Israel's Ten Plagues

The days of Pessah are about contemplating our present as well as identifying with our past.

10 plagues 88 (photo credit: )
10 plagues 88
(photo credit: )
The central motif of Pessah bids us to identify fully with the epochal era of both our slavery and our redemption, a process we facilitate by eating the special foods of the Seder and by elaborately retelling the events of ancient Egypt. Yet the "Days of Wine and Matza" are not exclusively about identifying with our past. They are also about contemplating our present, grading our performance as a nation, and brainstorming ways to build a better future. To that end, I would like to suggest a modern application of the Ten Plagues - 10 areas of Jewish life that represent a contemporary challenge in our struggle to be a great people. • Blood - While our rivers are not exactly turning into blood, there is altogether too much violence in Israeli society, beyond that perpetrated upon us by the Palestinians. In our schools, streets and homes, between husbands and wives, parents and children, students and teachers, the resort to violence is becoming shockingly routine. Israel has always prided itself on being a safe society, yet to close our eyes and proclaim, "This only happens somewhere else," is nothing but, well, de-Nile. • Frogs - We Israelis seem to have trouble staying in any one place for very long. We are continually jumping from one vacation spot to the next, always on the move, our visas and backpacks at the ready. Is there any place in the world where you don't hear Hebrew? From the ashrams of India to the Alps of Switzerland, from Bogota to Botswana, Israelis are determined to see the world before they croak. Where does this wanderlust come from? Is it a by-product of our long history of expulsions, or is it cabin fever brought on by our narrow borders? While the urge to tour the planet is certainly not unhealthy, will we ever truly feel at home right here? • Lice - Anyone who has ever had a child in the Israeli educational system knows all too well about this plague. Have a lice, er... nice day. • Epidemic - Cattle disease, bird flu: It's all a reminder that life is as fragile as a turkey feather. The assumption that we mortals can create an invulnerable, impenetrable wall of financial or military security runs - "afowl" of Judaism's prime belief that the world operates from below, yet is sustained from Above, is false. From Ben-Gurion to Begin, our most beloved leaders understood that Israel's Jewish character was what made us unique among the nations. They were not afraid to invoke God's name and pray for miracles. • Boils - The Torah pointedly observes that blisters broke out on all segments of the Egyptian population, affecting rich and poor alike, even Pharaoh's sorcerers. If the recent election showed us anything beyond general voter apathy it is that disenfranchising any group within the community, such as the poor or the elderly, will surely come back to haunt you. • Wild beasts - The traditional Traveler's Prayer contains a reference to "wild animals," which my rabbi always said referred to reckless drivers. While the latest statistics show an encouraging decline in traffic accidents compared to previous years, we still have a long way to go to reach a comfortable level of road safety. With almost 18,000 fender-benders and 500 fatalities annually, driving the nation's highways has become a kind of four-wheeled Russian roulette. Less speed and more manners would certainly help tame the savage beast beneath the hood. • Hail - The rabbis tell us that the hail that rained down on Egypt was actually a combination of fire and ice. The fact that two opposite elements could coexist is a message that we can -must - learn to live with each other. The numerous divisions within our society - Left and Right, religious and secular, Sephardi and Ashkenazi - all too often create a mentality which breeds distrust and disunity. If the Wise Son can sit at the Seder alongside the Wicked Son, we all ought to be able to share a common table and work together. • Locusts - Those little critters descended upon the land and consumed anything and everything in their path. In ecological terms we often behave like locusts, devouring our natural resources and showing little regard for safeguarding our environment. Protecting our beautiful landscape, conserving water, recycling, purifying the air, keeping our cities clean and curtailing waste in general is the single greatest physical legacy we can leave to our grandchildren. • Darkness - "For three days, no man saw his brother; nor did anyone rise from his place." True darkness, more frightening than any eclipse, is when we divert our eyes and fail to see our brother's plight, remaining unmoved by his distress. Our abandonment of fellow Jews forced from their homes during the disengagement - some of them still remain homeless and jobless almost a year later - as well as the relatively low level of volunteerism and charity among large segments of our population, is the dark side of our society. It is completely alien to the Jewish values of tzedaka and compassion. In our tradition, light makes right. • Striking the first-born - This ultimate plague against Egypt, whose victims included Pharaoh's own crown prince, was designed not only to punish Egyptian cruelty but also to remind the Jewish people that we are "God's first-born child." More than a royal privilege, this title is a sacred responsibility: It is our Divine mandate to show the other "children" of the Earth how to live a moral life, a life of meaning and values, where Godliness is revealed in the daily routine of speech and deed. Firstborns in Jewish history do not automatically inherit leadership - Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon testify to that - because perseverance and performance count more than pedigree. Having achieved a modern-day redemption by being granted a state of our own, Israel must now follow up on the battle charge of the Exodus - "Let My People Go" - by asking: "Where to?" The writer is director of the Ohel Ari Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana.