Last week we learned that the ten uses of the Hebrew word ויאמר (vayomer; “And [God] said…”) corresponds to the ten plagues in Egypt: for each time that God speaks to create the world in Genesis 1, God speaks to undo that creation in Exodus 7-12. In light of this connection between creation and the plagues, we can now dig deeper in order to see that each positive act of creation in Genesis 1 finds its negative counterpart in the plagues.
The first plague, in which God turns Egypt’s waters into blood, shares precise Hebrew language with God bringing together the waters in Genesis 1. During creation, “God said (ויאמר; vayomer), ‘Let the waters (מים; mayim) under the skies be pooled together (יקוו; yiqavu) to one place, and let the dry land appear’” (Gen 1:9). The Hebrew word that I’ve translated “pooled together” comes from the verbal root קוה (qavah)—the same verb from which we get the noun מקוה (miqveh), the ritual baths in which Jews immerse themselves to this day. In Genesis, God creates “pools of water” by gathering the primordial waters into specific places to form seas and to reveal areas of land: “And God called the dry spots ‘Land’ (ארץ; eretz) and the pools of the waters (מקוה המים; miqveh ha’mayim) he called ‘Seas’ (ימים; yamim); and God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:10). God creates both the Land and the Seas by organizing the waters into “pools” or literally “miqvehs” on the earth. God’s creative activity is marked by an organization and togetherness that brings order out of chaos.
Returning to the Exodus narrative, we can see that the first plague unravels the Egyptians’ ordered world and plunges Pharaoh into chaos—the exact opposite of what God does at creation: “The Lord said (ויאמר; vayomer) to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron: Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters (מים; mayim) of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, their ponds, and all their pools (מקוה; miqveh) of water, so that they may become blood, and there will be blood throughout all the lands of Egypt” (Exod 7:19). At creation, God had organized “pools of water” into specific areas in order to make the seas; in Egypt, the Lord turns the “pools of water” into blood, thereby throwing the Egyptians into a state of chaos and disorganization: “The fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile, and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exod 7:21). Thus, the first plague marks the beginning of God undoing the creation of Genesis 1, and introduces a central motif of Exodus; namely, that the God of Israel will do anything—including unravelling the very foundations of creation—in order to liberate the Hebrews from slavery.