This week, the Exodus story kicks into high gear. The beginning of the portion, Va’era, reads like a fleshed-out introduction, as if to say, “OK, that was just a taste. Now you’ll all get more on the background, the plan, and the origins of the cast of characters.” This is when Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and Aaron’s staff not only turns into a serpent, but swallows the staffs of the Egyptian magicians that had also been turned into serpents.
But most of the portion is concerned with the ten plagues. Actually, only the first seven occur in Va’era (why?), but we might as well consider them all, or maybe the first 9, as a unit. The plagues have produced much commentary, possible natural explanations, and even toys (just Google “10 plagues toys”). Can the plagues be explained in terms of natural phenomena? Why were the plagues necessary? For whom were they intended? How are they related to each other (subsets)? And so on. Some of this I’ve considered in past years. For instance, “Origin of the Old Testament Plagues: Explications and Implications” (N. Joel Ehrenkranz, and Deborah A. Sampson, Yale J Biol Med. Mar 2008; 81(1): 31–42) is an interesting example of a “natural causes” analysis, which blames “an aberrant El Niño-Southern Oscillation teleconnection that brought unseasonable and progressive climate warming along the ancient Mediterranean littoral, including the coast of biblical Egypt, which, in turn, initiated the serial catastrophes of biblical sequence — in particular arthropod-borne and arthropod-caused diseases.”
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. There is also meaning perceived in the textual grouping of the plagues. We read in the Passover haggadah that Rabbi Judah (2nd century CE) used a three-part mnemonic for the plagues, D’tzach, Adash, Be’achav, the initials of plagues 1-3, 4-6, and 7-10 respectively. Rabbi Joseph Albo sees each group as concerning a different aspect of the Lord: existence, providence, and proof of prophecy; Abravanel substitutes God’s ability to change the nature of things at will. Some commentators look at patterns in 3 sets of three. For instance, Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson) notes that only the first and second of each group are preceded by a warning, and Malbim attributes the lack of warning for 3, 6, and 9 as a particular punishment for Pharaoh for not heeding the previous two.
The article I referred to on statistics and the plagues uses a novel mathematical analysis of the plagues that I have not really digested. Maybe next year. But I’ll close with another interesting approach, attaching each plague to a particular Egyptian deity:
|Type of plague that God pronounced upon Egypt:||Corresponding Egyptian God and Goddess to the type of plague:|
|Water Turned to Blood||Hapi- Egyptian God of the Nile|
|Frogs coming from the Nile River||Heket- Egyptian Goddess of Fertility, Water, Renewal|
|Lice from the dust of the earth||Geb- Egyptian God of the Earth|
|Swarms of Flies||Khepri- Egyptian God of creation, movement of the Sun, rebirth|
|Death of Cattle and Livestock||Hathor-Egyptian Goddess of Love and Protection|
|Ashes turned to Boils and Sores||Isis- Egyptian Goddess of Medicine and Peace|
|Hail rained down in the form of fire||Nut- Egyptian Goddess of the Sky|
|Locusts sent from the sky||Seth- Egyptian God of Storms and Disorder|
|Three Days of Complete Darkness||Ra- The Sun God|
|Death of the Firstborn||Pharaoh- The Ultimate Power of Egypt (manifestation of son of Ra)|
Some of these look a bit iffy, but I don’t really know that much about Egyptian gods. Something else to look into later.
Top Ten Things To Do While Giving Blood
by Tina Mancuso and Paul Coen
10. Watch the bag fill.
8. Pull the tube out of the bag and drink from it.
7. Race to see who fills their bag first (requires two or more people).
6. Puncture the bag near the top and see whether they pull the needle out of your arm before the blood squirts out.
5. While they’re not looking, substitute a bag of orange liquid and complain they gave you too much Tang.
4. Insist that you want to give 2 pints.
2. Tell them you saw the bag twitch.
1. Yell, “Hey, you used that needle on the last guy!”
Head Lice: Amazing Facts You Won’t Believe (selected)
Fact: Females typically only require one mating in their lifetime to produce all of their eggs.
Fact: A healthy adult louse can live for nearly three days without food.
Fact: The average speed of a louse is 3.75 inches per minute. This is equivalent to 18.75 feet in one hour, and approximately 450 feet per day. This is over the length of one football field.
Fact: Lice are developing resistance to certain medical treatment methods, including the use of pesticides. This can lead to future lice epidemics.
Fact: Over 350 million dollars will be spent each year on lice treatments in the United States alone.
Fact: Lice are used in Archaeogenetics. The mitochondrial DNA of female lice can be isolated and used to determine migration patterns of ancient humans.
Fact: Itching from a lice infestation is an allergic reaction not to the bite itself, but from the saliva secreted onto the scalp.
Fact: Head lice are incapable of jumping, hopping, or flying.
Fact: Home remedies including mayonnaise and olive oil, though typically difficult, are valid options.
Photo Credit: Gilles San Martin
A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Hunting flies,” he responded.
“Oh. Killing any?” she asked.
“Yep, 3 males, 2 females,” he replied.
Intrigued, she asked. “How can you tell?”
He responded, “3 were on a beer can, 2 were on the phone.”
Basic Cow Jokes (selected)
Did you hear about the clairvoyant cow? She could see into the future and the pasture.
Two cows were chatting over the fence between their fields. The first cow said, “I’ll tell you, this mad-cow disease is really pretty scary. They say it’s spreading fast; I heard it hit some cows down on the Johnson Farm.” The other cow replies, “Hell, I ain’t worried. It don’t affect us ducks.”
Did you hear about the cow that jumped over the barbed-wire fence? It was an udder disaster.
One farmer says to another farmer that he had to shoot one of his cows. “Was it mad?” asks the other farmer. The first farmer replies, “Well, it wasn’t very happy about it.”
Hail Storm 5/22/14 — Photos courtesy of Meri Weiss (Thanks!)
Wilmington, DE. Last May. Lots of local roof and car damage. The pictures speak for themselves.