Allen S. Maller
Allen S. Maller

Islam’s Passover additions for a stimulating Seder

Since the Abraham Accords, in the preamble to the Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel, includes a special reference to the Arab and Jewish common heritage, as descendants of Abraham, and the concomitant “to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs, and nationalities live in, and are committed to a spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding, and respect.” We Jews should add to our usual Seder some wisdom from from the Islamic tradition.

The Bible describes Ten plagues; Exodus 7.14 to 12.36 but never uses the number TEN.

The Biblical ten are: (1) Water to Blood (2) Frogs (3) Lice (4) Swarms of Wild Beasts (5) Livestock Epidemic (6) Boils (7) Hail (8) Locusts (9) Darkness (10) Death of the First Born.

However, the Qur’an states (17: 101): “ To Moses We did give NINE Clear Signs: ask the Children of Israel: when he [Moses) came to them Pharaoh said to him: “O Moses! I consider you indeed to have been worked upon by sorcery!”

Of the Quran’s NINE; five are different from the Hebrew Bible’s list: (1) The Rod (2) Radiant Hand (3) Years of Draught (4) Short Crops (5) Human & Animal Epidemics.

The Qur’an (7:133) adds: ”So We sent (plagues) on them [of] mass Death; (6) Locusts (7) Lice (8) Frogs and (9) Blood: signs openly self-explained; for they [the Egyptians] were steeped in arrogance a people given to sin”

The Mass Death of the Qur’an was NOT among the TEN signs/ miracles because, according to most Islamic scholars, it pertained to the drowning of Pharaoh and his charioteers when crossing the Sea [of Reeds].

Qur’an (27: 12) ”Now put thy hand into thy bosom and it will come forth white without stain (or harm): (these are) among the nine Signs (you will take) to Pharaoh and his people: for they [the Egyptians] are a people rebellious in transgression.”

So it is clear that the Qur’an states that there were NINE signs. Yet the fact remains that the while the Bible describes Ten plagues; Exodus 7.14 to 12.36 the Bible never uses the number TEN.

Indeed Psalm (78: 44-51) lists NINE signs/plagues in a somewhat different order from Exodus as follows: “He turned their river into blood; they could not drink from their streams. He sent swarms of flies that devoured them, and frogs that devastated them. He gave their crops to the grasshopper, their produce to the locust. He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore-figs with sleet. He gave over their cattle to hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning. He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility— a band of destroying angels. He prepared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague. He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt.”

Exodus lists these events as preceding the many times when Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Children of Israel to leave Egypt, and return to their homeland. There probably were other disasters that befell Egypt during these many years; when Moses and Aaron were not sent to confront Pharaoh yet again.

Also Psalm (105:23-36) also lists NINE miracle plagues. And these NINE plagues are also not listed in the same order as in Exodus. Should we then believe that Prophet David, the author of Psalms, did not know the number or order of the plagues?

Or is it not wiser and more honest to start with the premiss that both Prophet Moses and Prophet Muhammad were inspired by the One and only God; to deliver God’s message of guidance for living a holy life to two different people, at two different times, who were living in two different kinds of circumstances.

So, when there are differences between the Bible and the Qur’an; they are not contradictions; but rather differences of perspective or emphasis due to the different historical needs of each religious community.

The Qur’an refers to Nine Signs according to one Muslim commentator, to teach us that the death of the first born males in Egypt (Exodus 11:5) occurred after the Children of Israel had already left Egypt, and were on their way to return to the Land of Israel. Thus the tenth plague did not fall on every Egyptian first born male. It was limited only to Pharaoh and his (Nobility) charioteers who pursued the escaping Jews, and then drowned in the Sea of Reeds. (Exodus 15:28)

As the Qur’an states three times: “So We seized him (Pharaoh) and his hosts (charioteers), and flung them into the sea. Now behold what was the end of those who did wrong.” (Qur’ân 28:40)

“So he (Pharaoh) resolved to remove them (kill all the Jews) from the face of the earth: but We drowned him and all (the charioteers) who were with him.” (Qur’an 17:103)

“When at length they (Pharaoh and his charioteers) provoked Us, We exacted retribution from them, and We drowned them all. (Qur’ân 43:55)

The Qur’an understood this way, offers us a very profound understanding of the tenth plague, which the Qur’an does not consider to be a sign/plague at all; because it is a deserved punishment only of those who were guilty. This greatly limits the amount of first born who died in the last plague to just a small and directly responsible number of (Nobles and charioteers) and Pharaoh himself; and excludes all the other first born male Egyptians.

Mass Death is not among the TEN signs/miracles because it pertained only to the drowning of Pharaoh and his charioteers at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds.

This Qur’anic teaching about the Biblical tenth plague should be discussed by Jews during the Passover Seder at the time when we recount the ten plagues. In Jewish tradition, while we rejoice at our deliverance from slavery, we should also express our regret that our freedom came at the cost of the Egyptians’ suffering, for we are all human beings.

So each person at the Seder (the ritual meal of Passover celebration) pours out some drops of wine from his or her wine cup as we recite the ten plagues, to signify having less sweetness in our celebration because some innocent Egyptians suffered due to their ruler’s sins.

As the Talmud says: “In that hour (when Pharaoh and his charioteers drowned) the angels wished to sing a song (of praise) before the Holy One, but He rebuked them, saying: ‘My handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you sing a song?’ (Sanhedrin 39b)

And the Qur’an says: “And We took the Children of Israel across the sea, and Pharaoh and his soldiers pursued them in tyranny and enmity until, when drowning overtook him (Pharaoh), he said, “I believe that there is no deity except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.” (10:90)

And the rabbinic Midrash Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer 43 says; “Rabbi Nechunia, son of Haḳanah, said: Know the power of repentance from Pharaoh who rebelled against God saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should hearken unto his voice?” (Exodus. 5:2). The same tongue with which he sinned, he used to repent saying “Who is like thee, O Lord, among the mighty?” (Exodus 15:11).

Thus the teaching of mercy in the Qur’an’s reduction of the number of Egyptians killed at the end of the signs; and the rabbis desire to reduce the Seder’s celebration joy about the Egyptian defeat support one another. Qur’an and Torah are not contradictory; they are co-operating revelations from the one and only God because as a well known Hadith says: “Prophets are paternal brothers (sons of one father by co-wives). Their mothers (mother tongue, motherland etc.) are different but their religion (from one God) is one.” (Bukhari Vol. 4: Book 55 #651 and Muslim Book 30: #5834-6).

Finally, Jews should read and discuss this passage from the Qur’an at the end of the Seder when we LeShanah HaBa’ah: “And We certainty settled the Children of Israel in an agreeable settlement [Israel] and provided them with good things. And they did not differ until [after] knowledge had come to them. Indeed, your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that over [that] which they used to differ. So if you [O Muhammad] are in doubt, about that which we have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters. (Qur’an 10:93-4)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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