Rashi on Midrashim
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Dana: Did RASHI take the Midrashim/Aggadot "literally" when he referenced them in his commentary to the Torah?
Rabbi: Rabbi Israel Chait stated that Rashi did mean God used a literal hand "yad mamash" to smite the Egyptians. But this does not mean God has a hand....it was a "created" hand, like the created plaques.
Thus, the question arises as to why a hand was necessary as an additional punishment.
I suggest, a hand is representative of a "personality". Meaning, this "hand" was to display disapproval, unlike the inanimate boils, hail, blood, etc. Even the insects and beasts do not convey a "will" of an authority that disapproves. So we can suggest that God deemed it crucial that Egypt senses disapproval, only conveyed through a human "created" hand that smote them.
Thinking this over, something amazing just occurred to me. Perhaps Rashi is telling us more than we already suggested...
Why must God create a hand to hit the Egyptians? This we said was to indicate something all the other plagues cold not: there is a WILL that disapproves of their idolatrous ways. But God's lessons are not simple; they drive at deep and central truths. What was true about Egypt's culture? The truth was, that their God's were inanimate, as King David says, "They have eyes but see not; ears but hear not, noses but breathe not..." What is God's message? God is waking Egypt up to the realization that their Gods never once answered them! They took no notice, nor did they ever respond.
Now, the Israelite God is responding! This was a great shock. Until that point, their entire concept of a god was of a silent carving of stone or wood. The fact that there is a God who responds was the most startling concept, something the primitive mind would never expect. But now, not only did they face this reality, but they understood that this Power disapproved of the Egyptian belief system. Meaning, the very revelation of the true God is simultaneous with the rejection of all others, exactly as the first of the Ten Commands has it. God is one, and here is no other. Alainu says this as well.
It appears we uncovered a fundamental by pondering this Rashi. Think about it again, the very revelation of the true God is simultaneous with the rejection of all others. God teaches this by demonstrating His living will through the creation of a hand, and the smiting with this hand demonstrates disapproval of the current Egyptian theology of polytheism.
Although in many other cases Rashi quoted midrash (metaphor)…here he did not.
Thank you Dana for bringing this up.