Addendum to last week’s citation suggesting each of the ten plagues could be matched up with an Egyptian god: A reader consulted a young Egyptology expert, who agreed the analogies were forced and, further, were full of descriptive errors. (Thanks, Anna via Karen!)
In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Pharaoh gives in after three final plagues, and the Israelites leave Egypt. First, a plague of locusts (double meaning: it’s the eighth plague, and a group of those insects is properly called “a plague of locusts”) eats everything that hadn’t already been destroyed by the hail. Then come three days of horrific darkness, about which more below. Finally, there’s the dreaded slaying of the firstborn.
Between the description of the coming tenth plague and its execution, instructions are given concerning how to observe not just this first Passover (blood daubed on the door side posts and lintel, roasted paschal lamb), but all those to come, and how to teach it to the children of every generation. This section of Chapter 12 reads like the quiet eye of a hurricane before the rest of the storm hits, or that pause when a great wave lingers in the air before crashing down. It’s also the first taste of all the laws that will be gradually transmitted to the Israelites in the rest of the Torah. [By the way, with regard to the paschal lamb, I noted here four years ago, “My friend Stanley points out (thanks, Stanley) that the ‘paschal lamb’ that is the Passover offering in Chapter 12 is a thanksgiving offering. But in Christian theology (esp. the Gospel of John), Jesus himself is presented as a “paschal lamb” or Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) that is sacrificed to atone for humanity’s sins, i.e., as an atonement offering. The motivation for the two types of sacrifices (thanksgiving and atonement) is quite different.”]
A few more laws are promulgated after the Israelites have fled Egypt but not yet reached the sea: more on the perpetual observance of Passover, the dedication of the firstborn, and tefillin (13:16, “a sign upon your hand and frontlets between your eyes”). These are all to help the Israelites remember and teach what happened: Passover (“Pesach” in Hebrew) annually, dedication of the firstborn when there is one, and tefillin on weekdays.
As for ninth plague, darkness, the obvious natural phenomenon explanation is a solar eclipse, though probably not for three days. Another is the aftermath of volcanic eruption (Joel Forman, “The Ninth Plague,” Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3, 2008, pp. 201-3). But I’m more interested in the ninth plague as a totally unnatural darkness, one that is spiritually, emotionally, and even physically crippling. That is how the commentators have seen it. Rashbam calls it a combination of ordinary darkness (absence of sunlight) with an added deep darkness. Sforno and Ibn Ezra describe a palpable darkness having such density that even a lit flare couldn’t make a dent in it. Rashi elaborated: “Thick darkness in which they did not see each other for those three days, and another three days of darkness twice as dark as this, so that no one rose from his place. If he was sitting, he was unable to stand, and if he was standing, he was unable to sit.” These also sound like some of the symptoms of depression: a sense of isolation, helplessness, inability to get up and do anything, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, and no expectation that this will ever end. That last is the killer (pun intended). Luckily for the Egyptians, who had no SSRIs, it only lasted for three days.
Next week, the Israelites learn they haven’t quite escaped from the Egyptians – yet.
Welcome to the Psychiatric Hotline.
If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6.
If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are depressed, it doesn’t matter which number you press. No one will answer.
If you are delusional and occasionally hallucinate, please be aware that the thing you are holding on the side of your head is alive and about to bite off your ear.
(Also sent out in 2010 and 2006. A really long version is at https://astro.uni-bonn.de/~dfischer/dark_sucker_2.html)
The Dark Sucker Theory (abridged)
For years, it has been believed that electric bulbs emit light, but recent information has proved otherwise. Electric bulbs don’t emit light; they suck dark. Thus, we call these bulbs Dark Suckers.
The Dark Sucker Theory and the existence of dark suckers prove that dark has mass, is heavier than light, and is faster than light.
First, the basis of the Dark Sucker Theory is that electric bulbs suck dark. For example, take the Dark Sucker in the room you are in. There is much less dark right next to it than there is elsewhere. Dark Suckers don’t last forever. Once they are full of dark, they can no longer suck. This is proven by the dark spot on a full Dark Sucker.
A candle is a primitive Dark Sucker. A new candle has a white wick. You can see that after the first use, the wick turns black, representing all the dark that has been sucked into it.
Dark has mass. When dark goes into a Dark Sucker, friction from the mass generates heat. Thus, it is not wise to touch an operating Dark Sucker. Candles present a special problem as the mass must travel into a solid wick instead of through clear glass. This generates a great amount of heat and therefore it’s not wise to touch an operating candle.
Also, dark is heavier than light. If you were to swim just below the surface of the lake, you would see a lot of light. When you get really deep, you would be in total darkness. This is because the heavier dark sinks to the bottom of the lake and the lighter light floats at the top. That is why it is called light.
Finally, dark is faster than light. If you were to stand in a lit room in front of a closed, dark closet, and slowly opened the closet door, you would see the light slowly enter the closet. But since dark is so fast, you would not be able to see the dark leave the closet.
Next time you see an electric bulb, remember that it is really a Dark Sucker.
Mrs. Jorgenson’s Tefillin
Rabbi Cohen served in rural Middle America where Jews were few and far between. He would travel great distances to help even a single Jew.
Because of the travel required he stayed in many Inns and farms along the way, one of which belonged to the Jorgenson family. Each morning, Mrs. Jorgenson observed Rabbi Cohen don his tallis and tefillin. She was curious about the ritual but was too shy to ask. On Rabbi Cohen’s last trip before his retirement, Mrs. Jorgenson finally got up the courage to ask.
Rabbi Cohen thought for a moment, and simply couldn’t come up with a brief explanation so he said, “It’s for my arthritis”.
After he left, Mrs. Jorgenson went out and bought herself a set of tefillin – after all, she had terrible arthritis.
When the new rabbi was hired, Rabbi Newman, Rabbi Cohen gave him his route and told him to stay with the Jorgensons as they would be expecting him.
When Rabbi Newman woke up in the morning and went into the kitchen, he was shocked to find Mrs. Jorgenson sitting at the table, plucking chickens, wearing tefillin! Rabbi Newman promptly resigned, sending a message to Rabbi Cohen saying that there was no way that he could fill his shoes –Cohen was such a powerful kiruv [outreach] rabbi that even the gentile women were wearing tefillin!