A friend from New Jersey, who lived through Hurricane Sandy, as did I, called and
asked me why God did not send a similar storm against Egypt and Pharaoh. “One
plague and that would have done it,” he said. “The Egyptians would have been
begging to let the Jews go. So why did God insist on 10?” I answered him that
there are two kinds of freedom. Political freedom and psychological freedom,
freedom of the body and freedom of the mind. If God’s intention was simply to
liberate the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, He could indeed have sent a single
catastrophic event against them, like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami. It
worked against Japan when two devastating atomic bombs brought the Japanese to
But even as the Jews were liberated by an
external event, they would have remained mentally enslaved.
Slavery is an institution that is maintained through fear. The slave
dreads his master and therefore does his bidding.
The German philosopher
Hegel said, in essence, that way back at the dawn of history, everyone was
equal. But one day, two primordial combatants had a fight. As they struggled
over whatever the issue was – a cave, a woman, a hunt – one of the combatants
became fearful of the other, and in that moment, the relationship of master and
slave was born.
But God’s intention was that no man should have any
master except God alone. That’s why there are so many exhortations in the Bible
to live boldly and cast away all fear, as I detailed in my book Face Your
And it’s not just a physical master that we should not fear. The
woman who goes on a date cannot fear being judged by the man she will meet. If
she does, she’ll be nervous, betray insecurity, and surrender to a physical side
of the relationship that might impede the development of true intimacy. A wife
cannot fear her husband. That’s what leads women to remain in abusive
A man cannot fear his boss. If he does, he will allow
himself to be exploited and abused, and his job will become a form of
Overcoming fear is the only road to true equality and
ONE OF the most effective methods to triumph over fear is to
cease mentally aggrandizing the object of your fear.
looked at the Egyptians as supermen. They had built the ancient world’s most
glorious civilization. They won wars and established a vast empire.
beat the Jews mercilessly and dominated them completely. So God’s plan in
sending the plagues was to humanize the Egyptians in Jewish eyes to such a
degree that the fear would disappear. In order for the Jews to be liberated not
just politically and externally, but mentally and psychologically, the Jews had
to see the big and strong Egyptians become utterly helpless, vulnerable and
In this context, we can begin to understand the 10 plagues and
their order. First, God attacks the Egyptians’ water supply by turning the Nile
River into blood. There is nothing quite so feeble as a man who is desperate
just for a drink of water. Extreme thirst becomes all-consuming and demonstrates
our total dependency on something that is usually abundant and economical. But
even this, the Egyptians could not provide for themselves.
plague of frogs had the robust and resilient Egyptians freaking out over
reptiles. Like an elephant that’s afraid of a mouse, Egyptian might was exposed
as a fraud.
After that came the plague of lice, with the Egyptian
taskmasters who once seemed so mighty itching uncontrollably and being humbled
by a tiny insect. Next, wild beasts roamed through the land, and the Egyptians
ran scared like frightened children.
You get the picture. The story
culminates with the Egyptians being afraid even of the dark, like small kids,
and then came the last plague, confronting the fear of death – that which
reminds us all of our vulnerability and mortality.
Through this process,
the Jews saw the Egyptians for what they were: just another group of petrified
humans who had gained dominion over another people by being vicious bullies. But
there were easily bullied themselves.
ONE OF the mysteries of World War
II is why Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisted on the unconditional surrender of
the axis powers. Surely the war would not have dragged on as long, his critics
say, if he had come to some sort of armistice with Hitler and Mussolini.
Millions of lives might have been spared. So why did he take such an extreme
position? Hitler terrorized the world and, through his mass rallies, blitzkriegs
and panzer divisions, gave off the aura of having built a nation of invincible
. What Roosevelt wanted was not just the physical
liberation of Europe but the psychological freedom of the entire world. He
needed to bring Germany to its knees, to hole up Hitler like a rat in his
bunker, for all the world to see that Hitler’s superiority was a farce and that
there was no need ever to fear him.
Indeed, the freedom from fear was one
of the four freedoms that Roosevelt famously promised America in his 1941
The same applies to the destruction of so much of Japan, whose
emperor was revered as a god and whom MacArthur purposely humiliated by
insisting he come to visit the general, to show the Japanese they need never
fear him again. The famous picture of the diminutive emperor standing next to
the tall and stately general almost makes a mockery of Hirohito.
the tragic curiosities of the US Civil War is that even after 600,000 Americans
died, in essence, to end slavery, it simply continued largely through the
institution of segregation and Jim Crow.
Why didn’t the Emancipation
Proclamation and the 13th Amendment work? I believe the reason is the same.
Lincoln was a great man, and he sent the northern armies into battle to rescue
the Union and to free the slaves. But what he granted was political
Shortly after the war, criminal organizations like the KKK
sought to reestablish black fear of whites so that slavery could be practiced by
It was only when, 90 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr.
sent black children into battle against Bull Connor’s dogs and fire hoses that
African-Americans saw firsthand that these seemingly gargantuan, Paul
Bunyan-sized racists were really pathetic, scared thugs who would ultimately
bend before the will of children.
And that’s when the abomination and
plague of American slavery finally came to an end.
The writer, whom The
Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” recently published his
newest best-seller, The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of
Tragedy and Suffering.
He is currently writing Kosher Lust.
him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.