I have been spending this week getting ready for AKSE Academy, an annual program sponsored by my synagogue (open to all, $12, don’t have to pre-register). This year, I am both chairing it and giving a talk on Jewish thought and astrology, so I’m not thinking very much about Parashat Bo, this week’s Torah portion. Here are comments from 4 years ago, plus different jokes.
We still have three plagues left: locusts, darkness, and the slaying of the firstborn. After the hail destroys most of the crops, swarms of locusts come to finish it off. Pharaoh then offers to let the Israelites go worship in the wilderness as long as only the men go, getting an inkling that all this chaos is probably not intended for them to have a mere 3-day jaunt. Of course, the offer is not enough, and he reneges anyway after the plague is lifted. After the plague of darkness, Pharaoh appears to be weakening a bit more, agreeing to let the Israelites go, as long as they leave their livestock in Egypt. No dice. Then, as we know, Egypt is hit with the final plague, the slaying of the firstborn, and in the ensuing chaos, the Israelites leave Egypt and slavery.
Like many of the plagues, the plague of locusts can be regarded as a natural phenomenon of unnatural proportion and timing, and there have been various convoluted theories concerning the death of the firstborn ( Marr JS, Malloy CD. “An epidemiologic analysis of the ten plagues of Egypt,” Caduceus (Springfield, Ill. 1996 Spring;12(1):7–24. See http://plaguescapes.blogspot.com/ ). The plague of darkness, however, is something else. While there are possible natural explanations put forth, e.g., a sandstorm caused by a khamsin (a hot, southerly wind – see Marr and Malloy), the rabbinic commentators agree that this is not a natural darkness, i.e., a night-like absence of light, specifically focusing on the phrase, “V’yamesh hoshekh” (Ch. 10:21), “a darkness that can be touched” (JPS) or “the darkness will become darker” (ArtScroll series). Ramban (Nachmanides) writes that this is a darkness in which lamps and candles are useless. Rashi gives three interpretations of the phrase: the darkness will be so thick it’s tangible, it will become darker than the night, and it will persist. Further, it will physically paralyze the Egyptians. Another interpretation is that the darkness will be akin to the primordial darkness of the chaos preceding creation or, it’s a taste of hell (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah). What all this brings to mind (at least to my mind) is this text concerning the Black Death from Barbara Tuchman’s 1978 book, A Distant Mirror – The Calamitous 14th Century:
“And no bells tolled,” wrote a chronicler of Siena, “and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death….And people said and believed, ‘This is the end of the world.'” (pp. 95 and 625)
“More than a physical absence of light, this is a darkness of the soul, a mass depression characterized by paralysis, isolation, and a total lack of hope. In contrast, the Israelites “enjoyed light in their dwellings” (10:23), both physical and emotional, as they hurriedly prepared for their exodus from Egypt and slavery. The sense of anticipation is reinforced by their receiving instructions on how to observe, not just this first Passover, but all the others yet to come. And once they leave Egypt, they learn about consecrating the firstborn, tzitzit (ritual fringes) and tefillin. And they haven’t even crossed the Re(e)d Sea yet. That’s next week.”
Moses takes Pharaoh’s Order
Dark Light Bulb Jokes
Q: How many efficiency experts does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. Efficiency experts replace only dark bulbs.
Q: How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: “None, son — I’ll just sit here in the dark…alone….”
Q: How many junkies does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Oh wow, is it, like, dark, man?
Q: How many libertarians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Libertarians never change light bulbs, because someone might enter the room who wants to sit in the dark.
Q: How many Microsoft executives does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. Bill Gates will just redefine Darkness® as the industry standard.
Q: How many Real Men does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. Real Men aren’t afraid of the dark.
Q: How many supply-siders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. The darkness will cause the bulb to change by itself.
Q: How many tech support people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: “We have an exact copy of the light bulb here and it seems to be working fine. Can you tell me what kind of system you have? Okay, now, exactly how dark is it? Okay, there could be four or five things wrong. Have you tried the on-off switch?”
A nasty anti-Semite walks into a bar and is about to order a drink when he sees a guy close by with kippa, tzitzis, and payos. He doesn’t have to be an Einstein to know that this guy is Jewish. So he shouts over to the bartender so everyone can hear, “Drinks for everyone in here, bartender, but not for that Jew over there.
Soon after the drinks have been handed out, he notices that the Jewish guy is smiling, and waves to him and says, “Thank you.”
This infuriates him and in a loud voice, he once again orders drinks for everyone except the Jew. But as before, this does not seem to worry the Jewish guy who continues to smile, and again says, “Thank you.”
So the guy says to the bartender, “What’s the matter with that Jew? I’ve ordered two rounds of drinks for everyone in the bar except him, and all he does is smile and thank me. Is he nuts?
“Nope,” replies the bartender. “He owns the place.”
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 rabbi that even the gentile women were wearing tefillin!