Posts Tagged ‘Angel of Death’

Parashat Bo: The Masks Of Light And Darkness

January 24, 2013

Exodus-Bo1AS I reflected on Bo, this past week’s parashah in The Book of Exodus, its lurid descriptions of the final three plagues inflicted on the Egyptians (locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn among the Egyptians) caused me to wonder about our perception of the nature of good and evil. When we blithely attribute occurrences of good or evil to forces beyond ourselves and therefore beyond our control, are we forgetting our innate capability to influence them from our miniscule place in the tapestry of humanity?

The creation stories of each major religion maintain that we are modeled after One Who ’embodies’ good and evil among myriad other attributes and has called us into existence. If so, then we too are creatures that embody these attributes to some lesser degree. And if we accept this idea, then we must shoulder our part of this great responsibility. We cannot entirely shifted it onto our Creator without denying the autonomy of free choice, a trope hotly debated, but never resolved over the centuries by religious scholars.

When I first read the phrase in which G-d tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount to your sons and to your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Lord.”, I was cynically inclined to see the players in this epic drama as pathetic puppets whose human frailties were being manipulated by unseen forces as an end to their own means. Was this part of some vast cosmic game played by said entity (ies) for their own amusement? If so, then who was playing whom’? Could the players in the epic drama of the Exodus be archetypes meant to teach us that we and the ‘One’ mirror each other?

Or, were these events but a series of horrific natural phenomena occurring within the Earth’s evolving biosphere as scientific researchers have attempted to demonstrate? Are the scientific and religious interpretations (as cause and effect punishments for human misbehavior) of these natural phenomena mutually exclusive? What a classic illustration of  ‘right brain vs. left brain’ thinking!

Given our distant remove from these events and the effects of diaspora living, perhaps the above questions are clues to their own answers. If we believe that ‘the devil made me do it’ excuses evil behavior or if we insist that we are but victims of natural disasters, then our human frailties can become excuses for despair and inaction. In which case, we are denying our true capabilities as the ‘crown of creation’ and stewards of this planet as evidenced by the plethora of blogs out there.

In sum, I prefer to think that both sides are a kind of duality; dependent on their discrete functions to validate each other. In the way that we wouldn’t understand the properties of good and evil if they didn’t exist to define each other.  So, I’m inclined to believe that if the story of Moses’ righteous deeds and Pharaoh’s intractable stubbornness was intended to inform the metaphorical book of our spiritual and cultural development, then we ought not stop at any of these interpretations. The mystery of it all is too vast to comprehend in thousands of lifetimes, but each lifetime grants us more clues to its solution.

Our sages agree that Torah is to be viewed as the blueprint of creation, its stories as instructions for living with each other on this planet. And as we continue to interpret the dualities (multiplicities) embedded in its intricate diagrams, we will comprehend more of how they apply to us individually and as a nation. And in this evolving understanding of our humanity and spiritual mandate will the true nature of our power be made clear.

Of Plagues And Promises…

January 27, 2012

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…?