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.