Sharing Torah Insights

The Meaning of Lice

Posted on כ״ח בטבת ה׳תש״ע (January 14, 2010) | in Vaeira | by

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell God that modern mankind was done with Him.

The scientist went to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’ve gotten to the point were we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and get lost?”

God listened patiently to the man. After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about we have a man-making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “Okay, great!”

“Now, we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam,” He stipulated.

The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down to grab a handful of dirt.

God looked at him and said, “Hey there! You go get your own dirt.”

This week’s parsha details the first seven plagues sent to afflict the Egyptians. For the first two plagues, Blood and Frogs, Pharaoh’s court magicians were able to replicate the plagues and helped convince Pharaoh that Moshe and Aharon were nothing special. For the 3rd plague, however, the magicians were forced to admit that Moshe and Aharon were no mere conjurers of tricks.

וַיַּעֲשׂוּ-כֵן הַחַרְטֻמִּים בְּלָטֵיהֶם לְהוֹצִיא אֶת-הַכִּנִּים, וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ; וַתְּהִי, הַכִּנָּם, בָּאָדָם, וּבַבְּהֵמָה. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּם אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, אֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים הִוא

And the magicians did so with their wands to bring out the lice and they were not able to, and there were lice on the people and the cattle.  And the magicians said to Pharaoh “This is the finger of God”…

What exactly was it about lice that the magicians were unable to replicate?

The Ramban (along with most other Meforshim) says that the Egyptian magicians tried to copy Moshe and Aharon for this third plague the same way they had tried to copy the first two plagues. He states that the way the Egyptians did their magic is by controlling the Shedim (demons) and getting them to do their bidding. In the plague of Blood, the “magic” was to change one object into another. This is something that the demons could do. In the second plague, the “magic” was to summon the frogs from the river. This too, was something within their power.

The plague of Lice, however, was very different. In this plague, Hashem created lice as an entirely new creation. This is an act that only the Creator of the world can do. Pharaoh’s magicians finally realized that they were dealing with an entirely different kind of power than any they had encountered before.

The Malbim, however, says that “לְהוֹצִיא” (to bring out) really means “to get rid of.” The magicians weren’t trying to create new lice, they were just trying to prevent the plague from spreading across the land of Egypt. Even though the magicians were usually able to prevent such infestations from harming the country, none of their usual cures worked.  This is what prompted them to declare the “finger of God” being present.

According to the Ramban, the lesson Hashem was teaching the magicians was that they cannot do everything. Hashem wanted them to know that there is a supreme power able to do things they cannot even dream of.

I think the Malbim’s lesson is much more relevant to us today. In this explanation, Hashem was telling the Egyptians that even those methods that they know will work are still subject to the will of Hashem. Just because something has worked 100 times before doesn’t mean that it will continue to work if Hashem doesn’t want it to.

Living in the luxury of the 21st century it is often easy to lose sight of where our money and our food come from. It is easy to think that things get done through our own hard work. The truth is that even though Hashem insists that we exert effort in everything that we do, at the end of the day we must realize that everything we accomplish we owe to Him.

Have a great Shabbat!

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One Response to “The Meaning of Lice”

  1. Todd says:

    Very insightful and interesting to talk with friends about

    [Reply]

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