Dam, tzifarde’ah, kinim, arov, dever, sh’chin, barad. Blood, frogs, lice, flies/gnats/swarms of little flying things, cattle plague, boils, hail. The first seven of the 10 plagues.
Why don’t I feel any excitement, any sense of “Oh boy!” or any desire to make popcorn? It isn’t just that I know what happens. It just seems so stage-managed. Pharaoh will initially refuse on his own, then his heart will be “hardened” by the Lord. Eventually, Pharaoh will be pressured by his court and his people and will come to the brink of negotiating a holiday for the Israelites, only to refuse at the end, until the very last plague. That’s next week.
First, after the no-straw debacle, Moses and Aaron need to go back to Pharaoh for a more formal encounter that will trigger the plagues. Aaron throws down his staff and it becomes a serpent. Pharaoh is not impressed and has his own magicians turn their staffs into serpents. But then Aaron’s serpent swallows all the Egyptian ones. Even so, Pharaoh refuses to let the people go. The next morning, across the Nile from Pharaoh himself, Moses turns the water to blood, the first plague.
There are all sorts of physical explanations for the plagues, which I find mildly interesting. This year, for example, I came across a paper by Siro Igino Trevisanato, “Treatments for burns in the London Medical Papyrus show the first seven biblical plagues of Egypt are coherent with Santorini’s volcanic fallout,” Medical Hypotheses (2006) 66, 193-1196. The paper shows that volcanic ash could have led, in turn, to an acidic, red Nile. Frogs would have fled the acid environment. Dead fish and frogs could then have been fodder for insect larvae. Persistent acidic ash aerosols could kill cattle, cause painful skin disorders, and cause unusual weather phenomena.
Of greater interest is the “why” behind the plagues. As I wrote in 2015, “A sampling of the teachings of ancient, medieval, and modern commentators can be found in a blog Why Not One Plague? and in an otherwise non-traditional paper, “The Ten Plagues and Statistical Science as a Way of Knowing” (T. Benjamin and M. Mandel, http://people.ucsc.edu/~msmangel/Plague.pdf). In Midrash Tanchuma, the plagues are analyzed in a measure-for-measure fashion, linking each plague to a particular abuse by the Egyptians. There is also agreement (Rashi, Abravanel, etc.) that the plagues are not simply a prolonged attack to get the Egyptians to let the Israelites go, but, perhaps more importantly, are designed to demonstrate the power of the Lord to Pharaoh, the Egyptians, the Israelites, and the rest of the world that will hear about them. Thus, they have to be really, really impressive.”
Next time: the last three really, really impressive plagues and the Exodus from Egypt.
In every portion, there’s a drink just waiting to be discovered.
[The “Tippling Through The Torah” blog is described at https://www.jta.org/jewniverse/2016/a-blog-that-mixes-the-perfect-drink-for-every-torah-portion ]
Va-era: Seven Plagues
Recipe: Seven Plagues I can’t promise we’ll add three more to this drink, next week (I’m not sure I can choke down, “Death of the Firstborn”), but it seems right to segregate these seven into one glass.
Begin with a shot of vodka, representing a river. Add 3 oz. cranberry juice (blood), then squeeze in lime (frogs). Dust with cardamom (gnats) and then add a splash to a shot of the swarmiest liquor in my collection, triple sec (your suggestions for “swarms” are gratefully accepted, but this tastes pretty good). Misspell “dever” (cattle plague) with a vav (like I did at first) and you have “dor”, a gin-eration, so add a shot of gin (preferably made by a family), then drop in some pomegranate seeds (boils) and finish with a rain of ice (hail). If your heart remains stiffened after drinking this, just wait ‘til next week. You’ll give in.
When I was at the zoo, I saw something like a frog tapping things out on a piece of wood. Turned out it was a Morse toad.
What creature do you need to park in a restricted area? Permit the Frog.
What music do young frogs listen to? Hip Hop.
What music do more sophisticated frogs listen to? Hopera.
Lice have become resistant to most conventional treatments.
Scientists are scratching their heads.
I’ve been researching some useless facts…Want some examples?
I have found out that there are over 10,000 different types of lice.
And that’s just off the top of my head.
60-SECOND SCIENCE(podcast transcript) August 13, 2013
Insects Forego Flocks in Favor of Swarms
[Mosquito buzzing sound]
Aha—got ‘im! Yes, the mosquitos are swarming this time of year. Alaskans joke that the bloodsucker is their state bird. But have you ever looked closely at a swarm of mating mosquitos, gnats, or midges? It’s a curious thing. The swarm maintains a kind of shape as it moves around. But the bugs inside it seem to flit about randomly rather than flocking like birds.
This collective, yet disordered, flight intrigued physicists in Rome. They shot ultraslow-motion video of swarming midges. Then they mapped the flight of each midge, and did a mathematical analysis of the collective behavior.
Their finding: the motion of the midges is not random. The bugs stay far enough apart to avoid locking into a formation. The swarm instead expands as needed to stay just below the threshold density. The work appears on the site arXiv.org. [Alessandro Attanasi et al., Wild swarms of midges linger at the edge of an ordering phase transition]
Flocks and schools move in formation only once the group reaches a critical density. Below that threshold, the individuals move—well, like midges. Insect avoidance of full-fledged flocking may be a reproductive strategy: after all, it’s hard to mingle when you’re stuck in a line dance.
Fun Cow Fact: You can lead a cow upstairs, but not downstairs. Their knees can’t bend properly to walk downstairs!
Cow Jokes for Kids
Q: Why did the cow cross the ocean?
A: To get to the udder tide.
Q: Did you hear about the snobby cow?
A: She thought she was a cutlet above the rest.
Q: What do you get when you cross an angry sheep with a grumpy cow?
A: An animal that’s in a baaaaaaaad moooooood.
Q: Which Sesame Street character do cows like most?
A: The Cownt.
Q: What do you call cattle that tell jokes?
A: Laughing stock.
The Egyptians could have used this…
From The Strand Magazine, Volume 28, p. cxxxv (1904)