Monthly Archives: March 2012

Thoughts on the 10 Plagues

Well, it’s Pesach season again and it’s time for me to start ranting again about the 10 plagues. Before I start ranting, let me tell you that I love the tradition of dipping our finger in the wine to diminish the wine in our cups in deference to the suffering of the Egyptians. I love the story in the Torah which shows how the obstinance of Pharaoh in refusing to correct the horrendous injustice he and his people were committing against the Hebrews. The references to the plagues during the Seder are critical for rounding out the story. The recitation of the plagues in Hebrew provide one of the most memorable moments of the Seder and the words sound strangely poetic with a recognizable cadence: Dam, Tzifardea, Kinim…

But, now for the rant.  The Seder is supposed to be a lively, creative and memorable experience and there have been many positive creative attempts to help participants, especially children, stay connected to the ritual. But, I am infuriated by the attempts to play games with the 10 plagues. Songs about frogs, bags which contain little toys or other items which can remind us of each of the plagues or, and this is the worst, chocolate pieces made to resemble the plagues (with, God forbid, a baby carriage for the 10th plague) are just plain and simply insensitive and cruel. Even if you think the Egyptians of Torah times deserved the plagues, what do we say to  all of the innocent people in the world who have suffered from locusts or famine or disease? On Pesach night, it strikes me as completely inappropriate to make light of suffering of any kind.

So, I would suggest the following. I think we should find something positive about the story of each plague to help us make a positive commitment to direct us in a way which would help us move the world further towards the redemption begun on the night of the first Pesach.

Here are my suggestions, I’d love to hear others for any of the plagues if you have them:

Dam, blood. Give a pint of blood before or right after Pesach. There are few, if any, greater acts of tzedakah.

Tzfardea, frog. Singular not plural. The Rabbis say that one frog came up and called the others to join him in destroying the land of Egypt. Let each of us be an influence for constructive rather than destructive acts and get others to join us.

Kinim, lice. The word kinim is spelled like the word ken, “yes”. Let us say “yes” when asked for help from someone, rather than a knee jerk “no”.

Arov, wild animals. Let us spend a little extra time with the animals living under our roofs and show concern for endangered species throughout the world.

Dever, cattle disease. A little less meat maybe at the Seder, a little more healthful eating in the year to come.

Shchin, boils. Boils should remind us of heat. Let us seriously recognize the dangers of global warming and do what we can to reduce our energy use.

Barad, hail. The Rabbis claimed that the hail stones which hit Egypt contained fire within them … nes bitoch neys they claimed, a miracle inside a miracle. Let us treat life like the miracle it is and see to elevate the holiness of our lives through an appreciation for the world we live in.

Arbeh, locusts. Let us reach out our hands beyond our own walls and join in a community which can be a swarm of people acting for the good of all.

Hosech, darkness. The Torah is called Or, light. Let us commit ourselves to Torah study to bring light to the darkened corners of our lives and our world.

And finally makat bichorot, the 10th plague. Let us take steps to see that all of our children in this nation and throughout the world are cared for, protected and loved. Let no child go without health care, no child go to bed hungry, no child, anywhere be denied the opportunity to grow in health and in freedom.

In a world in which so many are suffering from plagues of one kind or another: war, starvation, persecution, disease and so many others, let us show some sensitivity and tell the story of the plagues without jokes and sweets. Chocolate wine cups? Chocolate shankbones? why not. Chocolate Plagues? You decide.


Hag sameach.




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Interesting Thought

Over the past couple of years, I have undertaken a project. I have begun to read books on US presidents with the hope of reading a book about each one. I’m making good progress and learning quite a bit about US history, leadership and how our nation has been shaped, positively and negatively, by those who have achieved our highest elected office.
Recently, I have begun to read David McCollough’s book on John Adams. I debated whether to read this book since I had seen the television series which was based on the book but decided, as a proud Bostonian, that I had  to read it and I am finding it fascinating.

The other day, I found these words written by Adams in the days before the Declaration of Independence. It is, I believe, a critical quotation for these times:

We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular governments. But there is great danger that those governments will not make us happy. God grant they may. But I fear that in every assembly, members will obtain an influence by noise not sense. By meanness not greatness. By ignorance not learning. By contracted hearts, not large souls.”

Noise, not sense…meanness not greatness…ignorance not learning…contracted hearts not large souls.

As we watch the news and read the papers, Adams’ words speak to us today.




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Purim on TV (Laugh Track not included)

I wrote this a few years ago and thought it was time to recycle it. Happy Purim!

Did you  ever wonder how the Purim story would be presented in contemporary culture? In the spirit of this crazy holiday, and in honor of my love of old TV shows, particularly situation comedies, here is a selection of pivotal scenes from the Purim story as they might have been portrayed on popular TV shows of the past:

The Dick Van Dyke Show: As Haman approaches Esther to plead for his life, he trips over an ottoman and falls on Esther. At that moment, the King (played by Carl Reiner) enters the room and fires him.

I Love Lucy: After learning that the king only picked her as Queen because she was beautiful and was bragging to everyone about her good looks, Esther shocks her new husband by appearing at the public marriage reception dressed in a fright wig with blackened teeth. The king promptly faints.

All in the Family: Esther takes so long to tell the king about Haman’s plan to kill the Jews that his eyes glaze over and he pretends to fall asleep in his favorite chair as he listens to the convoluted story. He only agrees to order Haman killed when his assistant Harbonah (whom he usually called “meathead”) explains to him the sociological implications of bigotry.

Sesame Street: Haman sings to Ahasueraus: “One of these Persians is not like the other. One of these Persians just doesn’t belong…”

I’ve Got a Secret: Esther is forced to cancel her planned guest appearance on the show because Mordecai told her not to tell anyone her secret.

The Andy Griffith Show: Mordecai doesn’t bother to tell the King about Bigtan and Teresh who are plotting to assassinate him. He just runs up to them yelling: “Citizen’s Arrest, Citizen’s Arrest”.

The Honeymooners: Ahasueraus grabs Esther after Haman’s hanging and says: “Baby, you’re the greatest!”.

Friends : 4 Jews miss all the excitement because they spend all of their time in the city’s coffeehouse and bookstore called: the Shushan Noose.

Lassie: Esther only is able to save the Jews because Mordecai’s faithful collie climbs under the palace fence and pulls her by the arm to meet him in secret by the gate.

Mr. Ed: Haman does lead Mordecai around on the horse, but to avoid embarrassing himself further, Haman has the horse say: “Thus is done to the man whom the King wishes to honor”.

Happy Purim from the Dobrusin family!

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Some thoughts

A few weeks ago, I posted a story about my trip to Florida that I took with Rabbis For Human Rights-North America. I am the vice-chair of the board of RHR-NA and I am proud of my association with an organization which addresses issues of human rights here in the United States. However, RHR-NA has another role: to publicize, support and encourage the work of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel.

RHR was founded in 1988 and calls itself the “Rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel”. RHR is comprised of Rabbis from different streams of Judaism and from different political perspectives who agree on one major issue: that Israel’s actions within its borders and in the West Bank should be based on Jewish values of ethics, compassion and respect for all people. The members of RHR are Zionists and proudly so. As residents in Israel, they are on the front lines, raise their children in Israel’s cities and towns and do their part in defending the security of the State. However, the Rabbis of RHR and their supporters do more: they fight for the needy and the disenfranchised within Israel, they establish “human rights yeshivot” to study issues of human rights as they affect the military and other institutions. And, they reach out to the Palestinians living under Israeli control in the West Bank to help address some of their difficulties: replanting olive trees which have been uprooted by settlers, rebuilding homes which have been damaged or demolished and establishing relationships which can be a paradigm for relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

I am proud of the work that these  individuals do. It takes courage and compassion and it is so important for the Jewish state. While all of us who care about Israel, all of us who love Israel, should be committed to Israel’s security, we need to care about more than just security issues. A Jewish state should reflect the values of our Jewish faith and Rabbis should take the lead in voicing concerns in this area.

If you would like to read more about Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel , you can go to their website at  I urge you to do so and to become more acquainted with this work. Not everyone will agree with each position taken or every action taken by RHR but think about what it means when religious leaders within Israel take a stand for equality, for coexistence, for compassion and for hope for the future. As Jews we know that life is more than about physical survival, it is about the quality of our lives as well. This is why I am so proud of the work RHR does. Israel will survive and will flourish not only because of the courage of those who defend her borders and protect her people but also by the courage of those who fight for the values and the ideals of our people and our faith.

Yishar Kochichem to the Rabbis and supporters of RHR in Israel. May you go from strength to strength.

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