The fourth plague is Arov commonly translated as wild beasts.

The word I think most literally translates to "a collection" or in this case, maybe along the lines of "a swarm" (consider the word "eiruv" from "to mix up" the reshuyot [domains] in a community).

First, how do we know the word here refers to wild beasts? Second, and more importantly, does anyone provide an alternative explanation for the contents of the plague?

  • To answer the second part of your question, Yechiel Bin Nun (father of R. Yoel Bin Nun) in his book "Eretz Hamoriah" believes that the arov were actually starlings, birds which consumed everything and left agricultural devastation. He supports this by noting the similarity between the words ערוב and עורב (raven), and the relationship noted by Bava Kama 92b between starlings and ravens. Mar 22, 2016 at 19:42
  • @Matt Sounds like an answer (especially with a page #)
    – Double AA
    Mar 22, 2016 at 22:31
  • Note the Septuagint translates עָרֹ֣ב as κυνάμυια (=dog-fly). Josephus has θηρίον (=wild beasts).
    – Argon
    May 29, 2016 at 18:36
  • Note the comment in Loeb: "These “beasts of every sort and kind” are the equivalent of the fourth plague in the Biblical narrative, the “swarms of flies” (lxx the “dog-fly,” κυνόμυια) of Ex. viii. 21. The single Heb. word translated “swarms-of-flies,” viz. ‘ārōb, might mean a “mixture” and is actually so rendered in the Syriac and later Greek versions. Hence this menagerie of Josephus."
    – Argon
    May 29, 2016 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


Most of the commentators understand ערוב as being derived from the word for "mixture", the animals being a "mixture" of a certain type. What type is subject to speculation. Shemos Rabbah (11:3) brings a difference of opinion between R' Nechemia and R' Yehuda as to what type of animals were involved: either insects or what we would think of as wild animals (like lions, leopards, bears etc.) respectively. [Incidentally, the midrash above (11:2) seems to say that birds were involved as well.]

What necessitates that the mixture be of animals specifically? The hint is Tehillim 78:45:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּהֶם עָרֹב, וַיֹּאכְלֵם; וּצְפַרְדֵּעַ, וַתַּשְׁחִיתֵם.

It has to be something that can "devour them". Wild animals make sense. Other commentators prefer more reptilian or rodent-like animals or other venomous creatures. (See Rashi and Abarbanel.) Insects that bite can also be considered to "devour" their victims, if there's enough of them. (See Shadal.)

[Also, see Bechor Shor, who compares "הִנְנִי מַשְׁלִיחַ בְּךָ וּבַעֲבָדֶיךָ וּבְעַמְּךָ וּבְבָתֶּיךָ אֶת הֶעָרֹב" (Shemos 8:17) with "וְשֶׁן בְּהֵמוֹת אֲשַׁלַּח בָּם" (Devarim 32:24).]

The only interpretation I know of that does not derive ערוב from "עירוב - mixture" is that of Rashbam, who derives it instead from "ערב - evening". He explains that the plague entailed a pack of wolves descending upon Egypt. (Maybe they were werewolves. :)) These wolves are called ערוב because they attack primarily at night.

  • I fixed your source from bereishis rabba to shemos rabba. Also, I hope you don't mind that I used your link for my answer. :)
    – HodofHod
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:49
  • 2
    @HodofHod, Thanks. I've gotten so used to writing Bereshis Rabbah. By the time I get used to Shemos, we'll be in Sefer Vayikra.
    – jake
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:59
  • Great find in Tehillim. That explains why everyone always assumes they were animals.
    – Double AA
    Jan 20, 2012 at 2:01
  • There is also the notion that there were plains -- aravah -- animals. And, FWIW, erev = evening is from mixture. It's when the day and night overlap. (With implications WRT halakhah of bein hashemashos.) Jan 4, 2019 at 15:02

To summarize the Chabad.org link that Hacham Gabriel provided:

Shemos Rabba (11:3) brings a disagreement between R' Yehudah and R' Nechemia. R' Yehudah maintains that it was a swarm of different wild animals. R' Nechemia says it was a swarm of insects.

The Midrash and most commentators (Rashi, ibn Ezra, Targum Yonatan, et al) hold like R' Yehudah.

However the Rashbam translates the word to mean not "a mixture", but a certain wolflike creature that attacks at night ("arov" being related to the word "erev" (evenings).

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