In Chapter 7, the ten plagues begin, providing the source for endless craft ideas to entertain the children at the Pesach Seder. The plagues are so photogenic that it’s hard to resist, but in past years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with all the plague play. To paraphrase the Midrash, I imagine God saying: “My creations suffered, and you are playing with pestilence finger puppets!?”
The sensitivity of this Midrash is grounded in an unexpected element of Moshe’s mission which is first expressed in this chapter. It’s an idea that is so central that without it, it is nearly impossible to make sense of the plagues, both in terms of their individual significance, and their overall purpose.
Until chapter 7, the exodus narrative has been interested in one thing: the Jewish people. Egypt and Pharaoh were significant only in that they are causing pain to the Jews, and this oppression will be stopped by the means of the plagues. If this is their function, why are so many needed? God already lays out the endgame of the plague of the first born in chapter 4, and explains to Moshe in chapter 3 that it will take many plagues to convince Pharaoh to submit. If all this is known, why are the plagues spread out and accompanied by repeated warnings to Pharaoh? Why not just get it over with already?
Chapter 7 holds the answer, and this answer demands a rethinking of our attitude towards the plagues.
“And Egypt will know that I am God, when I stretch My hand over Egypt” (7:5)
Moshe has a mission to the gentiles, too. Apparently, Egypt is not only significant as the oppressors of the Jew, they are a target audience in and of themselves. If we see the Egyptians only as objects obstructing the Jewish people’s freedom, then it is appropriate to rejoice in the removal of this obstruction. But if the Egyptians are seen as subjects for whom God has a message, it is impossible to celebrate the human suffering that tragically came along with this teaching.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il