"…take for yourselves your handfuls, soot from the furnace." (Gen. 9:8)

Because G‑d wanted to impress the Egyptians with the fact that He was the Creator, He displayed many miracles to demonstrate His control in all three worlds, as outlined earlier. Aaron had demonstrated G‑d's control of two basic elements which exist only in the "lower" world, i.e. "water and dust", by smiting the river and the dust of the earth during the first three plagues.

G‑d demonstrated that Moses possessed the power to command the other two basic elements, fire and wind, by using the air to freeze the water into hail, containing fire at its core (Gen. 9:24). Also, the 8th plague, that of locusts, was initiated by Moses, by causing the wind to bring the locust to Egypt. Similarly, the plague of darkness was due to a thickening of air pollution which made seeing through it impossible.

Demonstration of power over forces in the celestial realms was reserved for G‑d Himself…

So we have Aaron producing the first three plagues, and Moses plagues 7, 8, and 9. Demonstration of power over forces in the celestial realms was reserved for G‑d Himself. Whenever basic changes in the laws of nature had to be made by depriving the respective agents in the world of the planets of their respective power, G‑d Himself produced the necessary miracle. Hence the wild beasts, pestilence and the killing of the firstborn necessitated that G‑d override the power of the respective agents assigned to regulate the behavior of the phenomena they were in charge of. In all those three plagues, symbols which the Egyptians had held in high esteem were demolished, such as the horoscope of the lamb which the Egyptians worshipped. G‑d demonstrated His control of the world of planets - i.e. the seat of His agents - in three stages. In the case of the wild beasts, He showed that He could upset whatever power governed these animals' instincts. This was a relatively minor miracle, as the animals affected were those over which man did not exercise control anyway.

Next, G‑d demonstrated His control over those animals which had been trained by man and made subservient to him. Finally, He demonstrated His control of the most advanced of the species, i.e. human beings, by demonstrating that He could kill whomever He wanted to whenever he wanted to. This transcended all previous demonstrations of Divine power.

In spite of all this, G‑d's power in the celestial spheres, the world of pure spirits, had not yet been demonstrated. This did occur by means of the plague of boils filled with pus; G‑d, Moses and Aaron participated in the origin of this plague. The Talmud (Bechorot 41) states that these boils were wet on the outside and dry on the inside, like burning fire which shrivels human tissue. Since it contained elements concerning which both Moses and Aaron had already demonstrated some control, i.e. fire and water, it was appropriate that they both participate in bringing about this plague.

Since the Torah in verse 11 ends by saying that the reason why the magicians could no longer assume a posture in the presence of Moses was "for the boils were on their magicians"; the word "magicians" is spelled without the customary ending for plurals "im" but is spelled "chartumam" instead; this means that "their" supernal agent, the power from which they drew their inspiration, had been incapacitated. Seeing this must have taken place in the celestial regions, [they realized that] G‑d had to have been personally involved in producing this plague as Moses and Aaron had no influence in those regions. The allusion to all this in the text is the additional letter hei in the word "hashamaima", meaning "heavenwards", a word which otherwise would have meant "into the atmosphere", i.e. "throw soot into the air!"

By commanding Moses to throw the soot into the celestial regions, G‑d wanted to make him a participant in overcoming the powers of magic in the heavens…

Verse 11 would be superfluous, since, as human beings, the magicians would naturally have been subject to the same afflictions as the people described in verse 10. By commanding Moses to throw the soot into the celestial regions, G‑d wanted to make him a participant in overcoming the powers of magic in the heavens, i.e. to enable him to overcome a spiritual force. Since Moses had been manipulating the element of fire, an element used both in a material and a spiritual sense, this was totally appropriate. Moses had also previously demonstrated power over the wind and was able to prevent the soot from being dispersed by the wind and to make it ascend to the celestial regions without hindrance.

Moses' ability not only to ascend to heaven like Elijah and Hanoch, but also to come back to earth, i.e. his ability to be at home in both worlds interchangeably, is extolled by Solomon in Proverbs 30:4 ["Who has ascended up into the heavens and come down again"]. The remarkable thing about Moses was that when he ascended to heaven, unlike Elijah and Hanoch, his body did not have to undergo a transformation.

Moses'… objective was to strike the angel of the Egyptians….

At any rate, Moses' ability to transcend the limitations of matter is recorded already when he threw the soot to heaven. The objective was to strike the angel of the Egyptians or the angel of the sorcerers, with a material from the domain of the people whom he represents on earth. The only method by which matter could reach a world of pure spirit, was if someone who controlled four elements of dust, water, fire and wind would be the one to propel this matter.

The words "to Pharaoh's eyes" do not refer to the physical presence of Pharaoh "before the one who acts as Pharaoh's 'eyes'", i.e. Egypt's spiritual counterpart in heaven. The word "eye" [in Hebrew, "ayin"] is to be understood in the sense of "fountain" [spelled the same in Hebrew], referring to a source of inspiration. Immediately afterwards, the soot turned into dust on its way earthwards and was visible to all who looked on.

[Translation and commentary by Eliyahu Munk]