Haggadah: Ramban: The Finger of God
The 11th of Nisan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Moshe ben Nachman, the Ramban, (1194-1270). Born in Gerona, he remained there most of his life. He was a student of the Ramah (Rabbeinu Meir ha’Levi Abulefia). He authored the Milchamos Hashem on the Rif Alfasi against the critique of Baal HaMaor and Ravad. He also wrote a work defending the Bahag against the Rambam’s criticisms of his classification of mitzvos. He wrote an account of his public disputation in Barcelona with the convert Pablo Christiani in 1263. The Ramban’s commentary on Chumash is multi-dimensional including all methods of interpretation from simple pshat to esoteric Kabbala. The Ramban held that the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael applies even today and ultimately settled there himself during the last years of his life.
Man also truly knows, it being everyone’s common belief, even those of the other faiths, that the Book of Genesis was written by Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, while he was in a state of prophecy. The Holy One, Blessed is He, pronounced the very words of the Torah to him, and Moses wrote them with ink in the book. However, the Book of Genesis does not commence with the words, “And the Eternal spoke all these words to Moses, saying,” because Scripture proceeded in an anonymous manner until the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Thus, He narrated to Moses all of the events from the beginning of the Creation. He told him first about the universe which was created which was created ex nihilo and followed that with the outstanding events that preceded the advent of Abraham, as I have said. He related that our ancestor Abraham spoke with Noah, who was like a second Adam in the creation of the human race, and that they, Noah and his sons, told Abraham of the flood, their survival in the ark, and their discovery upon leaving the art that the face of the earth was renewed as on the day of the creation. He then continued by substantiating these events of the Creation, with the new incidents which transpired in Moses’s days in the sight of all. They observed these occurrences with their own eyes before they received the Torah, to the extent that the principles of creation of the universe out of absolute nothingness and prophecy were confirmed for them by means of the publicized miracles which took place through Moses. For example, the 10 plagues were executed before the magicians who are masters in all matters of sorcery and demonology,and they conceded to Moses, as it is written, “and they conceded to Moses, as it is written, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh: This is the finger of God.” Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra explained the magician’s remark as meaning, “it was a chance occurrence that happened to us,” as was the case with the Philistines. (See I Samuel 5:9)
But this interpretation does not appear correct to me because I have noticed that from that time on, Pharaoh no longer called upon the magicians during the ordeals of all the plagues. Although it is stated later at the plague of boils, “And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils,” that was not because Pharoah challenged them to perform similarly, but Scripture is only informing us that the magicians themselves could not escape the consequences of the plague.
Now the magicians were forced to concede to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, that the plague of rice was an act of God because of that which is written, “And the magicians did so with their secret arts to bring forth lice, but they could not.” The Sages of blessed memory, said that, “the demons through whose power this was to be performed by the magicians is powerless to create something smaller than a lentil.” The objection was thereupon raised: “Why, he is powerless to produce a creature even as large as a camel! However, he can assemble creatures that are larger than a lentil from their breeding places and transport them, while those smaller than the lentil he cannot even assemble.”
This answer seemed to me difficult to comprehend until I spoke with experts of demonology, and I heard it substantiated from them. They find working with minute things, even assembling them, to be very difficult. In fact, it is not at all a pleasing endeavor in which to be engaged. This has been clearly established by them, and I cannot prolong this topic.
I have another interpretation of this verse where the magicians say, “This is the finger of God.” It is founded on the fact, which I have seen written in the verse, that the Egyptians attempted to bring forth lice, as it is stated, “And the magicians did so with their secret arts to bring forth lice, but they could not.” This would indicate that the wise men or the magicians themselves realized whether or not they knew that work, and whether or not the demon could assemble the small things. It appears to me that it was the Will of God to deprive them of their power and strength from that time on. (See Ramban; Discourse on The Law of the Eternal is Perfect, translated by Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel)