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Let Bygones be Bye ‘gods’…

original art, the "!" in G!d.
original art, the "!" in G!d.

Discussed among diverse platforms, specifically Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians is the understanding that plagues in Egypt served a much deeper, more eternal purpose than just the mighty redemption of Jews from slavery. Although, (as we say every year) “Dayeinu!” it would have been enough to bring Am Yisrael out of Egypt, the 10 plagues offered something more mystical, defiant and tangible for those who read Exodus as world history just the same as our family’s story. 

The beauty of diverse study of the story of Exodus lends itself to the reality that there are undeniable, universal truths—regardless of the language or region they hail from. A collective observation found in “Testament: The Story of Moses” amplifies the truth that G!d not only took us out of Egypt, but planted the seeds in the mind of man that…

“השם אחד ושמו אחד”

Let’s dissect the first plague as a microscope of this truth. 

The first plague, “Blood”. 

Common Jewish day schools will teach this as an empowering truth we know, as Jewish wisdom notes that Hashem paints the events of the world “מידה כנגד מידה” – the water of the Nile transforming to blood as a symbol of holy revenge against the Egyptians who grotesquely massacred the infants of Am Yisrael by throwing them into the Nile. Another element of the 10 plagues is that each one serves as a gesture of love between Hashem and Am Yisrael, as the Jews had clean water and did not suffer from the infliction upon Egypt. This is sweet Torah, intimate and true. What else do we need? Today, (fortunately and unfortunately, so much more.) 

Studies by author Maurice Harris, professors Monica Hanna, Shady Nasser and Rachel Andelman (among many others) suggest that each and every plague contained significant intention not only for the Jews as slaves to see, but arguably more importantly, the Egyptians as an empire. The Nile to the Jews represented death, destruction and loss. The Nile to the Egyptians represented life, sustenance and stability. As a pagan culture, the Egyptians not only relied on the Nile as physical sustenance but, arguably more significantly, a spiritual wellspring. By bringing sacrifices and centering their society around “Hapi” the Egyptian “god” of the Nile, the Egyptians must have gained a sense of closeness to this “god” when the Nile served them. 

When the waters of their eternal faith churn dramatically to finite blood—the symbolism shines through even the most opaque of waters. Not only is there a death in crop and nourishment, but a spiritual death among the Egyptian believers. מִ֥י זֶה֘ מֶ֚לֶךְ הַכָּ֫ב֥וֹד ה עִזּ֣וּז וְגִבּ֑וֹר ה גִּבּ֥וֹר מִלְחָמָֽה – Who is this King of Glory? The Lord, Who is strong and mighty, the Lord Who is a mighty warrior. (Tehillim 24) What is more mighty than slaying a “god”?

G!d does this 10 more times. 

When we look through the troubling and wondrous tapestry of history, the playing field of humanity and G!d above, among and within, we recognize that this happens in every Galut and Geulah. 

Rabbeinu B’Chaya, in his commentary of Devarim explains, 

וזכרת כי עבד היית במצרים – “you shall remember (on the Sabbath) that you used to be a slave in Egypt, etc.” just like the slaves that you own now.

ויוציאך ה’ אלו-היך, “and the Lord your G!d took you out;” with manifest miracles which attested that something like a rebirth of the universe had taken place, i.e. that it was your G!d who must have created the universe in the first place.

על כן, “this is why;” He commanded you to observe the Sabbath day as reminder that G!d created the universe and it did not precede Him as proven by His orchestrating the Exodus.

The Galut that followed Egypt, the exile of Bavel. An exile of conquership by destruction of the 1st Beit HaMikdash and Judea as a national power. So how does Hashem avenge his fallen beloved? 

Belshazzar, the Babylonian king who utilized Jewish texts against Am Yisrael, by assuming the 70 year redemption prophecy of Yirmiyahu had completed, (uneventfully) a grand feast was arranged to celebrate. (Classic error of miscounting…happens to the best of us 😉 It was the same night that Belshazzar was killed and consequently the death of the Babylonian empire. As we witnessed in Egypt, the physical world serves poetically as a product of spiritual movement. Strangely, an enigmatic event occurs before Belshazzar’s death, “a hand appeared and wrote a mysterious inscription on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. These words were written in a strange script and in an acrostic form; thus they were seemingly indecipherable. Nevertheless, Daniel interpreted the words as follows: Mene, Mene: G‑d has counted the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom, and they are numbered. Tekel: G‑d has weighed Belshazzar on the scales of justice and has found him guilty. Upharsin: His kingdom will be broken up and given to Persia and Media.” 

In a humble attempt to learn, maybe each word written on the wall not only represented a physical limitation of his reign, but also a spiritual limitation of his beliefs. The letters, M, T and U may be correlated to three major “gods” of the Babylonian empire. M – “Marduk was the patron god of Babylon who presided over justice, compassion, healing, regeneration, magic, and fairness, although he is also sometimes referenced as a storm god and agricultural deity.” The imagery of an unknown hand writing this on the wall, almost suggests that the “god” in which this empire seeks justice, regeneration, healing and compassion from is no more powerful than simple cave drawings. T – “Tiamat is a primordial goddess of chaos and is mentioned in several Babylonian works. It’s through her coupling with Apsu that all the gods and goddesses were created. However, myths about her vary. In some, she’s shown to be the mother of all gods, and a divine figure.” So now we have the mother and father of Babylonian belief slain and the writing is literally “on the wall”. U – Utu “represents the brilliant light of the sun which returns every day to illuminate the life of mankind, as well as giving beneficial warmth which causes plants to grow” Just as in Egypt, G!d reminds the world where true life and sustenance comes from. 

Repetitious to the previous exile and exodus, so too in the miracle of our Purim story rests a certain death of physicality, which all the more so a “spiritual being”. In the Purim story there is a manipulation of one of the highest spiritual concepts: male and female intimacy. This “beauty pageant” of Achashverosh creates an almost idol-like facet of Persian culture that places the pure power of intimacy on an altar, to be butchered as pagan ritual. What did Hashem curate to destroy this idol? מידה כנגד מידה. It was the spiritual intimacy of Am Yisrael and Hashem in partnership with Esther that led to the physical destruction of Amalek. 

The Greeks, an extremely pagan and “god-centered” culture, demanded spiritual death of the Jews living in Israel.  מידה כנגד מידה – Hashem smites their “gods” of war and culture through the holy and mighty Maccabi warriors. 

Lastly, an exile we find ourselves currently staring at through iphone screens no less broken than the tablets that sit at the foot of Mt. Sinai. 

The challenge that makes this exile more daunting than any other and what will in-part make this redemption all the more so universal, is that unlike any other exile, these “gods” are not pagan; in truth they seem to be sourced from the unanimous truth of G!d. From the honest perspective of G!d, from Torah and monotheistic value, exile births the perversion of G!d that manifests in the “god” of Edom and the “god” of Amalek. The “god” of Edom, the Western World, arguably perverts the middah of Hashem that is Rachamim (mercy/kindness). The “god” of Amalek, arguably perverts the middah of Elokim that is Din (judgment/strength). 

When we see camp outs and protesters screaming empty chants in the name of “justice” and when we see inhumane murder and defiling of this world, in the name of “allah” we are looking at every shattered glass that rests under our chuppa. When we look at the brokenness of the world, we finally understand the words of עלינו: 

שֶׁהֵם מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לָהֶֽבֶל וָרִיק וּמִתְפַּלְּלִים אֶל אֵל לֹא יוֹשִֽׁיעַ

They bow to vain emptiness, and pray to a god that cannot bring salvation. 

A “god” that didn’t create the world, a “god” that didn’t create people with holy intent, a “god” that rewards death of the innocent and praises the polluted. The text of Aleinu not only tells us what those against us do, but also spells out their fate. They stay down, as to not serve this “god” but to be enslaved instead. The following line beautifully reminds us of the truth in Am Yisrael’s relationship to G!d. 

וַאֲנַֽחְנוּ כּוֹרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים וּמוֹדִים לִפְנֵי מֶֽלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא

Yes we bow and sometimes are so low in service of Hashem, but not without standing after. The act of serving Hashem, as Hashem is the most elevating act. A grateful standing as וּמוֹדִים is sculpted with הודיה. 

While we do so, Hashem is fighting the battle, like with the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and the Greeks, slaying with holiest revenge the image of what “god” does with what G!d truly is, was and will be. 

The death of the fighters of Amalek in the name of “allah”, only moves to prove a renewed, universal fact. Those who scream into an abyss of the broken idea of G!d, those who bow to a “god” that doesn’t save, do not get up. 

May we continue to be zoche to have Geulah eyes.

 All kavana is towards the complete victorious destruction of our enemies and sweet celebration of Geulah. 

ה ישמור על חיילינו ועמנו 

About the Author
Edan is currently studying for a degree in English and Torah education. Since making Aliyah in 2020, she hopes to share some of the wisdom and insight she has been blessed to have witnessed and heard, as well as try to articulate and pass on moments that were most impactful for her. Edan believes in using the power of words to silence our fears, worries and doubts in order to hear our inner truths of clarity, faith and hope. Through some poetry, Torah and anecdote, she is praying to illuminate the lights that already exist in all of us.
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