Some say only 1/5, others say 1/50 and others say 1/500 of the Israelites left Egypt. This means between 80-99.8% of Jews (the reshaim who did not merit or want the Redemption from Egypt) died, presumably in in the ninth plague (darkness).

Why did the prototypical

And he retorted, "Who made you a man, a prince, and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?" Moses became frightened and said, "Indeed, the matter has become known!"

Moses became frightened: [To be explained] according to its simple meaning [that Moses was afraid Pharaoh would kill him]. Midrashically, it is interpreted to mean that he was worried because he saw in Israel wicked men [i.e.,] informers. He said, Since this is so, perhaps they [the Israelites] do not deserve to be redeemed [from slavery]. [From Tanchuma, Shemoth 10]

and recidivist (complainers during the Wilderness, Korach affair etc) reshaim Dathan and Abiram not die?

  • 1
    The implication is that they brought the korbon Pesach as commanded and accepted the redemption. They only attempted to start trouble later and tried to take political control of the people during the revolt of Korach. They apparently did not rebel earlier (not even at the time of the meraglim). Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 13:50
  • sabbahillel: And yet the quarreled with another (no brotherhood) and informed on Moshe to Pharao (informers to gentile authorities). I was under the impression they started / and were indicated of trouble already in Shemot.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 14:22
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    yes they caused trouble at the beginning and informed Par'o, however by the time Moshe returned, they were no longer in a position to cause trouble (unlike the way Cecil B. Demille showed it (:-)). They did not cause trouble in the desert until the time of Korach. They apparently obeyed all the commands of Hashem until that point and did not sin with the Chait Haegel or the meraglim. (as an example) Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


I collected a few links that discuss this question, with several different suggestions for an answer.

For example: The Rosh says that only those who did not believe in the Exodus died in the plague of darkness. The Chatam Sofer says that they were kept alive so that the miracle of the ground opening up will be done especially for them. See more in the links :)

  • 1
    Thanks for including two of the answers (and +1), but including even more would further improve your answer.
    – msh210
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 15:51
  • Thanks for your comment. I was short on time, so I tried to give a glimpse rather than only links. I try to expand when I have the time (and knowledge) :)
    – Cauthon
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 17:40

The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 19) writes that they were specifically left alive to be counter-weights to Moshe and Aharon. The Jewish people were granted such great leaders as Moshe and Aharon, זה לעומת זה Hashem left Dasan and Aviram to oppose and challenge them and, so to speak, keep the balance.


The following is a quotation from an essay I wrote addressing this issue:

In a famous medrash, the Sages tell us that in addition to functioning as a punishment for the Egyptians, the plague of darkness also served to hide an event that God did not wish the Egyptians to witness. The medrash states (Shemos Raba 14:3, also see Tanchuma, Va'era 14, and Tana D'Vei Eliyahu 7):

Why did He bring darkness upon them? Blessed be the Name of the Holy One, blessed is He, for there is no favoritism before Him, Who delves deep into the [human] mind and examines [their] thoughts: For there were sinners (פושעים, Rashi here has רשעים, "wicked people") in Israel who had patrons among the Egyptians, and they had wealth and honor there, and they did not wish to leave. God said, "If I bring a plague upon [these sinful Jews] openly and they die, the Egyptians will say, 'The same thing that is happening to us is also happening to them!'" Therefore He brought the darkness upon the Egyptians for three days, so that [the Jews] would be able to bury their dead, and their enemies would not see.

There were Jews who were comfortable in Egypt and did not want to leave. The Sages do not accuse these people of any kind of sinful behavior, whether towards God or to their fellow men. Their entire wickedness is summed up in the fact that they did not wish to leave Egypt! 

Moreover, we know that there were some genuinely wicked Jews who did leave Egypt together with their fellow Jews, the best known examples being the famous troublemakers, Dathan and Abiram. And the Jewish people as a whole were far from perfect. The Sages tell us that when God drowned the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the angels challenged the Divine Justice in drowning the Egyptians and not drowning the children of Israel, famously declaring, "הללו עובדי עבודה זרה והללו עובדי עבודה זרה" - "These are idol worshipers and those are idol worshipers!"

The implication of this medrash is that the issue was not that these particular Jews were exceptionally sinful, but rather that they were sinful in a very specific way, one which made it impossible for them to live to see the redemption of their people from Egypt. This was the simple fact that, regardless of any other virtues they may have possessed, these Jews wanted to stay in Egypt. They were quite comfortable in Egypt, and they saw no reason to leave!

As Jews, we have an obligation to see ourselves as part of a larger unit, the Jewish people, to which we are intrinsically connected. Our connection to God as individuals cannot be distinguished from our connection to the Jewish people as a whole. We can never simply go our own way, as if the fate of our fellow Jews means no more than that of any other random group of people.

From my blog post, Do Not Separate from the Community.

As an aside, I would add that Rav Shimon Schwab argues (convincingly, in my opinion) that the medrash regarding the large numbers of Jews who died during the plague of darkness is not intended to be taken literally.


In a Rashi on Shemot 4:19 I found another answer. They were considered dead by loss of property

19The Lord said to Moses in Midian, "Go, return to Egypt, for all the people who sought your life have died." יטוַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֤ה אֶל־משֶׁה֙ בְּמִדְיָ֔ן לֵ֖ךְ שֻׁ֣ב מִצְרָ֑יִם כִּי־מֵ֨תוּ֙ כָּל־הָ֣אֲנָשִׁ֔ים הַֽמְבַקְשִׁ֖ים אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:

for all the people… have died: Who are they? Dathan and Abiram. They were [really] alive, but they lost their property, and a pauper is considered dead. — [from Ned. 64b] כי מתו כל האנשים: מי הם, דתן ואבירם. חיים היו, אלא שירדו מנכסיהם, והעני חשוב כמת:

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