Sh'mot chapter 7 describes the first plague, with the Nile and all other water turning to blood (except the Israelites' water). Paro's magicians then turn water into blood, which convinces Paro that it's just a trick so he hardens his heart. The text seems to describe a pretty rapid set of events: Paro was immersing in the Nile, Moshe and Aharon turned it to blood, the magicians did the same, and then Paro went to his house. It doesn't sound like Paro's magicians had time to send to Goshen for water for their trick.

The text does tell us that the Egyptians dug around the Nile looking for water for seven days, which seems to be later than these events. Did the magicians figure that out right away?

How did the magicians have water?

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    I don't think the digging helped them - I think they found blood there too. But maybe they bought water from the Israelites? (+1) – Y     e     z May 18 '14 at 20:06
  • Maybe Moses and Aaron were nice guys or for whatever reasons shared a bit of the water in their canteens/water bladders. If it was such a long way to Goshen they had to bring some for themselves to drink on the trip, no? – Gary Jan 8 at 1:03

Ibn Ezra said that only the above ground water (such as in the river) turned to blood, but water that was underground before the plague stayed water.

"And all of Egypt dug around the river to find water to drink" (7:24)

Thus , when the Egyptian magicians needed water to emulate the plague, they dug a new well See Ibn Ezra on Vaeira 7:22

ויש שואלים: הלא כל המים נהפכו לדם, ואנה מצאו החרטומים מים והפכום. והתשובה: אמת, כי כל המים הנראים למעלה נהפכו לדם. והעד: כי היו שותים מהמים שחפרו (שמות ז׳:כ״ד), גם כן חפרו הם.

The medrash Rabbah states that the Egyptians were able to buy water from the Bnei Yisrael and it would remain clear. Thus, the magicians could buy water and use their magic to turn it into "blood".

I am sure that someone asks how the Egyptians survived for seven days without water. Besides to answers above, we can say the following. Note that Egypt was a major beer producer so that they could drink beer for seven days. Also, the Masai tribe of Africa drink blood from their herd animals. Thus, if the Egyptians got thirsty enough, they could drink the blood and survive. However, that has nothing to do with this particular question.

There are commentators such as Rabbeinu Bachya that say that actually it should be read "had shown that they could turn water into blood". This means that it was already known that the magicians could do this and that Par'oh pointed this out. Thus, he claimed that Moshe and Aharon were merely super powerful wizards. This is analogous to the medrash about the staffs in which Par'oh laughs and says "this is a common trick that even children can do". According to this, they did not need to change water into "blood" at that time because it was already known that they can do so. One point is that if Moshe had shown the second sign to the Egyptians (the Torah does not mention him showing any sign other than the staffs to the Egyptians), they would have demonstrated their ability to duplicate it then.

Rabbeinu Bachya says that they took advantage of the gap between the warning and the actual plague to show Par'o that they could do it also.

Malbim cites Sa'adiah Gaon that only drinkable water was turned into blood. Thus, they took contaminated water (such as salty from the sea) and changed it into blood.

UPDATE I checked Rabbi Sorotzkin and he brought up the possibility that they got the water from Goshen or that they stepped beyond the border of Egypt into another country to get the water to change. Other meforshim ask why they changed water to blood since it was just making things worse. They point out that if they could have changed a little bit of blood to water and back, that would have given Par'oh a "reason" to think that his magicians were more powerful than Moshe and Aharon. Thus, they had to find water that had not changed.

  • Thanks. So according to the Ibn Ezra, this wasn't the immediate sequence of events that the text suggests? The "had shown" interpretation addresses that and makes a lot of sense to me; do you know who says that? – Monica Cellio May 19 '14 at 13:26
  • @Monica Cellio I think probably Rabbi Sorotzkin or Rabbi Munk since those are usually the two sets that I consult in shul during shabbos. However, since I get them from shul, I do not have them with me at home. As a result it is from memory. I will have to try to remember to look them up at Shacharis. In any case, Ibn Ezra says that the Egyptians were able to get water by digging. It may be that once it was dug, the surface water seeped in and contaminated the wells so that new ones had to be dug constantly, that week. However, that is speculation from logic only. – sabbahillel May 19 '14 at 13:39
  • Where is the Ibn Ezra? Where is the Medrash [sic] Rabba? Who are these commentators? – mevaqesh Jan 12 '18 at 20:57
  • Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin wrote Oznaim Latorah and cites targum Yonasan and Rabbi Eli Monk wrote Kol Hatorah but does not give sources. – sabbahillel Jan 14 '18 at 0:00
  • @mevaqesh I said where Rabbi's Sorotzkin and Monk are found . – sabbahillel Jan 14 '18 at 0:04

The Shir Maon writes they turned blood into "water" (looked like it) and then turned it back into its original state which is blood. Magic cannot work on water (see Sanhedrin) but could on blood.

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    Who is the Shir Maon? Where in the work is this found, and where can the work be found? Where in Sanhedrin? – mevaqesh Jun 13 '17 at 4:50

R. Yosef Bekhor Shor (Tosafist) uses this as a proof that the water only turned into blood for long enough to kill the fish, then the fish polluted the water rendering it undrinkable. He is in turn quoted by Hizkuni, Moshav Z'keinim, Riva al Hatorah, and others.

This is the wording of Hizkuni (Exod. 7:20):

לא נעשה היאור דם כי אם לפי שעה ומיד מתה הדגה מחמת הדם ואח"כ חזר היאור לקדמותו

The river only became blood for a moment whereupon the fish died as a result of the blood, and afterwards the river returned to its original state.

Alternatively, Shadal (7:22) suggests that originally the plague only struck the river (see 7:20), and only later did it spread to all the other water in the land (see 7:21).

  • How does R' Shor interpret 7:25 about seven days elapsing? Is that how long the Nile was fouled from the fish? – Monica Cellio Jan 7 at 16:48

Rabbeinu Bachya/Bechaye to Shemos 7:22 offers a number of approaches, some of which he rejects:

  1. Only the Yeor/Nile turned to blood
  2. Only water aboveground turned to blood (see ibn Ezra in answer above)
  3. They pretended as if it was them that was turning some of the water sources to water, when really it was Hashem (he assumes that some places turned into blood later than the others)
  4. (he doesn't say this directly, but it would be an possible answer based on the previous suggestion) The Chartumim performed this trick after Mosheh and Aharon had warned Pharaoh, but before Hashem brought Makkas Dam.

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