Vaera 9:23–24:

וַיֵּט משֶׁה אֶת מַטֵּהוּ עַל הַשָּׁמַיִם וַה׳ נָתַן קֹלֹת וּבָרָד וַתִּהֲלַךְ אֵשׁ אָרְצָה וַיַּמְטֵר ה׳ בָּרָד עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם׃ וַיְהִי בָרָד וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת בְּתוֹךְ הַבָּרָד כָּבֵד מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָיָה כָמֹהוּ בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מֵאָז הָיְתָה לְגוֹי׃

Moshe tilted his stick at the sky, and God placed sounds and hail, and fire was sent groundward: God rained hail on the land of Egypt. There was hail, and fire flaming within the hail: very heavy, such that there hadn't been like it in all of the land of Egypt since when it had become a nation.

What does it mean that the fire was "flaming within the hail"? Specifically, was it flaming within each hailstone, or was it flaming within the hailstorm as a whole (so between the pieces of hail)?

(Rashi notes "a miracle within a miracle: the fire and the hail mixed, and the hail is water…", but I don't see that that is indicative of the one possible explanation I put forth above or the other. Nor do I see such indication elsewhere in my mikraos g'dolos.)

  • Malbim seems to understand that it was flaming within the storm as a whole. Perhaps this is also the intent of R. Saadya Gaon who renders מתלקחת as מדובקת ומאוחזת. If בתוך meant "inside of", then this translation of מתלקחת would not seem so appropriate. – mevaqesh Jul 12 '15 at 18:27
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    @mevaqesh, re RSG, "m'uchezes" sounds like it's clinging to the hail which sounds like it's within (or at least touching) hailstones rather than just within the hailstorm, no? (Caveat: I haven't seen RSG except in your quotation.) Anyway, I think b'soch does mean "inside of" and the only question is whether the fire was inside the individual hailstones or inside of the hailstorm. – msh210 Jul 12 '15 at 23:10
  • If you look in Tehilim chapter 105 verse 32 it might shed some light. – user11676 Jan 5 '16 at 14:16

וַיְהִי בָרָד וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת בְּתוֹךְ הַבָּרָד

The word בתוך can either mean "inside of", or "among".

An example of the former is Genesis (9:21):

"And he uncovered himself inside his tent"

וַיִּתְגַּל בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה

An example of the latter usage is Genesis (23:10):

And Efron sat "inside" (i.e. among) the sons of Ches.

וְעֶפְרוֹן יֹשֵׁב בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי חֵת

The question is, which usage is being employed in our verse.

The Malbim (Exodus 9:24) seems to understand that the latter usage is being employed; that is, that there were fireballs among the hail:

ור"ל והגם שמעת התחיל המטר והברד לרדת כדך הטבע ששוהה משך זמן היה ראוי שיקדים האש העלעקטרי קודם הברד כי הוא ממהר בהליכתו מן הברד, בכ"ז בכאן היה אש מתלקחת בתוך הברד נאחז האש בתוך הברד וירד עמו בשוה מבלי קדימת זמן, והיה ענין פלאי שהאש והקרח היו מעורבים יחד

It is clear that he doesn't think that the fire was inside of the hail. Interestingly, he understands that the fire wasn't "fire" but lighting! He describes the normal gap between lightning and thunder, and how this phenomenon differed.

ותהלך אש ארצה שהוא אש הברק


I think the common Midrashic interpretation was that each hailstone had fire within it. (That's the way it's illustrated when taught to kids.)

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translates instead as "hailstorm", and one other tweak: "fire" means lightning. We thus have a phenomenon that ever-so-slightly bends the laws of nature, rather than breaks them:

With lightning flashing throughout the hailstorm.

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    +1, especially for your second paragraph. Do you have a better source for your first sentence than your second is? – msh210 Jul 12 '15 at 13:57

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