|This week’s Torah portion can be referred to as the “Yetsiyat Mitzrayim—Exodus from Egypt” segment. In this portion God delivers the nation of Israel “out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” However, the redemption of the Israelites wasn’t without devastation, destruction and death. Pharaoh’s increasingly hardened heart was continually at odds with the idea of allowing the Hebrew slaves to leave his land. For this reason God had to send plagues, one being ever more worse than the next; in order to convince Pharaoh, as well as his people, the Egyptians, that releasing the Israelites was in their best interest. One may wonder why God used such “cruel and unusual punishment” to bring the nation of Egypt, including the heart of Pharaoh to its/his knees. To answer this quandary let us first look at the Exodus 12:12. In this verse God tells Moses, “Against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment.” Now granted, the context here is specifically referring to the plague of the “death of the firstborn.” But the past few chapters of Exodus have truly been a “war of the gods.”|
God takes each of the “gods” of Egypt to task in order to show that He’s not just the more powerful God, rather, He’s the only God and besides Him there is none other, in heaven or on earth. The “death of the firstborn” was the just the final blow against the pantheon of Egypt. Therefore, with this “battle between Forces” in mind, let us explore my use of the legal term “cruel and unusual punishment.” Were the plagues which God sent upon Egypt designed to cruelly punish the Egyptian people? No. Each of these plagues was specifically intended to bring the image of one of the “gods” of Egypt to ruin; they were not created to ruin the populace of Egypt. Therefore, our first term, “cruel,” which is defined by Farlex Legal Dictionary as, “punishment as would amount to torture or barbarity, any cruel and degrading punishment…or treatment that is  disproportionate to the offense…” can be ruled out as not relevant to this case. God had no desire to barbarically torture the Egyptian nation. Don’t forget that these people were created in the “Imago Dei—image of God” as well.
The Egyptian nation consisted of God’s children; they were just a different people group that needed singular correction, discipline and humbling. Notice that each of the plagues was a temporary ailment, affliction or circumstance. God wasn’t indiscriminately killing people left and right. Rather, the first 9 plagues of Egypt weren’t created to kill anyone; they were to show God’s authority over the gods of Egypt and to convince the Egyptians to “let God’s people go!” Now that we have ruled out the idea of “cruel punishment” let us explore whether this was “unusual punishment.” At first glance, it would seem that the assortment of plagues we read about in these chapters could be deemed as “unusual.” However, if one were to really think about it (aside from the scope and proximity of the of the plagues) this would have been nothing unusual for the Egyptians. Frogs in houses, clouds of locusts and blistering sores weren’t something new to Egyptian people and could hardly be described as unusual. As I wrote above, perhaps the severity and harshness were unusual, but the plagues themselves would most likely have been a common problem, which ancient Egypt experienced regularly. The 3 plagues that seem unusual in and of themselves would be “Nile turned to blood, Darkness and Death of the Firstborn.” Therefore, let us turn our attention over to these 3 plagues that seem distinctively unusual and explore what they represented back then as well as what they mean for us today. I want to write about the plague of darkness later, so I would like to begin with the Nile turning to blood and the Death of the firstborn.
|These 2 plagues, the first and last of the 10 plagues are actually intricately connected to each other. Let’s start with the Nile turning to blood. Why did it happen? Back in Exodus 1, at the very beginning of the book, we read this verse. “Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you shall cast into the river, and every daughter you shall save alive.’” Notice, this decree affected not only the Hebrews; this command was given to the entire populace of Egypt. Pharaoh was instructing his entire nation to commit infanticide on one of the largest scales we know of until this point in history. (Wikipedia defines infanticide as “the intentional killing of infants”) According to Rashi, “Pharaoh’s astrologers pinpointed the day that the Savior of the Jews would be born – either to a Jewish or Egyptian family – Consequently, Pharaoh ordered that even Egyptian male babies born that day be killed, and that it be done through drowning.” Pharaoh was protecting his reign as king of Egypt by having any potential threat exterminated. His was a mentality of “Deal with a problem before it becomes a problem.” He had his people literally sacrifice their children in order to ensure that his throne was secure. The Nile turning to blood was not just a random beginning to the plagues; it was a reminder to Pharaoh of his past decrees and personal sins. Pharaoh had innocent children sacrificed in the past, now he would either let God’s people go or lose his own son. In Exodus 4, when God commissions Moses to be the Savior of Israel, He specifically tells Moses to inform Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.’”|
Pharaoh was forewarned, as were all the Egyptians. The blood of the river Nile was a foreshadowing of the ultimate plague. When the Angel of Death passed through the land of Egypt, this final plague didn’t differentiate between Hebrew and Egyptian. First Fruits Of Zion writes that, “The LORD required only one condition for salvation in this instance: the blood of the lamb on the doorway of the home. Only homes marked by the blood of a lamb could escape.” The Egyptian with blood on his doorposts was secure; the Hebrew without blood on his lintel was not spared. Everyone had the choice, no one needed to die that first Passover in Egypt, freewill was given; the choice was open to all. Whoever put the blood of a lamb on their doorposts was spared disaster, but woe to the family that did not. Every year we celebrate the Passover Seder and remember God’s miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew nation out from Egyptian bondage. We don’t celebrate the death of Egypt’s firstborn. Instead we take 10 drops of wine (a symbol of joy) out of our cups in memory of the tragedies that befell the Egyptian people. Our rejoicing is not in the fact that another nation suffered; rather, we rejoice that God “passed over” His people. We don’t celebrate the death of the Egyptians; instead we rejoice that He spared the people faithful to His word. This is why we call it “Passover.”Remember I brought up the idea of “unusual punishment.” I talked about how these plagues, though extreme in their execution, were not foreign to the Egyptians. I want to return to this idea, because though the plagues themselves weren’t unusual, something unusual did happen that should be noted.
