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For this time I shall send all My plagues against your heart, and upon your servants and your people, so that you shall know that there is none like me in all the land. (Shemos 9:14)
Rashi takes note that from this posuk we may derive that the plague of hail was equal to all the other plagues combined. (This is true according to the Maharshas version of Rashi as well as the standard version according to the interpretation of the Mizrachi.) What was unique about the plague of hail that gave it the status of being considered equal to all the other plagues combined? Further why only concerning this plague did Pharaoh declare, This time I have sinned, Hashem is the righteous One and I and my people are the wicked ones. Shemos 9:27)
Rav Baruch Epstein ztl in his sefer Tosefes Bracha takes note that when Pharaoh asked Moshe to entreat Hashem that the hail stop, he did not mention the word rain. However, later when the posuk records that that the hail stopped the posuk says, the hail and the rain did not come down to earth (Shemos 9:33). Further, when Pharaoh saw that the plague ended the posuk says Pharaoh saw that the rain, hail and thunder ceased and he continued to sin (Shemos 9:35) Why is the word rain not mentioned in Pharaohs request but is mentioned twice later when the plague actually came to an end?
In his answer, Rav Epstein preliminarily quotes a posuk in parshas Eikev. The posuk says For the land to which you come (Eretz Yisroel) to take possession is not like the land of Egypt from where you left, where you would plant your seed and water it by your foot like a vegetable garden. However the land to which you cross over to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys, by the rain of the heavens it drinks water (Devarim 11:10,11). Commenting on this posuk, Rashi contrasts the difference between Eretz Yisroel and Egypt. The land of Egypt would require you to bring water from the Nile by foot to irrigate it. You must wake from your slumber and toil. The land that is low drinks but not the land which is high. You would bring up the water up from the low land to the high lands. However concerning Eretz Yisroel it is written, by the rain of the heavens it drinks water. You sleep on your bed while Hashem waters the low land and the high land, both that which is in the open and that which is not in the open together.
From the above posuk and Rashis commentary we learn that it was a wonderful blessing to live in a land that is watered by Hashems rain instead of living in a land that requires the toil of irrigation.
Rav Epstein explains that the destructive hail was accompanied by rain. This is indicated in the posuk, which says that, Hashem rained hail upon the land of Egypt (Shemos 9:23), instead of it simply saying that Hashem caused hail to descend upon the land of Egypt. The phenomenon of rain in Egypt was cause of great excitement. Although the destruction wrought by the hail prevented the Egyptians from enjoying the blessing of rain, yet it made them aware of something that they never had but could have desperately used.
When Pharaoh begged Moshe to entreat to Hashem that the hail stop he was careful not to request that the rain stop as well. This explains why there is no mention of rain in Pharaohs request. Pharaoh preferred that the rain continue, as this would be a great blessing for his country. Hashem punished Pharaoh not only by smiting the land with hail but by also putting and end to rain when the hail ceased. The posuk continues to record Pharaoh frustration and it says that when Pharaoh saw that the rain had stopped as well, his heart was hardened and he refused to send out the people.
With this in mind we could perhaps answer our previous questions. There are two ways one can punish a sinner. The first way is simply to bring suffering or punishment upon the individual. The second way is to show the sinner what reward he would have received had he not sinned. When the sinner sees what he has been denied due to his evil ways, he is filled with pain and grief. This type of punishment can be far more powerful then the first type. Indeed the commentators explain that this is the form of punishment a sinner receives in Gehenom. In the next world a person perceives what spiritual pleasure he has lost due to his evil deeds in this world. This pain burns within him. This is the fire of Gehenom.
The plague of hail was unique in that it was accompanied by the blessing of rain. Rain would have been a great gift for Egypt. Had there been rain in Egypt the people would be able to spend their time more productively instead of toiling to irrigate the land. The rain that accompanied the hail was a reminder and tease to the Egyptians that they were not worthy of receiving rain because of their evil ways. In contrast, the Jewish people were the ones destined to enjoy the blessing of Eretz Yisroel, the land blessed with rain.
Chazal teach us that the composition of the hail was water on the outside and fire within. This character of the hail defined the nature of the suffering. When the Egyptians were made aware of the rainwater that they did not deserve a painful fire burned within them.
The plague of hail was severe in that not only did it bring destruction but also brought suffering in its wake. It was a combination of both types of punishment mentioned above. Therefore it is considered equal to all the other plagues combined. This revelation made the Egyptians to realize that they were not worthy of blessing and thus Pharaoh declared Hashem is the righteous One and I and my people are guilty ones.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001