Gee, after only a week of this, we see a people subject to a stubborn, willfully ignorant leader, who will not accept that he is not 100% in charge, refuses to heed his advisors, and causes the nation to be subjected to a series of ruinous plagues. By “this,” I refer to our reading of the book of Exodus. Pharaoh refuses to accept the will and supremacy of the Lord and the advice of his increasingly anxious advisors to let the Israelites go.
This week, we read about 7 of the 10 plagues: blood, frogs, lice, flies or gnats (some translate “arov” as “wild animals”), cattle plague, boils, and hail. Yes, there are possible natural explanations for each plague, both individually and as a consequence of the preceding plagues. You can also see how the reactions of Pharaoh and his people toward the plagues change as each one comes, when the Lord hardens Pharaoh’s heart and when Pharaoh does so himself. There is also more detailed analysis of the text, for example, concerning the textual groupings of the plagues into three sets. I’ve written about, and provided some references for, those sorts of things here before, e.g., in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
Let’s look more closely at the reasons for the plagues. In Ex. 7:5, we read one obvious reason, to demonstrate the existence and identity of the Lord: ”And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelites from their midst.” Clearly, it is also crucial that the Israelites know and accept the Lord. In fact, in the chapters concerning the plagues, as Nehama Leibowitz points out (New Studies in Shemot, pp. 170-1), “knowing the Lord” is mentioned ten times.
Tami Benjamin and Marc Mangel, in “The Ten Plagues and Statistical Science as a Way of Knowing” [Judaism 48(1), Winter, 1999. They analyze the plagues using probabilistic methods, which I won’t inflict on you.], identify textual references to other characteristics of the Lord that the plagues are intended to convey: uniqueness (8:6), immanence (8:18), might (9:14), and dominion (9:29). Two additional texts (10:1-2, 11:7) are about the special nature of the relationship between the Lord and Israel, which motivates this whole chain of events.
More generally, Aron Moss asks, “What Was the Point of the Plagues?” His response: “G‑d was not only punishing the Egyptian people for enslaving the Israelites, He was also smashing the Egyptian value system. Each plague was an attack on the core beliefs of Egypt, the beliefs that led them to become the most immoral society of that time.” For example, they worshipped the Nile, and its waters turned to blood. The frog was a god of fertility. And “(a)s powerful as Egyptian sorcery was, it could not manipulate something as small as a louse. Egyptian spirituality dealt with big things, major issues, not minute details.” It is with that third plague that the Egyptian sorcerers recognize they are dealing with something far greater than garden-variety magic tricks.
Next week, the last three plagues and The Exodus from Egypt.
Tomorrow is Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month of Shevat. That means a long service with the addition of Hallel (Psalms 113-118), a second Torah reading (Numbers 28:9-15, on the prescribed sacrifices, of course), and (unless we forget) Psalm 104. The special haftarah is Isaiah 66:1-24, the last chapter of the book of Isaiah.
On this date, my daughter and Mozart were born, 227 years apart. Happy birthday, Roz and Wolfgang! (For a daylong online Mozart feast, go to www.wrti.org.)
It is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Those who perished were not statistics, but individuals: parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, children. Please stop to remember them today.
The Cute Princess
There once was a really cute princess who was walking through the woods. All of a sudden she heard a voice calling, “Hey Really Cute Princess!”
She looked around and didn’t see anyone or anything but a frog sitting on a big rock. She started to carry on her way but the frog called again. “Hey Really Cute Princess, if you take me home and let me sleep on your pillow next to you, I will turn back into a Handsome Prince!”
It had been a very long and boring day so she decided to pick up the frog and give it a try though she really didn’t believe the frog at all.
The Really Cute Princess took the frog home with her and let him sleep on her pillow beside her. When she woke up the next day what do you think she found? There on her pillow beside her sat a really Handsome Prince.
Do you believe this story?
No! Neither did her mother!
Nit Happens! Mom of 6 vs. Head Lice (a few excerpts)
Seriously? A family with six kids gets sent plague #3?! There must be an error somewhere.
“Dear God, I would like to apply for the (#9) darkness or the (#2) frogs or (#8) locusts instead. Thank you.”
Already, I’ve doused my kids’ heads with tea tree and lavender essential oil, Campho-Phenique, Listerine and Cetaphyl cleanser. These treatments are old wives’ tales (OK, one gal was in her early 30’s) and they didn’t work for me, but my children now smell delightful.
There are people who get rid of lice for a price. I amused myself thinking up names for their businesses while I waited for them to go through every strand of my children’s hair with a “Nit-onator” comb. The salon was simply called, “The Nit-Picker.” How dull. How about “The Lice Whisperer,” or “Sugar & Spice & Everything Lice,” or “Tip of the Liceberg,” or “Once bitten, Lice Shy,” or “Breaking the Lice,” or “At Nit’s End,” or “Nit’s a Small World After All,” or “Playing Nit By Ear,” or “A No-Win Nituation,” or “Laying Nit On The Line,” or “Like Nit or Lump Nit,” or “I wouldn’t touch Nit with a Ten-Foot Pole,” or “Get Over Nit,” and my personal favorite, “When The Nit Hits The Fan.” Who needs to write for The Huffington Post? I’ll just sit around and name parasitic petulance companies all day long.
and a gnat lands on its back.
The fly says, “is there a gnat on my back?”
The gnat says, “gnat at all.”
The fly says, “that’s the worst pun I’ve ever heard.”
The gnat goes, “what do you expect, I just made it up on the fly!”
Religious Cowboy The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a cow walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the cow’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” “Not really,” said the cow. “Your name is written inside the cover.”
Two Cows in a field Two cows were out in a field eating grass. One cow turns to the other cow and says, “Moooooo!” “Hey”, the other cow replies…. “I was just about to say the same thing!”
Sir Lancelot was out riding one night and it was storming, rain, wind and hail.
His horse slipped and fell and broke his leg. Sir Lancelot had to leave him there.
On foot, he came to an Inn. He asked the Innkeeper if he had a horse because his mission for the king was very important.
The Innkeeper said, “I’m sorry but the only animal I have is a Great Dane dog.”
Sir Lancelot looked at the dog and after sizing it up, he said, “That is a big dog; I think he could carry me and my mission is very urgent.”
The Innkeeper said, “I’m sorry, Sire I can’t let you take the dog.”
“Don’t you understand, man, how important this mission is?” asked Sir Lancelot.
The Innkeeper told Sir Lancelot, “I wouldn’t send a Knight out on a dog like this.”