In Parashat Bo, read tomorrow, we are in the two months preceding the Passover observance. Against the background of the legendary plagues afflicting the Egyptian people, Pharaoh is still behaving mulishly towards ‘his’ Israelites , refusing them freedom to pursue their spiritual journey with Moses, his brother Aaron and sister Miriam. Amidst the onslaught of bloody waters, intense darkness, animal diseases, locust infestation and other nasty pestilences, the consequences of Pharaoh’s actions seem eschatological in the extreme. But as in every good thriller film, we are being primed; for the worst is yet to come.
In our media-driven era, we regularly witness earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods of near-biblical proportions around the globe, each claiming myriad victims and destroying their history. For many, a first inclination is bemoan their victimization and to lay the blame on God for these processes too complicated to explain (cleverly condensed to P2C2E in Salman Rushdie’s Haroun & The Sea of Stories) but I often wonder how complicit we are in setting the stage for these events? Are amorality in life and politics catalysts in this process? It’s tempting to imagine they are, but at this stage in our evolution, despite our sophisticated technology, we are still groping in an Egyptian darkness that is still intense, just bigger.
And of all the plagues brought on Egypt by God, the 10th and last, Death of the Firstborn, is the most horrific.
Of Plagues & Promises, shown above, is a detail from Parashat Bo in my book Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009). In this interpretation, here is the infamous Angel of Death, which the Talmud places in the category of destructive angels called Malach Ha-Movet. Why the Angel of Death, when in Exodus, God makes it clear that He, and not an Angel will implement the 10th plague? Are we to understand that all angels are aspects of our Creator? And were all the events in Exodus designed to help us understand the evil inclination as an inextricable element of our natures? In the Babylonian Talmudit states that, “If God created the evil inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote.” Despite our inflated opinion of our technological advances, perhaps that is all the answer we need…?