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January 12, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Bo

This week’s portion finishes up the ten plagues.  As in the last portion, the plagues are designed as an anti-pagan polemic, showing up the Egyptian gods.  For example, the Egyptians worshipped the sun- so (according to Sarna) the plague of darkness “would have had a devastating psychological impact.”  

Even the death of the first-born fits this pattern.  Why?  Sarna points out that cattle are also an Egyptian god, and thus that the death of the first-born cow is another way to show Egyptians that their gods are powerless.

But here I see a difficulty.  Sarna also points out that there is a natural explanation for the plague of darkness; strong winds blowing in from the desert do occasionally blacken the sky.  Similarly, the Egyptians have seen cattle die all the time, and no doubt killed cattle themselves for food etc.

But if dead cattle and dark days had happened before, how do they debunk Egyptian mythology?

Perhaps one could argue that the cumulative impact of the plagues is what was designed to create the impression.  Every one of the plagues might have happened before- but what makes these plagues unique is the pattern, one plague after the other, and nearly all of them targeting one Egyptian deity or another.  But was this pattern too subtle for the Egyptians to detect?  

Maybe not.  Even before the last plague, Egyptian courtiers are urging the king to let the Jews go.  And even if the pattern is too subtle for the Egyptians, it is not too subtle for us Jews, reading the Torah thousands of years later, to get the point.

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