Most revolutions in history have failed, with the leaders of the new regime
acting far more cruelly and high-handedly than the despots they
When the former slaves begin to rule, they generally do so with
a vengeance; zealously and vengefully expressing their new found
Witness the French Revolution and the Communist
Revolution; sadly this seems to be true of the Arab Spring as well.
nation of Israel was born out of a revolution against the despotic regime of the
But this revolution did not fail; much the opposite,
its message of the inalienable right of universal freedom and its abhorrence of
all forms of enslavement reverberate to the present day.
emerged from slavery to freedom as a result of 10 plagues which brought havoc to
the most advanced civilization of that time.
We celebrate their exodus
every year at the Seder, reading together the Ten Plagues. These plagues,
declares Rabbi Yehuda are remembered and symbolically categorized by a mnemonic
device which divides the plagues into three groups, DATZAK (dam, tzfardea,
kinim), ADASH (arov, dever, shechin), BAHAB (barad, arbeh, hoshech, b’chorot):
blood, frogs and vermin; then wild animals, animal illnesses and boils; finally
hail, locusts, darkness and the slaying of the firstborn.
highlights the mastery of God over another aspect of Egyptian life: The first
three, in which the Nile turned to blood, the waters spewed forth frogs and the
dust turned into vermin, demonstrates control over the waterways and the land;
the second three, wild animals, animal illnesses and boils, demonstrate control
over those who populate the land; and the last three, hail, locusts and
darkness, demonstrate control over what comes out of the heavens. The slaying of
the firstborn expresses God’s power over life and death.
The Maharal of
Prague and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch provide an even deeper insight into these
three categories of plagues. They hark back to God’s initial covenant with
Abraham, when the patriarch is informed, “Your seed will be strangers in a land
which is not theirs, they shall be enslaved and they shall be afflicted”
Since the Egyptian experience serves as a paradigm for
all subsequent Jewish and human exiles and persecutions, this prophesy
delineates the three characteristics ascribed by every totalitarian persecutor
to any minority group: alienation (gerut), enslavement (avdut) and affliction
(inui). This is what Pharaoh did to the Hebrews, what Hitler did to non-Aryans,
and what Stalin did to any group that threatened his authority.
Hebrews in Egypt were first delegitimized as aliens or strangers, then they were
enslaved and finally they were persecuted (afflicted) with the mass murder of
the Hebrew male babies. The Maharal and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch ingeniously
suggest that God punished the Egyptians measure-for-measure by means of the
plagues – and Rabbi Yehuda brings this allusion to the forefront in his
tripartite division of the plagues.
The first plague in each of the three
groups – blood, wild animals and hail – would make the Egyptians feel like
aliens in Egypt as the Nile turned to blood, wild animals ran rampant and hail
poured down on a defenseless Egyptian populace.
The second plague in each
grouping – frogs, animal illnesses and locusts – would make the Egyptians feel
enslaved, devoid of property ownership. The frogs took over their homes, the
animal illnesses destroyed their livestock, and the locusts consumed their
And the last plague of each of the three categories –
vermin, boils and darkness – afflicted every Egyptian with severe personal
discomfort, making it impossible to continue living, working and socializing.
The Egyptians became subject to the very alienation, enslavement and affliction
to which they had subjected the Hebrews! The most important point is not that
the victims turned the table on their masters, as is the case with most
revolutions; it is rather that the God of both the Hebrews and the Egyptians
teaches the world the necessity of universal freedom under the God of all
The Bible does not depict the Hebrews as invincible conquerors
after the Exodus; they are only grateful freedmen, beholden to the Lord God of
the universe for their redemption.
This is the message of our revolution
against Egypt as well as of the four (for us, now five) expressions of
redemption which is the major source for our four (five) cups of redemption-wine
highlighting the Passover Seder: “I have taken you out from under the sufferings
of Egypt, I have saved you from their enslavement, I have redeemed you with
great miracles, and I have taken you for Me or a nation so that I may be your
God,” “I have brought you to your land.” (Exodus 6:6).
We dare not
exit from our revolution in order to lord it over any other minority; God freed
us from Pharaoh’s enslavement only in order that we may be free to serve God. He
teaches us and the world that we must “love the stranger because you were
strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10: 19), and gave us a Sabbath day “in
order that our gentile servants “may rest like you” – for everyone must be free
under God (Deut. 5: 14).
Only a people which is committed to universal
freedom has the right to benefit from a revolution and create its own
nation-state; the formation of yet another totalitarian regime will only
increase human misery and prevent the advent of a world of peace. Herein
lies the challenge to the Arab Spring.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and
graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.
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