Responding to Calamity

Parashat Bo

Last week’s Torah portion, Va’era, introduced the first seven of the ten plagues. This week, Parashat Bo identifies the final three plagues and records the mitzvot concerning Passover.

Each of these plagues are devastating enough on their own, but added up together you can see why the result was the dramatic climax of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Each plague is a demonstration of HaShem’s might and omnipotence. And what most people miss in the story is that each plague carries its own unique message, as each plague was meant to bring a direct assault against a different Egyptian deity.

“… and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, I am HaShem (Exodus 12:12b).”

The Nile River in Egyptian mythology carries a sacred aura about it. It is the life source of the country. It alone represents life and sustenance in an otherwise dry and parched land. Blood is a symbol of death. Therefore the first plague represented a direct assault upon the Egyptian’s sole source of life.

The Egyptian deity, Heqet (or Isis), is often represented as a frog. She represents fertility and sustenance. As a result, the second plague of frogs was a direct assault against this specific deity, demonstrating that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, was more powerful than Heqet and that HaShem alone is the source of all life.

The ninth plague, darkness, was a demonstration against Egypt’s primary deity Amen-Re, who is often represented as the sun. Three days of darkness so thick it could be felt (Ex. 10:21) established that the G-d of Israel was even greater than Egypt’s primary deities.

So, you get the idea … each plague directly correlated with a particular deity or central tenet of Egyptian mythology. But the final plague – the death of the firstborn – was the most catastrophic. Pharaoh would not have let us go on his own. Sadly, it took ten deadly and disastrous plagues to get Pharaoh to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. Although the result of these plagues would be our exodus from tyranny, slavery, and oppression; we do not rejoice over the suffering of the Egyptians or the havoc brought upon them.

Wine is a symbol of joy. So during the Passover Seder, when we recall the ten plagues we deplete the wine in our cups by placing drops of wine onto our plate. When havoc is wrought upon any people – be they helpless victims or our enemies, we do not rejoice over their fate. Our tradition teaches us that their suffering decreases our own joy.

So although we do not rejoice over the fate of the Egyptian people, we do commemorate our redemption from Egypt. We also look forward to our ultimate redemption – when our Messiah, Yeshua, returns and ushers in the world to come. The Messianic Age will bring with it not only our redemption as a people, but a permanent end to oppression, disease, and the suffering of others.

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Synagogue in West Haven, CT, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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2 Responses to Responding to Calamity

  1. Helena Yablon-Leffingwell says:

    Hi. I wanted to comment on your comment about not rejoicing over the fate of our enemies. G-d says in Proverbs that ‘when the righteous prosper, the city rejoices and they (the righteous) shout for joy when the wicked die’! Wasn’t the whole of righteous people shouting for joy when Hitler died after he killed himself?????!! Bringing the end of the war (sort of) against The Jews?? When anti-Semites suffer or die, NO ONE with their mind in the right place feel that their joy decreases! There are Biblical examples of not rejoicing when your enemies die and examples of great rejoicing when they do! Even the martyrs in the Book of Revelation ask G-d when justice will be done for them! I don’t think they are going to feel sorrow when G-d finally kills the evil-doers!! Thanks and Shalom

    • Rabbi Joshua says:


      You raise two important issues in your comment – about whether or not to rejoice at the downfall of our foes and about justice.

      Of course we are to rejoice in G-d’s deliverance but we never rejoice in the suffering of others. All people are created in G-d’s image and we have an obligation to intercede on the behalf of all humanity … that all would come to know HaShem and follow in His ways.

      At the same time, we also seek justice for the evil in the world. It is OK to pursue justice and rejoice when justice is accomplished. But we do not rejoice when people die … even when we want to. It is difficult not to be happy when someone like Hitler of Osama bin Laden is killed. However, we always have to balance that with a value of life.

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