Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.
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 is the tzitzis reminder on our clothing? How does it remind us that there are 613 mitzvos?
The court cannot solely rely on death certificates issued by non-Jewish institutions without conducting its own investigation into the facts of the case.
“I’m still not sure we have a right to damage his property,” said Mrs. Schloss. “Can you ask someone?”
Slavery was universal; So, why was Egypt targeted in this object lesson?
Rav Akiva Eiger is assuming that the logic of the halacha that both the son and his mother are obligated to honor his father and therefore he must honor his fathers wishes first, is a mathematical equation.
Reward And Punishment
‘Masser Rishon For The levi’im’
Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.
Reb Shlomo Zalman could not endure honorifics applied to him because of his enormous humility
Because we see these events as world changing, as moments in history, they become part of us forever.
They stammer “I’m not Orthodox,” as if that absolves them from the responsibility of calling to G-d
It’s fascinating how sources attain the status “traditional,” or its equivalent level of kashrus.
She was determined that the Law class was Dina’s best chance of finding a husband, and that was the real reason she wanted her to go to college.
Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh had nothing to do with age and everything to do with names
A Jew is an iconoclast, born to challenge the idols of the age,whatever the idols, whatever the age.
Simply too many cases of prayers being answered to deny it makes a difference to our fate. It does.
When Jacob was chosen, Esau was not rejected; G-d does not reject.
Between Judaism and Islam there can be friendship and mutual respect as Abraham loved both his sons.
God wanted to establish the principle that children are not the property of their parents.
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: