"ויהי ברד ואש מתלקחת בתוך הברד, כבד מאד אשר לא היה כמהו בכל ארץ מצרים מאז היתה לגוי" (שמות ט:כ"ד)
“So there was hail, and fire mixed with the hail, very grievous such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation” (Shmos 9:24).
Rashi claims this is a miracle within a miracle. The merging of the water and fire is accomplished in order to fulfil the will of their Maker. As such, concludes Rashi, the two made peace with each other. The Midrash Rashi cites (Shmos Rabbah 12:4) goes further and likens this phenomenon to two military divisions in an army that are fighting with each other. When the king needs them to fight an enemy, he forges a peace between them, so they can fight for the common need.
Everyone knows that water puts out fire; how did the fire remain in the ball of hail which was made of ice? More importantly, what significance can we learn from the image of the ice and fire joining forces to wreak havoc on the Egyptians?
I have written previously about the uniqueness of the plague of hail, but mostly from the perspective of faith and the omnipotence of the Almighty. Another fascinating factor within the seventh plague is the aforementioned supernatural occurrence of fire co-existing with water.
The combination of fire and ice has been reported. I've read accounts of a spring on the border of Iran and Afghanistan which features large flames shooting out of a hole in the sand where the water flows (see a photo here.) Furthermore, my eye caught a headline last year that the Titanic sank because of “ice and fire.” The report from last January stated:
A deadly combination of ice – and fire – share collective blame for the sinking of the Titanic, according to a group of experts who believe a massive below-decks blaze weakened the hull so massively that an iceberg had no problem cutting a gaping hole through it.
Researcher Ray Boston in 2008 said the Titanic was probably traveling so fast on the night it sank because of the fire. Though the fire started about 10 days before the ship departed, it continued to burn in coal bunker six of the ship throughout the ill-fated voyage, according to testimony from a stoker who survived the sinking. The stoker told an inquiry that many workers believed fireboats in New York harbor would eventually need to be called upon to help extinguish the fire.
Boston said “inevitable explosions” would have resulted from the fire and the owner of the ship hoped to reach New York and unload the passengers before they occurred. So the ship sailed speedily through icy waters with lookouts posted in a single location – and struck an iceberg.
“This isn't a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking,” Molony said. “It's a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence.”
So what are we to learn from the combination of fire and ice? From what I could find, there appears to be a message for Pharaoh and a message for us. The Midrash we learned above teaches that foes can join forces to battle a common enemy. Items that normally clash, can ultimately, complement one another.
The Hebrew word for heaven, shamayim, is comprised, according to the Midrash (Bereshis Rabbah 4:7) and cited by Rashi, of two other Hebrew words: aish (fire) and mayim (water). Another Midrash (Psikta d'RavKahanah 1) suggests that the rakiya, the upper heavens, are made of water while the angels who live there are composed of fire. Rabbi Avin even tells us that every angel is made half from water and half from fire.
So fire and water simultaneously existing appears to be nothing new.
There are images expressed by our sages that the judgement of Gehinom places half the wicked subject's body in ice and the other half in fire. This plague, which we've established has major ramifications for belief in God, offers a glimpse into Divine retribution to the wicked.
Some have even noted that the miracle at the Burning Bush, where fire was unable to consume what normally crumbles in its path, could also be related.
As a matter of fact, opposites at times, can have a lot in common. As an example, Torah is likened at times to water, and at other times to fire (see Ta'anis 7a). Torah resembles water because just as water travels from high places to low places, only the lowly and humble can acquire Torah. Torah is also likened to fire because just as fire does not ignite on its own, so too one needs a teacher to study Torah. Rav Kook (Rosh Milin 127) notes that many important entities in life have both positive and negative aspects to them. Fire provides warmth and light, but can also burn and destroy. Water is necessary for life. But too much water can kill, drown, destroy and non-potable water transmits disease.
Rabbi Yaakov Stern points out that water and fire do co-exist, so long as something separates them. That's how we boil water. That's how billions of people have been cooking for millennia. When merged purposely, not for destructive reasons, they do work together. When Hashem's the Vehicle to bring them together, they can indeed co-exist.
Like a military assault, the plagues came by water, air and land. This massive plague, which initiates the last round of plagues (per Rabbi Yehudah's famous mnemonic we know from Pesach – D'tzach Adash b'Achav) began its formation in the heavens where fire and water co-exist, and assaulted the ground with its combination of water and fire. The famed Chassidic master the Sokhochover Rebbe, the Shem Mishmuel, suggests that the hail originated in heaven where fire and ice do co-exist. When it was time to pray to stop the plague, Moshe had to go very high as well with his prayers. For this reason our sages teach that he needed to leave the precincts of Pharaoh's palace, to distance himself from the idolatry that would hamper his ability to pray properly.
As we have seen, natural forces can have very positive consequences, or God forbid, the opposite. When seeking the greater good, opposing forces often merge. Israel has always presented a unity government during wartime. To show the Egyptians and the Hebrews the massive power of the Almighty, even fire and ice can merge into a display of Divine potency.
But there is nothing in the way of the Almighty's power!
There is a beautiful song Avraham Fried recently released which captures so much of this idea. IT is based on the verse below from the prophet Yishaya. I encourage you to listen and buy the CD (or atleast the song on Itunes!).
"כי תעבור במים אתך אני, ובנהרות לא ישטפוך, כי תלך במו אש לא תכוה ולהבה לא תבער בך" (ישעיה מ"ג:ב)
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; nor shall the flame kindle upon you” (Yishaya 43:2)
באש ובמים – עם ישראל חי
מתחת לשמים – עם ישראל חי
עם הבורא – עם התורה בלי שום מורא
עם ישראל חי לעולם
In fire and in water – the nation of Israel lives!
Under the heavens – the nation of Israel lives!
With the Creator, with the Torah without any fear!
The nation of Israel lives!
What is the meaning of the fire and ice co-existing in the hail? Is this such a big deal?