "If He had drowned our oppressors."

This is when nature is not only "not your enemy," but has become completely submerged and is now your friend. It's under your employ and will produce for you. Just as we want to give our own children everything, the Almighty wants to help us "lift" nature so that it works with us as a friend.

When the Jews saw the Egyptian bodies drowning, they realized that nature has no power over us any more. Not just for the next week or two. But it's gone, permanently. That was the pleasure. In fact, the Midrash says that the Jews were still nervous and they didn't believe. They came out the other end and the Egyptians had drowned. But they said, "Maybe they're going to come out of the water a mile downstream and attack us." So God finished the job – He washed the dead bodies ashore so the Jews could see for sure. How much we lose when we are always afraid that somehow we are going to be overpowered again. God removed that insecurity. That would have been enough.

9) "If He had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years."

Imagine if I set you loose in the Sahara desert without anything for 40 years. It's freedom – but it's tough. For 40 years the Jews had everything they needed. They had a "portable well" that provided water; their clothing didn't wear out; they were automatically bathed. God took care of them so that they wouldn't be obsessed and distracted by physical details. Instead, they could focus on spiritual growth and learning Torah. They felt the whole world operating in confluence with them. They were surrounded by spiritual clouds which were that was like being enveloped by God's presence. Imagine that moment when you walk outside and it's the first beautiful, warmish day of spring – "Wow, what a beautiful world." You feel nature is surrounding you with its beauty. That's what the Jews felt for 40 years in the desert – nature flowing with them. That would have been enough.

10) "If He had fed us manna."

Earning a living is really a hidden miracle. We go out there and struggle and worry and pray – and then if we're successful we think our power and genius did it! It's nice to feel your genius did something. But on the other hand that's a formula for arrogance.

With the manna, the Jews woke up every morning and saw a thin layer of food carpeting the desert floor. They gathered exactly what they needed each day. They didn't have to put anything away in a bank account. They knew that the next day God was going to open the heavens and shower His blessing again. They felt taken care of. Like being in the womb. They didn't have to worry. That would have been enough.


11) "If He had given us Shabbat."

What is Shabbat? Just as physical space can be sanctified – people get off the plane in Israel and feel something special – so too time can be sanctified. Rather than being in a rat-race all week long – earning money, earning money, earning money, there's one day when you cannot earn money! Instead you sit back, relax and enjoy existence. You feel the Almighty's presence. Shabbat is a special day to focus on learning and growing. You don't hop in the car and drive off somewhere. Americans have lost the concept of family life. Shabbat gives it back. And that would have been enough.

12) "If He had led us to Mount Sinai."

I remember as a child, President Kennedy said we're going to put a man on the moon. The whole country got together – universities, big business, government agencies. Everyone was committed to putting a man on the moon. And America did it.

When the Jews came to Mount Sinai, they had absolute unity as a people. It's an entirely new level when you have society working together to feel God's presence. At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people achieved national revelation.

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, spirituality was open and obvious. But then they made a mistake and ate the fruit. The physical became overpowering, and from then on you had to work to uncover spirituality. But in reality, spirituality is like water – if you take a shovel and dig in most places, you'll see water running there. So too, there's spirituality underlying everything. We just don't see it.

When God brought us to Mount Sinai, He opened all the wells. The Jews looked at each and every thing and understood its spiritual origin. It was a shimmering spiritual world around them. Nobody had any doubts at Mount Sinai. And there is no joy like getting rid of doubt. They were totally united amongst themselves and with God. That would have been enough.

13) "If He had given us the Torah."

Each of us has moments of transcendence where we feel God. It could be that winter morning after a snowfall when you look out the window and see icicles hanging from the trees. The sunlight hits the icicles, they're gleaming, and you see how pure and beautiful everything is. You feel lifted. But then you turn around and you have to deal with your kids, your business, your mother-in-law. If you get a spiritual high and then go out into the world without knowing how to apply it, you'll come down from the high. Life becomes very complex. It's a struggle to get back to God.

Mount Sinai was a tremendous spiritual high, and it's great to know that God is with you. But still you have to go on with daily life. You've got to eat food, raise a family. Well, how do I do it? What's the rulebook? Where's the map?

The beauty of Torah is that it directs us as to what to do.Torat Chaim is literally "Instructions for Living." Torah teaches us right from wrong. Not just morally, but practically, too. The Torah labels everything and explains which actions are good and which are destructive – in user-friendly steps. And that would have been enough.

14) "If He had brought us into the Land of Israel."

We already said that time can have sanctity in the form of Shabbat. Land also can have sanctity. Of course, God is everywhere. But in certain places you feel His presence more. For example, God reveals Himself more in Israel. That's why when the plane lands, you feel something special. And when you arrive in Jerusalem, it's even more special. And when you get to the Wall it's... indescribable. Everyone feels it. So don't think you're crazy. The Almighty parts the curtain a little in Israel.

There's a second aspect to Israel. You also feel "at home." Imagine a child who is orphaned and has feelings of insecurity as he's shuffled from one foster home to another – then finally finds a family who really cares about him and he's got a place to call "home." It's an enormous sense of relief. When you're at home, you're more open to everything around you.

