Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
Throughout all Egypt the dust turned into lice. But when the magicians tried to produce lice by their secret arts, they could not. The lice attacked men and animals alike. The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of G-d.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen.
Too little attention has been paid to the use of humor in the Torah. Its most important form is the use of satire to mock the pretensions of human beings who think they can emulate G-d. One thing makes G-d laugh: the sight of humanity attempting to defy heaven.
“The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers gather together against the Lord and His anointed one. ‘Let us break our chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’ He who sits in heaven laughs, G-d scoffs at them” (Psalms 2: 2-4).
There is a marvelous example in the story of the Tower of Babel. The people in the plain of Shinar decide to build a city with a tower that “will reach heaven.” This is an act of defiance against the divinely given order of nature (“The heavens are the heavens of G-d: the earth He has given to the children of men”). The Torah then says, “But G-d came down to see the city and the tower…” Down on earth, the builders thought that their tower would reach heaven. From the vantage point of heaven, however, it was so miniscule that G-d had to “come down” to see it.
Satire is essential to understanding at least some of the plagues. The Egyptians worshipped a multiplicity of gods, most of whom represented forces of nature. By their “secret arts” the magicians believed that they could control these forces. Magic is the equivalent in an era of myth to technology in an age of science. A civilization that believes it can manipulate the gods believes likewise that it can exercise coercion over human beings. In such a culture, the concept of freedom is unknown.
The plagues were not merely intended to punish Pharaoh and his people for their mistreatment of the Israelites, but also to show them the powerlessness of the gods in which they believed (“I will perform acts of judgment against all the gods of Egypt: I am G-d” – Exodus 12:12). This explains the first and last of the nine plagues prior to the killing of the firstborn. The first involved the Nile. The ninth was the plague of darkness. The Nile was worshipped as the source of fertility in an otherwise desert region. The sun was seen as the greatest of the gods, Re: whose child Pharaoh was considered to be. Darkness meant the eclipse of the sun, showing that even the greatest of the Egyptian gods could do nothing in the face of the true G-d.
What is at stake in this confrontation is the difference between myth – in which the gods are mere powers, to be tamed, propitiated or manipulated – and biblical monotheism, whereby ethics (justice, compassion, human dignity) constitute the meeting point of G-d and mankind. That is the key to the first two plagues, both of which refer back to the beginning of Egyptian persecution of the Israelites: the killing of male children at birth, first through the midwives (though, thanks to Shifra and Puah’s moral sense, this was foiled) and then by throwing them into the Nile to drown. That is why, in the first plague, the river waters turn to blood. The significance of the second, frogs, would have been immediately apparent to the Egyptians. Heqt, the frog-goddess, represented the midwife who assisted women in labor.
Both plagues are coded messages, meaning: “If you use the river and midwives – both normally associated with life – to bring about death, those same forces will turn against you.” An immensely significant message is taking shape: Reality has an ethical structure. If used for evil ends, the powers of nature will turn against man, so that what he does will be done to him in turn. There is justice in history.
The response of the Egyptians to these first two plagues is to see them within their own frame of reference. Plagues, for them, are forms of magic, not miracles. To Pharaoh’s “magicians,” Moses and Aaron are people like themselves who practice “secret arts.” So they replicate them by showing that they too can turn water into blood and generate a horde of frogs. The irony here is very close to the surface. So intent are the Egyptian magicians on proving that they can do what Moses and Aaron have done that they entirely fail to realize that far from making matters better for the Egyptians, they are making them worse – by way of more blood, more frogs.
About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
Why am I getting so agitated? And look how we’re treating each other!
While women are exempt from actually learning Torah, they are obligated in a different aspect of the mitzvah.
Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?
Once we recognize that our separation from God is our fault, how do we repair it?
Chatzitzah And Its Applications
‘Greater Stringency Applies To Hallowed Things…’
To choose life, you must examine your actions in the period preceding the Days of Awe as an unbiased stranger, and render your decision.
Rabbi Dayan took a challah and some cooked eggs. He then called over his 15-year-old son, Aharon. “Could you please ask your friend Chaim from next door to come over and help me with the eruv tavshilin?”
This world has its purpose; it has been ideally fashioned to allow man to grow.
A statement issued by the Frenkel, Yifrach and Sha’ar families thanks Israel for ‘justice served.’
Hamas’ tunnels were destroyed as were plans for their unparalleled terror attacks on Rosh Hashana.
Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.
“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet
The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.
Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.
We believe that God created each of us, regardless of color, class, culture or creed, in His image.
Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.
Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.
Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us
Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/science-nature-and-revelation/2013/01/09/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: