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Here's what I know, based on my education in day school, about the plague of blood in Egypt.

  1. All water was turned to blood
  2. The only way for the Egyptians to get clean water was to purchase it from a Jew
  3. The plague lasted a week

This presents several difficulties

  1. How did the Egyptians know they could buy water from the Jews?
  2. How did the Jews have enough water to sustain the entire nation of Egypt (including livestock) for a week?
  3. Since the Jews could sell water at whatever price they wanted how come they didn't just bankrupt Egypt?

I would like to know if any commentator address any of these issues or if there are any holistic approaches to understanding this plague better.

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I am answering as a comment as I have no source. Regarding question #1 - Perhaps it was revealed through trial and error. When the Egyptian who was desperate for water and could not get it any way he tried, perhaps in jest a Jewish fellow said "you want water, pay for it". Then he paid and got water. The news spread like wildfire and before long all the Egyptians knew that the only way to attain water was by paying for it. Regarding #2 - The same water that was blood for the Egyptian was water for the Jews. Therefore the Jews had an unlimited supply to sell. –  Gershon Gold Dec 30 '13 at 19:10
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Regarding #3 - Even though the Jews were selling the water there was still many Jews selling it. The laws of supply and demand ensured that the Egyptians did not go bankrupt at that point. –  Gershon Gold Dec 30 '13 at 19:11
    
related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13529/603 –  Menachem Dec 30 '13 at 22:32
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1 Answer

The selling thing is a nice midrash. And indeed those are valid questions if we go with the approach of the midrash.

One alternative, however, would be a different reading of how the plague worked. This escapes your questions, and it follows the simplest reading of the actual verses.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation:

7:19 God said to Moses, 'Tell Aaron to take his staff and extend his hand over the waters of Egypt - over their rivers, their canals, their reservoirs, and every place where water is kept - and [the water] shall turn into blood. There will be blood throughout all Egypt, even in wooden [barrels] and stone [jars].'

7:20 Moses and Aaron did exactly as God had instructed. [Aaron] held the staff up, and then struck the Nile's water in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials. The Nile's water was transformed into blood.

7:21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river became so polluted that the Egyptians were no longer able to drink the Nile's water. There was blood everywhere in Egypt.

7:22 However, when the master symbolists of Egypt were able to produce the same effect with their hidden arts, Pharaoh became obstinate. He would not pay attention to [Moses and Aaron], just as God had predicted.

7:23 Pharaoh turned his back to them and went to his palace. Even to this [miracle], he would not pay attention.

7:24 The Egyptians dug around the Nile for drinking water, since they could not drink any water from the river.

I think the simple reading is that it affected any stored water, or any open bodies of water. But the Egyptians were able to dig for subterranean water.

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Just throw out the Medrash? –  Shmuel Brin Dec 30 '13 at 19:12
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@ShmuelBrin, approach the medrash as medrash. And learn from it about the Jews finally being in a position of power. But it upsets me that everyone knows the Little Medrish Says and doesn't realize that the verses spell out an alternative answer. Medrash works best as a structure built on a foundation of pshat. –  Shalom Dec 30 '13 at 19:15
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@ShmuelBrin Who threw out a Medrash??? Not making every Midrash fit into every other Midrash and possible detail and implication of every other story ever is not throwing it out. It's reading Midrash appropriately. Chazal would probably chuckle at anyone doing otherwise (unless they are doing it as a further Midrashic technique (like forking a code)). –  Double AA Dec 30 '13 at 19:21
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So far, the Midrash has only been alluded to, not quoted or cited. It's hard to fairly criticize this answer post as throwing it out when it has yet to be properly introduced. –  Isaac Moses Dec 30 '13 at 19:31
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I haven't checked the precise details of this story in the Midrash inside, but it could well be consistent with the detail in the Torah pointed out here, in a way that resolves the second and third difficulties listed in the question post. If water was only available to Egyptians through extra effort, some of them would naturally be willing to spend money to avoid that effort, so they'd buy from Jews. (The reverse of how oil shale extraction suddenly becomes a cost-effective technology to develop when volatile geopolitics in the Middle East makes future prices there uncertain.) ... –  Isaac Moses Dec 30 '13 at 19:39
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