That's what Israel is for the Jew. It's our special home. And that would have been enough.

15) "He built the Temple for us."

Our greatest gratitude is reserved for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Some people say, "What's the big deal about the Temple?" Well, for starters, it's the site of the Binding of Isaac, Jacob's dream with the ladder, King Solomon's Temple – and the focus of Jewish hopes and prayers for 3,000 years.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had an extremely intensive, centered experience of God. Yet a river ran out of Eden and split into four directions – meaning they were to take this experience and transmit it to all four corners of the globe.

That's the Holy Temple. It provided an immense, awesome, inspiring feeling of God's presence. Yet ultimately the idea is to communicate that to the rest of the world. This is why the Temple Mount is called Mount Moriah, which means "teaching." From that spot we can teach about God and lift all of humanity. Jerusalem straddles all the continents because it's the center of the universe. From there everything flows. "From Zion goes forth Torah, and the word of God from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3).

Everyone knows there's something special going on there. Even the biggest atheist comes to Israel and heads straight for the Western Wall. And that's just the Temple's outer wall! Actually, the Sages said thousands of years ago that the Temple would be destroyed, but the Western Wall would be left standing – in order to give us a taste of what we are missing and what we want to get back to. The Temple was the ultimate fulfillment of Jewish nationalism. Wouldn't that be enough?

Finally, the Haggadah lists all 15 steps together. That's because more than each one is a wonderful, separate gift, it's all one unit. The pieces works together – and when you have the whole thing, you have it all.

Dayenu and Miracles

Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Therefore, how much more so do we owe abundant thanks to God for all the manifold good He bestows upon us. He brought us out of Egypt, He executed justice upon the Egyptians and their gods. He slew their first born. He gave to us their wealth. He split the sea for us, led us through it on dry land and drowned our oppressors in it. He provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years and fed us the Manna. He gave us Shabbat, led us to Mount Sinai and gave us the Torah. He brought us into the Land of Israel and built for us the Temple to atone for all our mistakes.

The purpose of "Dayenu" is to focus our every need. Unfortunately, we can become so "accustomed" to His providence, that we no longer appreciate – or even recognize it!

The Talmud tells the story of a father who puts his son on his shoulders, and carries him day and night around the world. At mealtime, the father would always reach up his hand and feed the boy. Quietly and regularly, the father cared for his son's every need. Then one day as they passed another traveler, the boy shouted out: "Hey, have you seen my father?"

That's taking things for granted.

One of the stanzas of "Dayenu" speaks about the Jewish people being sustained for 40 years by mann, a bread-like substance that fell each day from the sky. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler asks the question: Which is the greater miracle – bread coming from the Earth, or bread coming from Heaven? Instinctively, we would say "bread from Heaven" is an amazing miracle. But objectively speaking, "bread from Heaven" is really just a simple showering down. "Bread from the Earth," however, demands a complex balance of factors including soil, nutrients, sunlight, rain, temperature, etc.

So what's more of a miracle? We say "bread from Heaven" because it is uncommon. But if we were exposed only once to the idea of a tiny seed being thrown into the ground and growing into grain – we would immediately say, "That's a miracle!!"

There was once a young man who went to a rabbi and said, "If you can show me a miracle, I'll believe in the existence of God." So the rabbi speaks with Elijah the Prophet and arranges for tickets to see the Red Sea split. The rabbi and the young man go back in time to Egypt, stand on the shores of the Red Sea, and watch as 3 million Jews approach. Moses raises his staff, the Red Sea splits, and the Jews walk through on dry land. The guy is so impressed, he immediately runs out and buys a pair of Tefillin.

A few weeks later, he comes back to see the rabbi. "Rabbi," he says, "it was really great seeing the sea split. But I'm starting to lose the feeling. If I could just see another miracle, I would truly believe." So the rabbi puts in another request, and obtains tickets to see the Red Sea splitting. They go down to Egypt, here comes Moses and the people, the sea splits – and the guy is astounded. A miracle! He runs out and enrolls in yeshiva. It's a miracle!

After a few more weeks, the guy comes back to the rabbi. "Listen, rabbi, I need to see another miracle. Can you arrange it for me?" So the rabbi gets tickets, they go down to Egypt, here comes Moses, the sea splits. At which point the young man turns to the rabbi and says, "That's nothing – I've seen it before!"

Sadly, the difference between what we call "nature" and what we call a "miracle" is a matter of frequency. This is sad because we wind up taking things for granted. Do we fully appreciate the miracle of trees breathing carbon dioxide, so that we can breathe oxygen? Do we recognize the miracle of a semen-drop becoming a thriving, intelligent human being? The fact that colors never clash in nature? The simplicity of thirst-quenching, life-sustaining water? The attractive smell and color of an orange, with it's protective coating?

The writer Oscar Wilde expressed how desensitized we are to the wonders of nature, when he commented, "Niagara Falls is nice. But the real excitement would be to see it flowing backwards."

"Dayenu" teaches us that everything we have is a blessing. And if we have more, that's even better. The prophet Jeremiah said: "Just the fact that you're alive is enough of a blessing that you should never complain." The miracle of life itself would have been sufficient for us.

Related Posts

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram