Monday, January 11, 2010

Parashat Va'era - "The Ten Plagues of Egypt"


The Chiddushei HaRim posed the following question about the Ten Plagues, as was bought down by his grandson, The Sfas Emes.

Why were the ten plagues a necessary part of the redemption?

In Avos we are told that HaShem created the world with Ten Utterances. The Chiddushei HaRim explains that Hashem punished the Egyptians with the ten Plagues in order to transform the Ten Utterance into the Ten Commandments.

Through the Ten Utterances HaShem’s power over what we call nature was displayed. The Ten Utterances illustrate that nothing can come into existence or remain in its current or future states without the will of HaShem. So too, the ten plagues clearly demonstrated, Hashem’s power of intervention in our world and bought about a clear understanding of HaShem’s presence in every situation.

One may ask, what does it mean to transform the Ten Utterances into the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Utterances demonstrate HaShem's power and perfection in creating the universe, the Ten Commandments (which contain the entire Torah) offer us an opportunity to go from a passive state to an active state. From knowing there is a Creator, to serving Him.

Now there are two sets of laws to consider:

1. The laws of (what we call) "Nature"
2. Torah law

Nature has no choice but to do as it was created, whereas the laws of the Torah allow us to transform reality in order to achieve devikus to HaShem. Each plague removed a false perception of reality, each plague gave Jew and Egyptian alike, an opportunity to experience and internalise that nothing protects them, nothing keeps them “safe” other than HaKodesh Boruch Hu.

Where as the Jews internalised this message, the Egyptians continued to hold on to that which they believed to be real; that Pharoh was G-d, he created the Nile and so they continued to live in ways of impurity and witchcraft. In fact, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, believed in their own abilities and in the abilities of their fakes G-d’s to such an extent that, even as they saw nature being turned upon it’s head they flocked to their deities.

The Midrash explains that, Pharaoh asked the astrologers what would be with the Jews and he was told the star which represents blood (i.e. death) was over their heads in the desert. From this he understood that the Jew’s would perish and die if he let them go into the midbar. Even as the world was turned upside down and everything he knew to be true was taken by HaShem and used against him, he did not consider turning to HaShem.

Pharaoh, who was so steeped in his ways of impurity, remained unaware of the fact that the star which represents blood, was not signaling the death of the Jews (chas veshalom), but a perfect example of mitzvahs taking the Jewish people above the stars, by their act of bris mila. It was the blood of the bris mila, the sign of the covenant between the Jewish people and the Creator of the Universe, that drew this star before the eyes of the Egyptians and their sorcerers.

When we look into the Torah we find HaShem presented us with a reason for the plagues. In parshas Shemos it says, “….so that you may relate in the ears of your son…that I made a mockery of Egypt”.

HaShem made a mockery of the evil nation of Egypt to show us His power and his constant control over the world in which we live. As a result of these plagues we were free to leave the land in which we were made slaves and servants of man and be able to travel towards a new land in which we would become slaves and servants of HaShem.

When we consider the beauty and intricacies of what happened in Mitzrayim, we can start to have a vague understanding of the responsibility we hold in our role of serving HaShem and living as a Jew in this world.

Today the world is falling down around us and we are witness to such plagues as the economic crisis, basic traits of human decency slowly being eradicated from generations, evil plaguing societies, starvation and suffering, to name but a few.

Reading parshas Va’aira forces one to ask important questions about our own reality. Do we live in a world which is so different to that of the plagues? Have we clung to the message which sent us into the desert and bought us face to face with HaShem? What can we do to reveal the glory which is HaShem in a world when so many are running to their modern day idols?

May the coming of Moshiach make 5770 the last year that such questions are relevant.

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