Friday, January 4, 2019

Fire and Ice

A news story in June, 2017, reported that a combination of ice and fire doomed the Titanic and caused its sinking on April 14, 1912. Photos of the ship prior to its departure from Belfast shipyard identified 30-foot long black marks along the hull, in the area where the icebergs would later cut through the ship. The report conjectures that coal fires in the shipyard during construction weakened the hull, which enabled the iceberg to penetrate the ocean liner. The fire attained the temperature of 1,000 degrees and even a 12-man crew was unable to extinguish it twice. It was contained and continued to rage only in coal bunker six, according to testimony from a stoker who survived the shipwreck. This stoker testified that the largest hole in the hull was torn adjacent to coal bunker six.

The Medrash recorded in Parashat Va’era claims that the plague of hail has was unique, that melon-sized hail contained fire inside of it, a miracle from God as fire and water cannot co-exist in nature. What is the significance of this supernatural act found in the seventh plague?

The plague of hail was meant to demonstrate God’s power. Boils are boils, lice are lice and pestilence is pestilence. But, creating a form of deadly precipitation that in Egypt’s warm climate had never been seen before, was meant to show God’s supremacy and to highlight the futility of resisting the requests of God’s messenger, Moses.

One interpretation tries to keep the hail within the realm of nature, and suggests that the ice contained the fire until it burst forth from the ice and descended like a bomb over Egypt (Moses warned the Egyptians to bring everything and everyone indoors as everything outdoors would be destroyed – see Exodus 9:19). Another opinion suggests that the pelting of Egypt with hail was meant to parallel the experience of the wicked in purgatory, which, according to tradition, are punished simultaneously with both ice and fire.

Rabbi Don Isaac Abrabanel suggests that each plague served as a measure-for-measure punishment to the Egyptians for evil actions they perpetrated upon the Israelite slaves. The Egyptians abused the Israelite slaves with fists, rocks and screams; hail punished the perpetrators by pelting them and their possessions, while deafening and frightening sounds injected fear into the Egyptians.

The only reason Pharaoh did not release the slaves after the hail was due to God hardening his heart. Any other mortal would have capitulated due to the show of force and the massive damage.

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