Torah Fax

Friday, January 4, 2008 - 26 Tevet, 5768

Torah Reading: VaEra (Exodus 6:2 - 9:35)
Candle Lighting: 4:23 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:28 PM

The Doctor Is In

The Ten Plagues were not just a punishment, but an educational experience as well. In order for the Egyptians-and the Jews-to appreciate the Ten Commandments that were to follow the Exodus, it was important that the barriers to appreciating the G‑dly be removed. The Plagues, as harsh as they were, served this purpose.


The Ten Plagues can actually be viewed as a ten-step program that chips away at the obstacles to spiritual growth. The first impediment to emotional and spiritual health is our belief in false icons. The first plague that turned the Nile into blood was aimed at destroying the fallacious belief that the Nile was the true source of Egyptian sustenance. In our day and age there is an abundance of "Nile rivers," deities that we worship and glorify, such as the accumulation of money, power and fame. When our dreams and aspirations prove elusive, we become depressed and all sorts of negative consequences ensue. This plague of blood that discredited the principle Egyptian deity parallels the first commandment: "I am the L-rd your G‑d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt." Only by denying false icons can we be receptive to the true G‑d and His positive system of values.


But to simply discredit the false idols of modernity philosophically would not suffice because one's attachment to these icons is usually based on emotional factors in addition to philosophical ones. Thus, the second plague, where countless frogs emerged from their deity, the Nile, swarmed throughout Egypt and made the Egyptians' lives unbearable, took their rejection of the false gods beyond the intellectual level. After the plague of frogs, the Egyptians were emotionally repulsed by the false deities as well. This second plague parallels the second commandment of: "Do not have any other gods before Me," where the objective is total repudiation of idolatry, intellectually and emotionally.


Having dispensed with the root of all evil-the allegiance to false gods-the plague of lice followed. Our Sages tell us that whereas the other plagues were replicated by the Egyptian sorcerers, they could not create lice because their powers did not extend to minute things. The plague of lice demonstrated that for G‑d there is nothing trivial or unimportant. One of the greatest obstacles to growth is the desire to make great strides, so that one can realize their goal quickly. If one cannot rise to the top immediately, one is disappointed and frustrated. In Judaism, however, the belief is that every little incremental action has cosmic value. Once one has eliminated the obstacle of viewing small things with disdain, one can really begin to grow, leaving the Egyptian morass behind.


This third plague parallels the third commandment of: "Do not bear G‑d's name in vain." This commandment demands of us to show true respect for G‑d. When one appreciates how G‑d is concerned with minute details of life, that is a true sign of reverence. Conversely, dismissing G‑d from everything but the most glamorous aspects of life, implies that G‑d does not matter in most of what we do. And just as the plague of lice, covered the entire earth, so too, the small, seemingly unimportant aspects of life, actually "cover the entire earth" - they represent virtually every aspect of our lives.


Having rejected false ideals and gained appreciation for the little steps we take in our lives, we encounter one more formidable obstacle to growth. We cannot see our own uniqueness. We sell ourselves short and feel that we do not really excel in any area of our lives. The fourth plague-Arov the mixture of animals that terrorized the Egyptians-miraculously avoided entering any area inhabited by the Israelites, thus making a clear distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians. This plague underscored the uniqueness of the Jewish people and their G‑dly way of life. Translated into therapeutic language, for us to grow, we have to appreciate that we are unique and that we have a special mission from G‑d. The Egyptians (read: the stifling and disrupting aspects of our lives) do not define us.


This fourth plague, with its emphasis on the separation between the Israelite and the Egyptians, parallels the fourth commandment to "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." In this commandment the Torah stresses that the Sabbath is a sign given to the Jewish people. It is our way of highlighting the unique spiritual qualities that we possess that separate us from the mundane world and its activities. On Shabbat we are all royalty, standing head and shoulders above our weekday existence. It is no surprise then that Shabbat has been described as the most therapeutic experience.


Indeed, the Shabbat experience, the knowledge itself that we have a unique role to play within creation, in and of itself is the first step toward our liberation. Shabbat is thus a preview of the full experience of freedom that will characterize the future Redemption. To help prepare and facilitate the future Redemption, it would serve us well to focus on the lesson of the first four plagues; to repudiate all forms of idolatry, philosophically and emotionally, appreciate the value of every minute G‑dly gesture, and to appreciate one's unique identity as a "Shabbat-Jew," one who is inherently free, even as he is still situated in exile awaiting the imminent arrival of Moshiach.


Moshiach Matters      

“The belief in the future Redemption is part of the belief in G‑d, which is the first of the ten Commandments, “I am the L-rd your G‑d.” When it comes to discussing G‑d, we find that in is common for us to discuss it and talk about it. However, when it comes to discussing Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead, we shy away from the subject!... Whoever is not totally involved in the complete belief of the Redemption and the resurrection is similarly incomplete in his belief in G‑d.” (Ohr Yechezkel, Rabbi Yechezkel Lowenstein, Ponovitz Yeshivah)
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