Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Exodus Chapter 8, Bible students read about the third plague to attack Egypt with a
“And God said to Moses: Say to Aaron – stretch out your rod, and smite
the dust of the earth, that it may become lice throughout the land of
Abravanel observes that this third plague, unlike the first two (bloodied Nile and frogs), came with no
forewarning to Pharaoh. This is particularly noteworthy, Abravanel says, because subsequent plagues
revert back to the earlier models, whereby Moses does caution Pharaoh about upcoming plagues. What
does the deviation signify here?
Abravanel gives readers a better understanding of the ten plagues. He teaches that the first three
plagues were designed to convey to Pharaoh a fact of life: God exists. When it came to the bloodied Nile
and frogs, the Maker instructed Moses to caution Pharaoh and his advisers. Afterward, Moses repeated
those warnings, but with a caveat. The prophet uttered them to Pharaoh in private.
As a result of Pharaoh’s oath to let the Hebrews go, Moses stopped the plagues. No sooner had the king
received a breather from the plagues, than he reneged on his word. At that juncture, God changed His
tune and tactics. “And God said to Moses: Say to Aaron – stretch out your rod, and smite the dust of the
earth, that it may become lice throughout the land of Egypt.”
Abravanel explains. Moses told Aaron to bypass Pharaoh. The Maker told His prophet to skip the
warning to the king. Instead, Aaron was to take to the streets, relaying a harsh message directly to the
Egyptians: Pharaoh lies through his teeth and doesn’t keep his promises. “And Aaron stretched out his
hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth. And there were lice upon man, and upon beast…”
Aaron’s actions manifested indignance at a king who breaks promises. “And Aaron stretched out his
hand…”, Abravanel suggests, was an object lesson: This land is accursed on account of its leader.
Previously, the land of Egypt was luscious and fertile. But now, Pharaoh’s prevarications pock the soil.
In brief, we have explained why God commanded Moses to forego the warning to Pharaoh. It was an
expedient employed to publicly humiliate the king and expose the ugly truth about his lies. Thus, Aaron
zapped the ground of a once prosperous country and turned the landscape into a vast, maddening
See Abravanel’s World for the in-depth treatment of the Ten Plagues.