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January 5, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vaera

This coming week’s portion is about the plagues of Egypt- well, the first few of them anyhow.  Sarna has interesting naturalistic explanations of how they might have happened.

The first plague is that the Nile turned to blood.  Sarna explains that the Nile is fed by rains that carry red sediment from the earth with them.  Thus, the plague resulted from an “abnormally heavily rainfall that led to an excessively high rise of the Nile and washed down inordinate amounts of the red sediment.” There was too much red sediment to be absorbed in the river (as usually would be the case) causing the river to take on a red, blood-like hue.  Sarna notes that another ancient Egyptian text, which purports to describe a chaotic time, mentions the river turning blood red.

The red earth disturbed the Nile’s oxygen balance and killed off many fish, polluting the habitat of the Nile’s frogs, thus causing the second plague: frogs migrating onto the land in large numbers.  And because the dead fish were fed on by insects who carried infections to the frogs, the frogs died too.  (Incidentally, both the Nile and frogs were Egyptian gods according to Sarna; the Nile was the god Hapi, and there was a frog-headed fertility goddess named Heqt)

All these decaying bodies may have caused mosquitoes and similar insects, already present in Egypt, to multiply (plague 3).

The fourth plague is mysterious.  The Hebrew word arov is sometimes translated as wild animals generally, and sometimes as insects.  Sarna speculates that it might have been the stable fly, a bloodsucking insect that is more common in tropical areas than in the more temperate Mediterranean, which explains why Goshen (at the eastern end of Egypt where Hebrews lived) was spared.

The aforementioned decaying bodies, according to Sarna, might have contaminated the soil, leading to anthrax, a disease highly toxic to farm animals (plague 5).  Sarna speculates that anthrax might also account for boils (plague 6).

The last plague mentioned in the portion is hail; Sarna doesn’t suggest that hail arose out of the preceding plagues.

Of course, none of this excludes the Torah’s explanation that this was all a Divine plan; even if all of the plagues could happen independently in the natural course of events, one could certainly describe the chain of events as miraculous.

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