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 Holiday Central > Passover > The Ten Plagues > Death of Firstborn

The Tenth Plague: Death of Firstborn  מכת בכורות
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וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה, וַיהוָה הִכָּה כָל-בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מִבְּכֹר פַּרְעֹה הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל-כִּסְאוֹ, עַד בְּכוֹר הַשְּׁבִי אֲשֶׁר בְּבֵית הַבּוֹר; וְכֹל, בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה. וַיָּקָם פַּרְעֹה לַיְלָה, הוּא וְכָל-עֲבָדָיו וְכָל-מִצְרַיִם, וַתְּהִי צְעָקָה גְדֹלָה, בְּמִצְרָיִם:  כִּי-אֵין בַּיִת, אֲשֶׁר אֵין-שָׁם מֵת. וַיִּקְרָא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן לַיְלָה, וַיֹּאמֶר קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִתּוֹךְ עַמִּי--גַּם-אַתֶּם, גַּם-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּלְכוּ עִבְדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, כְּדַבֶּרְכֶם.  
       שמות י"ב: כ"ט-ל"א --   

And it came to pass at midnight, that the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead. And he called for Moses and Aaron by night and said: 'Rise up, get you forth from among my people, both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as ye have said.
-- Exodus 12:29-31

The Plague:
The tenth and final plague was the death of the firstborn male children.  Every first born Egyptian male child and livestock were afflicted, including the Pharaoh's oldest son. Before the plague, God commanded Moses to tell all Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb's blood, so that the angel of death will pass over them and spare their firstborns. One may wonder why the Jews were asked to mark their doors with blood, to which the sages explain that only the Israelites with faith and trust in God and were spared.

Indeed, it required faith to take Moses' assurance that the blood of the lamb would be a substitute for their own and their firstborn's blood. It required faith to accept Moses' assurance that he had been in touch with God and was presenting His divine will. Furthermore, it required true faith putting blood of the Lamb on their doorpost, as this was certain to bring a swift Egyptian retribution in the morning had Moses been wrong. For some Egyptians worshiped the lamb and would have been angered by the sacrificial killing of their god.  The show of faith was rewarded that night, as death passed over the homes of the faithful. Hence the name of this holiday, Passover.

Why the decree of death of the firstborn?
As in all other plagues, this plague too was to showcase the absolute power of the God of the Hebrews. This plague, the death of all Egyptian firstborn, was a dismissal of "all of the gods of Egypt." 

For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night, and will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.      --- Exodus 12:12

This plague demonstrated the total impotence of the gods of Egypt, none capable of protecting their subjects; All the gods worshipped by the Egyptians were a no show, including "Meskhenet," the goddess who presided childbirth, "Hathor," who was one of the seven deities that attended births, "Min," the god of procreation, "Isis," the goddess of fertility, "Selket," the guardian of life, and most importantly, "Renenutet," the cobra-goddess who was the guardian of Pharaoh.

Additionally, we see a "Measure for Measure" - The plague of the first-born as well as the drowning of the soldiers of the Egyptian legions at the Nile was payback for the drowning of the Jewish baby males.

The plague of the death of the first born, the final blow which effected Pharaoh's household as well, brought the Pharaoh surrender.  He urges Moses to leave town with all his fellow Jews, their families, and all their worldly possessions.  The Jews were ready, and promptly upon Moses' direction were on their way.  The exodus from Egypt was underway.

The Ten Plagues of Egypt: Information and more
   Ten Plagues of Egypt, an Overview
Plague of Blood (דָם): Ex. 7:1425
   Plague of Frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:258:11
   Plague of Lice (כינים): : Ex. 8:1619
   Plague of Wild Animals / Swarm of Flies (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:2032
     Plague of Livestock Death (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:17
    Plague of Boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:812
   Plague of Hail (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:1335
   Plague of Locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:120
   Plague of Darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:2129
    Death of the Firstborn (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:112:36

The Ten Plagues of Egypt - a Passover (Pesach) brings you much more about the holiday, its meaning and its traditions... See the links below.


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