Friday, January 7, 2011

The Ten Plagues

The Seventh Plague (John Martin, 1789-1854)

In this week's Torah Portion, we read about the last three of the ten plagues that befell Egypt in the context of trying to free the Jews of slavery. According to the New Bible Dictionary, the goal of the plagues were to clearly demonstrate the reality of the Israeiltes' one God, in contrast to the impotence of Egypt's gods.

Summary of the Ten Plagues (adapted from Wikipedia): 

1. Nile turns to blood, fish die, Egypt fills with an awful stench. Pharoah's magicians too show they can also turn water to blood.

2. Extremely large frogs fill all of Egypt, all the way into people's homes, even in their beds. Pharoah's magicians can mimic the plague but cannot stop it, pushing Pharoah to agree to let the Israelites go. After the frogs die, Pharoah changes his mind.

3. Deadly lice infect people and livestock of Egypt. Egyptian magicians fail to reproduce the effect, and declare the act as "the finger of God".

4. Herds of wild animals invade Egypt. Pharoah asks Moses to remove the plague and promises to let the people go. Yet again as soon as the plague ends, Pharoah "hardened his heart" and rescinds his promise.

5. An epidemic exterminates Egyptian livetsock. Pharoah makes no concessions.

6. Moses and Aaron take handfuls of soot from a furnace, throw it into the sky, inducing boils on people and livestock. Egypt's magicians were among the victims and were unable to heal themselves.

7. Moses warns Pharoah to let the Israelites go, lest God unleash the full force of the plagues against Egypt. Pharoah is warned, and God sends thunder, hail and lightning in the worst storm of Egypt's history, with many victims and damage of property and livestock. In a plea to stop the storm, Pharaoh says: "This time I have sinned; God is righteous, I and my people are wicked." As soon as Moses begins to pray to God, the hail stops. Pharoah again "hardened his heart" and goes back on his word.

8. Locusts: Locusts began on the first day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, which this year fell on Thursday, January 6th. Before the plague, God warns Moses that He Himself will "harden Pharoah's heart" so as to fully demonstrate the power of God throughout the entire world. Moses warns Pharoah of the plague, and Pharoah's ministers beg him to give in and spare them of the plague of locusts. Pharoah offers to let the men go alone, but Moses repeats the demand for the entire people, which Pharaoh refuses. A locust storm casts a shadow over Egypt and consumes all the remaining Egyptian crops, leaving not one tree standing.

9. Darkness: Egypt was consumed by darkness for three days. Light remained in the homes of the Israelites. Some say this plague was an attack on Pharoah's sun god Ra.

10. Death of the firstborn: Before the plague, God commands Moses to inform all Israelites to mark their doorposts with lamb's blood, so as to spare them from the plague. At midnight, all first-borns of Egypt, from Pharoah's own son, to the first-born of the cattle, perish. Pharoah, fearing his own life, finally succumbs and orders the Israelites to go and to take whatever they wanted. Fearing Pharoah will again change his mind, the Israelites make flatbread and pack quickly, eager for their redemption after four centuries of knowing nothing but suffering.

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