At the start of the plague of darkness, G-d tells Moshe Rabbeinu to stretch out his hand towards Heaven, that there may be darkness of the land of Mitzrayim:

And the L-rd said to Moshe, Stretch out thy hand towards heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Miżrayim, darkness which may be felt.

I saw that most of the mefarshim discuss the concept of חֹֽשֶׁךְ (darkness). However, I was not able to find explanations on why Moshe Rabbeinu needed to stretch out his hand, specifically towards Heaven.

Are there any mefarshim that discusses this idea? Please share any "pearls" on this subject.

  • 1
    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/53448/…
    – Shmuel
    Jan 25, 2023 at 20:10
  • Are you asking why the heavens would be the source of darkness?
    – shmosel
    Jan 25, 2023 at 22:56
  • Especially why Moshe needed to lift his hands and yes, why the heavens would be the source of darkness.
    – Shmuel
    Jan 25, 2023 at 23:46
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    Moshe lifted his hands for other makos that originated from the heavens, like ברד. Maybe here it symbolizes the blocking of sunlight?
    – shmosel
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:08
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    It seems to me that God told Moshe Rabeinu to stretch out his hand when performing the makos because in this way it was clear to the Mitzrim that Moshe (and ultimately, God) was the force behind the makah and that it wasn't just coincidence.
    – ezra
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:38

3 Answers 3


Sforno explains (in parshas Chukas, when Moses is ordered to speak to the rock "and it shall give its waters") that most Biblical miracles bend the laws of nature, and thus require some physical action to get them started.

The only one that successfully suspended the laws of nature entirely was Joshua stopping the sun, which used speech instead (just as God used speech to create the world).

When Moses was ordered to hit the rock at the beginning of his time in the desert, that was a "typical" miracle -- a physical action bent the laws of nature, and a spring appeared nearby.

At the end of the time in the desert, he was supposed to transform the rock itself into water -- a suspension of laws of nature -- and was ordered to use speech to do so. For whatever reason he didn't do that, and instead hit the rock as before, producing a "garden-variety" miracle instead.

  • Where is this Sforno located?
    – Shmuel
    Mar 16, 2023 at 20:02
  • @Shmuel in Chukas.
    – Shalom
    Mar 17, 2023 at 1:08
  • Great answer. I am inclined to check it. However, there are a few points that are still not clear, including the fact that Moshe only stretched out his hands towards heaven. He did not do anything physical as far as I can tell, right?
    – Shmuel
    Mar 18, 2023 at 19:30

The Rabbinu Bahya address this question here:

All miracles are essentially manifestations of a power above or beyond the natural forces operating in the universe...
The letters in the word ויהי are the ones that depict matter coming into existence and that is why Moses with the help of his staff was able to work this kind of miracle.

It would seem from this that it was Moshe’s doing which caused the plagues to come. If you look at this page (only sources): https://alhatorah.org/The_Plagues_%E2%80%93_Natural_or_Supernatural/2 there is a large debate about what caused the miracles and plagues to come.

  • TY for bringin this Rabbeinu Bahya. Really interesting. See this answer: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/28957/27180 -does this also apply in this case? If so, are there sources that discuss this?
    – Shmuel
    Mar 16, 2023 at 11:58
  • I would argue that yes it is the same. I think it should be posed as a new question along the lines of how miraclous are mircales. The Alhatorah link i sent has most of this argument there Mar 16, 2023 at 14:34
  • That page you've linked is empty unfortunately...
    – Shmuel
    Mar 16, 2023 at 14:35
  • docdro.id/jntBaW2 I made it into a document, it all in hebrew, hope thats ok Mar 16, 2023 at 14:46

Great question Shmuel!

I think Moshe lifting up his hands resembled bringing down this darkness on Bnei Yisrael, and this darkness was that of Gehinnom (Shemot Rabah 14:2) which is located above, as the Midrash Hanelam says, גיהנם למעלה, דכתיב ואת נפש אויביך יקלענה בתוך כף הקלע. This also fits in well with the Rabbeinu Bachaye that miracles are a manifestation of power from above. The Yismach Moshe (Bo 5:1) based off the אהבת דודים דף מ"ג ע"ב, says that if this darkness wouldn't have came Bnei Yisrael wouldn't have been redeemed because in Shemot Rabah 14:3 that it was dafka darkness that needed to come to kill all the sinners of Bnei Yisrael so that the Egyptians would not see Hashem killing the Jews. (Look at the Or HaChaim hakadosh on Shemot 10:22 for why dafka Moshe uses his hands and not his staff).

  • Wonderful explanation, especially that from the Yismach Moshe. I've read the Or HaChaim, and he says: "Inasmuch as the darkness was of a supernatural kind, Moses did not consider it appropriate to raise his staff against supernatural phenomena" - the only question that arises from this is that this wasn't the only "supernatural" plague right? So why do we see this especialy with this plague?
    – Shmuel
    Mar 16, 2023 at 12:15
  • I had that question as well, but I'm not sure Mar 16, 2023 at 12:18

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