I know this is kind of weird, but I’m really into the ten plagues. I just think they’re cool and creative, and every year when we get to this part of the Torah and start reading about the plagues I get psyched. I mean, frogs?? I know lots of think-outside-the-box type people, and I’m pretty sure if I told any of them they could smite their enemies with anything, frogs would hardly top the list. BUT I can totally see how frogs everywhere would drive somebody completely crazy. It’s really too bad someone hasn’t thought to make a Ten Plagues horror movie a la Seven, because it could be so scary.
Anyway, my favorite plague is darkness. It seems so simple, but it’s also really terrifying. The text says that the darkness was tangible, and thick. Some commentators say that it was like a blanket that rested over the city, freezing people in place.
Rashi takes it a step farther and says that the whole reason for the darkness was so that God could kill all of the Jews who were unworthy of leaving Egypt with their buddies. God didn’t want the Egyptians to know that even the Chosen People screwed up sometimes, so he put darkness over the land so the families of the dead people wouldn’t be embarrassed. Crazy, right?
Even crazier is that Rashi claims it wasn’t just a few bad seeds here and there who got whacked, it was four fifths of the population. If you do the math, based on the 600,000 Jews who did leave Egypt, one can extrapolate that more than three million Jews died during the darkness plague. It’s kind of funny that we consider them plagues on Egyptians when darkness took such a high toll on us.
Now, I’m a big Rashi fan, but I’m not particularly inclined to take him literally in this case. I feel like the Torah would mention if most of the party suddenly bought the farm. But I think there’s a larger point here. Namely, if we want to challenge other people for restricting freedom and treating us like poo, we should do a little internal survey first to see if we’re practicing what we’re about to preach. And if not, we have to fix things. I don’t think killing three million Jews counts as fixing things, but I hope the metaphor makes some sense.
The reason I brought this up is because I wanted to let you all know about a organization called Rabbis for Human Rights. Basically, RFHR does the internal survey and tries to make sure that as Jews who protest vehemently against antisemitism, we’re not oppressing anyone ourselves.
I was pretty skeptical about RFHR at first because I figured they’d be one of those anti-Israel groups whose members stand in front of tanks and hate all Israeli soldiers. Turns out, as per usual, I was way off. Yes, they research and publish information about how Palestinian prisoners are treated in Israel, and publicly criticize the Israeli government’s stance on torture, but they do so in an enormously respectful and scholarly way. These aren’t crazies, these are people who are determined not to be hypocrites. They love Israel, and they don’t want to see it become a place/nation that’s no longer guided by the principles of Isaiah 1:16-17:
Wash you, make you clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil.
Learn to do well
Relieve the oppressed
Judge the fatherless
Plead for the widow.
Plus, RFHR does all kinds of awesome work advocating for other causes as welleverything from the right to an education to economic, social and cultural rights. Check out their site for more info on some of the issues they’re working on now, and to see what you can do to help.
Tamar Fox has an MFA from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but she still doesn't like sweet tea. Born and raised in Chicago, she's also lived in Iowa City, Dublin, Oxford, and Jerusalem. When she's not rocking out at honky tonks she teaches text study, cooks elaborate meals, and volunteers for a hospice. When she grows up she wants to be a professional whiskey taster.