People are conflicted and confused by the notion of miracles and how they relate to morals, if at all. The word miracle is used by everyone at some point in their lives. The English word "miracle" is derived from the Latin word "mirus" meaning "wonderful" and "miracalum" means the "object of wonder". In Hebrew a miracle is a נֵס ("Nes") or פֶּלֶא ("Pele"), plural "Nisim" and "Niflaot" and in contradistinction to this is טֶבַע ("Teva") meaning "nature". Humanity is fooled by the world around them to think that "nature" is the "opposite" of miracles, but the Torah aims to teach humankind that its limited perspective is mistaken and that indeed nature itself is based on miracles. There are many types of miracles, and the two most important categories are Open Miracles versus Hidden Miracles. Nature may appear to be running by itself to someone who does not believe in God, but for God even nature is based on miracles and there are stages in history that God tries to teach this.
In yesterday'sTorah portion God starts to inflict seven of the Ten Plagues on the Ancient Egyptians to force Pharaoh to let the enslaved Children of Israel go free from bondage to their Egyptian masters: 1. The natural waters of Egypt are turned into blood; 2. Frogs inundate Egypt; 3. A plague of lice; 4. Wild beasts terrorize Egypt; 5. An epidemic killing the livestock; 6. Rashes that became severe boils; 7. Heavy hail. The lessons should have been very clear, in the normal run of nature: water does not turn to blood; frogs cannot take over a country; an entire nation cannot be covered with lice; wild beasts cannot terrorize and kill people at random; all livestock cannot just suddenly get sick and die; everyone doesn't get boils at the same time, and heavy hail doesn't destroy a country, but in this case it happened to Ancient Egypt because Pharaoh refused to heed Moses' message from God to let the Children of Israel go free to worship God in the Wilderness.
What was the purpose of the plagues and what is the significance that eventually there were ten plagues that appear in the coming week's reading? (8. would be locusts; 9. darkness upon the land; 10. death of the Egyptians' first born.)
The following is based on the teachings of the Classical Rabbis:
There is a paragraph in the Ethics of the Fathers (Chapter 5, Pirkei Avot, a part of the Mishnah, of the Oral Law) that states: בַּעֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם "With Ten Utterances the world was created." Theses Ten Utterances were the commands that God gave at the time of the Creation of the world for all existence to become real, the world of nature come into existence, that there should be Natural Law to govern everything in the universe of Earth, Moon, Sun and Stars, life on earth, animals vegetables and minerals and at their peak stood Man and Woman: Adam and Eve the progenitors of all humankind to follow.
A glorious world with a Natural Order, but a world that quickly forgot God and its Divine Origins by worshiping itself and its own idols. Much like a large part of modern humankind that has thrown God out of the modern conversation.
Ancient Egypt was the greatest and most powerful civilization of its time. It's even more than that according to classical Jewish sources that viewed Ancient Egypt as the most powerful manifestation of Evil in the world. Pharaoh's symbol was the serpent, and Ancient Egypt was the kingdom of the primal serpent that caused the downfall of Man and Woman, now holding the Children of Israel captive. God sends Moshe to liberate the Israelites by breaking the hold of Pharaoh and showing the forces of Evil in Egypt that they are not the "masters of the universe" and that with all their dark magical powers they do not control the world or nature.
Now with the עֶשֶר מַכוֹת the Ten Plagues, God is going to literally turn the world upside down and show that He is now remaking the miracles of Creation and that it's in God's Hands to reconstitute the world that was created with the עֲשָׂרָה מַאֲמָרוֹת the Ten Divine Utterances into something different. This pattern is not uncommon, it's a simple rule of making anything anew that often the destruction of something is necessary in order to both teach a lesson and then to go on to create a new world order. In rebuilding there must be excavation and engineering.
God teaches the world a lesson that the world of טֶבַע "Nature" is under His control and direction. That in fact, at the end of the day there is no contradiction between טֶבַע Nature and נֵס "Miracle" that they are really one and the same. All of Nature is but a Miracle and that is the lesson that not just Pharaoh must learn but anyone who wishes to understand the Torah must understand very clearly as well.
So now we have the false notion that Nature is something devoid of Miracles demolished by the Ten Plagues, the question is what comes about next? What we will subsequently learn in the Torah is that it is not enough to acknowledge that Natural Law is as Divine as the world of Miracles, but that there is a need for the world to transform its understanding of itself even more by accepting that the world and Humanity are also governed by Moral Law in addition to Natural Law.
This will be accomplished when the Children of Israel receive the עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדִּבְּרוֹת or עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים׃ the Ten Commandments, that reveal that God's plan for the world was to have a unified system whereby the Laws of Miracles and the Laws of Nature and the Laws of Morality are all part of one unit, and that it is the duty of all Jews and of all humanity to learn this lesson.
[* VaEra means "And I appeared" from Exodus 6:3 "And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob..."]
Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin is president and founder of the Jewish Professionals Institute. An alumnus of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and Teachers College, Columbia University, he has dedicated his life to Jewish outreach and education, served for 7 years as full-time director of Sinai Heritage Centers in Manhattan and 3 as an AJOP trustee, .among many oher endeavors.