Friday, January 19, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Va'era: ("I send my scourge, I send my sword/Let My People Go/Thus saith the Lord")

Ah, the plagues! Such an exciting part of the Torah saga! I studied the plagues in depth for about a month-and-a-half last year at Pardes. We studied the Torat Chayim, a compilation of various commentaries and written on the Torah, and this long stretch of our focus was spent on the plagues. I wish I still had my notes from last year, but, alas, all of the old computer content is in limbo.

Let's see what I remember (or if I remember). Let's recall the 10 drops of wine we spill at Sedernakht (16 if you're including Datza"ch Ada"sh Bacha"b and blood, fire, and pillars of smoke, and don't get me started on 40, 50, 200, 250, though we did study this too):
1. Dam - Blood____2. Tzfardea - Frogs__3. Kinim - lice
4. Arov - Wild Beasts/flies_5. Dever - Cattle Death_6. Sh'chin - boils
7. Barad - Hail_8. Arbeh - Locusts_9. Choshech - Darkness
10. Makat Bechorot - Death of the Firstborn

According to various commentaries, the plagues have an organization, such as groups of 3. 1-3 are a group, 4-6 are a group, 7-9 are a group, differentiated by the language and the type of attack. Then there are series of the first (1,4,7), second (2,5,8), and third (3,6,9) plagues in each of these groups share similar delivery and venue. It is this latter organization I would like to discuss. The first group, Blood, Wild beasts (or flies), and Hail, involve Moses going to Pharaoh who is at the Nile. Moses is to go early in the morning when Pharaoh is bathing (or going to the bathroom, interesting commentary in the Talmud, Moed Katan 18a). God does not want to go there because of the idolatry in the water so he says "lech" "go to pharaoh". It is Aaron for the most part that executes these plagues because Moses cannot strike against the waters which saved his life. Second series, Frogs, Cattle Death, and Locusts, the warnings take place at the palace, this time "bo el paro" "come to pharaoh". God is present in the palace and asks Moses to join him. The third series, lice, boils, and darkness, are the wildcard and occur without warning following immediately after the second series.

The lengths of the plagues are remarkable as are their effects on the Jews. Some of the plagues did affect the Jews. Also the response of Pharaoh's magicians only occurs during the first group. They replicate the first two plagues (actually making it worse) but are unable to replicate the third, after which they say "it is the finger of God", after which we don't hear about them again until they are covered in boils. There are times when pharaoh hardens his own heart and then God is the one to harden it. Pharaoh freaks during a number of the plagues and offers concessions to the Israelites slightly more at each of these plagues (he haggles, 'cause Pharaoh don't pay retail!), these being the plagues in which Pharaoh fears a repeat of Sodom & Gomorrah or mortil peril. While not having water for 7 days might kill you, it might not. Frogs multiplying like crazy? Thats some scary **** plus the magicians couldn't get rid of them. Lice are annoying but not fatal (there wasn't lyme disease back then?). Wild beasts: those'll gore you to death: let the slaves go. Dead cows, they were vegetarians. Boils, ouch, but even without lotion they won't kill you. Fiery icy hail = hellfire and brimstone; Pharaoh feared a repeat of Sodom & Gomorrah. Locusts cause famine, seeing as there was no meat left, they would starve to death, must call Moses in for a pow-wow. Darkness, worst that can happen is you'll stub your toe. That's assuming you can move, which they could not. If you are stuck in place you can't walk off many cliffs.

The plagues call to order all of the elements. To start the plagues, WATER is struck to begin 1 and 2. The EARTH is struck to summon the lice, God Himself initiates numbers 4 & 5, Moses and Aaron reach into the FIRE of a furnace to pull out soot to throw into the AIR (Moses miraculously having two handfuls of soot in each hand) to start boils, Moses waves his staff in the AIR to start hail, FIRE and WATER working in tandem going from AIR to EARTH (all together in that one), as well as AIR for the locusts and darkness.

There are some fun features to each of the plagues that I would love to go into but this is getting way too long. Perhaps there is something on Wikipedia, but I suggest you study this fascinating topic from a Torat Chayim, a real treat.

The question you are probably asking is "but what about the Tenth Plague?" That, my friends, is for next week.

Shabbat Shalom!

PS: This Torah portion has ADD. Show me why. Hint: It has nothing to do with the plagues.


Abigail said...

ADD: maybe because it doesn't finish the geneology? It does Reuven, Shimon, and Levi--that's Moses and Aaron, oh yeah, I was telling a story about them, back to the story, let's go ride bikes!

Matt said...

Indeed! First prize! I was even going to use that punchline, though I was thinking of modifying it to "let's climb that mountain!" or "look at that bush that's on fire! but the bush is not consumed! ooh!"