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yesh omrim

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The mighty hand, the great hand, and the little finger

8 April 2004

The Haggadah contains this well-known paragraph:

Rabbi Yose the Galilean said: How do we know that the Egyptians … were struck by fifty plagues at the sea? In Egypt, this is what it says: “And the magicians said to Pharoah, ‘this is the finger of God’” (Exodus 8:15), and at the sea, this is what it says: “And Israel saw the great hand that God used against Egypt, and the nation was in awe of the Eternal, and they believed in the Eternal and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).
When we were reading that on Tuesday night, one of our Seder guests said, hey, wait a second! A few paragraphs back, another plague was compared to a hand, not a finger:
With a mighty hand: This refers to the plague. As Scripture says: Behold, the hand of the Eternal will be against the flocks that are in the fields, against the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the cattle and the sheep, a very heavy plague.

(OK, all together now: “Dang, I’ve been reading the Haggadah for all these years, and I never noticed that! I’ve got to switch to grape juice for the first cup.”)

Fortunately for us, the Ritva asked the same question, answering it thusly:

…[T]he written verses here are only a support, and the Kabbalah is the fundamental thing. And it is known that “His burning anger” is nothing but the little finger of the hand, and this is also the strong hand, but “the great hand” has five of the small fingers, and this is a mystery.
Our guest believed that the Ritva is alluding to a statement in the Mechilta, that at the crossing of the Red Sea, even the Jewish serving women saw a greater revelation of God’s presence than Ezekiel saw in his prophecy.