As the plagues began to grow in intensity, we find a phrase, which is continually repeated, beginning with the plague of flies. God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh “in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen.” (The land in which the Israelites dwelt.) God begins making a distinction between His people and the Egyptian people; which is perhaps better stated as
“a distinction between the people of God and the people of Pharaoh.” God is making this difference transparently clear and blatantly obvious to everyone, except for perhaps…Pharaoh.God is showing Himself to be “Hashem, Elokay Yisrael—The L-RD, the God of Israel.” God describes this “Yetsiyat Mitzrayim—Exodus from Egypt” in this week’s Torah portion (Exodus 12:41) as the time when “all the armies of the L-RD went out from the land of Egypt.” This verse is extremely interesting because God calls the nation of Israel “the armies of the L-RD.” This ragtag bunch of former slaves is going to become God’s army because He sees them for their potential and not their current state. Though the specific term “Hashem Tzevaot—the L-RD of Hosts” is not found in the Torah, this verse does say “Yatzu Kol-Tzivaot Hashem—all the hosts /armies of the L-RD left.” This implies that God is “Hashem Tzevaot—the L-RD of Hosts.” “According to Rav Saadyah Gaon, the name (or title) Master of Armies refers to the fact that Hashem is G-d of His armies, the Jewish People. The Ibn Ezra, however, maintains that the name refers to the fact that Hashem is the G-d of the multitudes of Heaven: the sun, the moon, and the stars…these two views are not contradictory. Hashem is certainly the G-d of all the armies of Heaven and Earth, but He has one special army among all of the others, an ‘elite unit’ called the Jewish People.” (From Book “Sparks from the Fire” by Rav Weinberger) Though God is the “Master of armies” which includes the entire heavenly host, He has specifically chosen one “Special Force” group, which can be deployed anywhere and everywhere to bring the nations close to God. God has called the Jewish people to be “Ohr L’goyim—A light to the nations.” Which brings me to the plague of darkness.
|The plague of darkness was not a plague that suddenly happened. It was a slow, gradual progression starting with the plague of boils. The plague of boils started after Moses threw furnace soot into the air, and in that moment, darkness began creeping through the land of Egypt. The next plague: thunder and hail. A thunderstorm breaks out making the skies dark with storm clouds. Next plague: an entire swarm of locusts cover the land so that “the land was darkened.” The next plague: darkness, even”darkness that [is] tangible.” Finally, after all this, in the middle of the night, “at midnight  the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.” The darkness grows as Pharaoh’s increasingly hard heart becomes evermore inflexible.|
For now, let’s focus specifically on the plague of darkness. When we read about this plague, there is something interesting to notice. It says, “Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:22-23) The Berditchover Rebbe makes a very interesting observation about the light found in the Israelites dwellings. He asks, “Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for the Torah to write ‘And for all of B’nei Yisrael (the sons of Israel) it was not dark?’” Why does it so specifically say that the Israelites had “Light” in their dwellings? “The Berditchover says,  contrary to everything we have been taught, the Plague of Darkness was not really darkness at all. On the contrary, it was the revelation of the greatest Divine Light – without any form of constriction. Since the impure Egyptians lacked the vessels to handle such a Light, it became blinding to them and they experienced it as the most intense darkness.” (From Book “Sparks from Berditchov.” Based upon the teachings of Rav Levi Yitzack of Berditchov)
What is the Beditchover Rav saying? He’s saying that the Plague of Darkness was in reality the Egyptians blinded by God’s revelation of Divine Light. It reminds me of Rav Shaul’s (the Apostle Paul’s) confrontation with the Master Yeshua. He was blinded by his experience because the Light of God was revealed to him. The Gospel of John says, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” What does this mean “the darkness cannot comprehend it?” It means that when the world and its ways are exposed to the infinite, all consuming Light of God, blindness sets in because of its brightness. If one is not prepared to receive such a revelation of light, then to that individual, the Light of God becomes as darkness.
My friends, I am afraid this Plague may be set on repeat. Is the world prepared to receive the light of God? Or will the light of God become blindness and darkness to many souls? Now is the time for the body of Messiah “to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent [and] the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” We don’t carry the light and torch of God to shine into peoples eyes, rather, we ought to use the light of God to light up the path of repentance and redemption, so when the time comes, the world will be prepared to receive the fullness of the light and glory of God! May it come soon!
Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,