This week’s Torah reading, Va’era, begins detailing the plagues of Egypt. We are familiar with these plagues, after all, we recite them every year at our Seders. But, in fact, we’ve been debating their meanings for millennia. We’ve looked at them in their details, in their impact, and in their categories.
One of the ways we categorize them is by realizing that each plague is targeting another god of Egypt. The Nile was seen as a god since it flooded its banks every year and irrigated Egypt. Frogs were viewed as representing the frog goddess who brought fertility to Egypt after the Nile would flood. As the plagues progress, each one targets a different god worshipped in Egyptian life.
To anyone sitting outside of that culture, the impact of the plagues is devastating, but random. To anyone in ancient Egypt, it is clearly an attack on their gods, and their world view. The result of the plagues is to discredit anything Egypt has trusted, leaving them feeling confused and powerless. When trust is removed, paranoia sets in, and everything and everyone now sits under a cloud of suspicion. The cohesion of a nation has fallen apart.
When we read of the plagues, we are not meant to read them as distant, ancient world occurrences. The plagues challenge us to look at the world around us today, and question what the things are we worship, as if they are gods; what are the myths we have created in our daily lives that now build into a house of cards. Measures of success today may be sitting on materialism in our lives, rather than on the role of values, compassion, and acts of human kindness, the things Judaism tells us could truly change the world.
We think we know all about the plagues of Egypt, but we shouldn’t read them as if we stand outside of their reality. The Torah, in its eternal truth, invites us in, and positions us to ask those questions in our own lives –what are the things I worship that are truly meaningless?
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.