Rashi (ad loc.) explains the repetition of “v’harbah arbeh” as two blessings – one for Abraham who was ready to sacrifice his son, and one for Isaac who was willing to be sacrificed. Perhaps we can say that these two merits – the numerical value of the letter “beit” is of course two – accounted for the plague of arbeh. Thus, “ba’arbeh” – the plague was brought on account of two merits.
The plague of locusts is interesting in another regard. When Egypt was hit with this plague, Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron (Exodus 10:17), “V’ha’atiru laShem Elokeichem v’yasir me’alai rak et hamavet hazeh – Entreat Hashem your G-d that He only remove from me this death.” Why did Pharaoh limit his request with the word “only”? Why only this issue?
The Torah Temimah suggests that the answer may be found in an incident related in the Gemara (Ta’anit 8b): In the days of R. Shmuel b. Nachmani both famine and pestilence struck the land. People asked: What should we do? It is impossible to pray for deliverance from both. Let us therefore pray for deliverance from pestilence, and we will endure the famine. R. Shmuel b. Nachmani, however, said to them: Let us rather pray for deliverance from the famine, for when Hashem gives food, He gives it for the living (and thus the pestilence will automatically disappear, explains Rashi), as it is written (Psalms 145:16), “Pote’ach et ya’decha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon – You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living being.”
How do we know, asks the Gemara, that it is not proper to pray for two requests at the same time? Because it is written (Ezra 8:23), “Vanatzuma va’nevaksha m’Elokeinu al zot – So we fasted and beseeched our G-d for this.” The word “this” indicates that they only prayed for one matter – “this” – but not another matter which also concerned them. Thus, Pharaoh, too, only prayed for one matter, not more.
The Torah Temimah also notes that according to Midrash Rabbah, each of the 10 plagues was accompanied by pestilence. Thus, like the people in the Talmudic story just cited, Pharaoh was faced with both pestilence and famine (locusts devouring a country’s produce is a form of famine). And like the people in the Gemara, Pharaoh ultimately decided to pray about the famine, hoping that the pestilence would disappear as a byproduct. Concerning all the other plagues, however, Pharaoh had to be less specific.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.