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Ten Plagues, Ten Gods: Attacking Materialism

Some scholars note that each of the 10 plagues mentioned in "Exodus" takes aim at an Egyptian god of the day. The lesson that life is based on spirituality and not materialism still resonates.

Ten Plagues, Ten Gods

In 1979, the great singer, songwriter and philosopher Bob Dylan penned a song which struck a chord in those who, like him, were searching for spiritual truths.

The song was neither "Blowin' in the Wind" nor "I Shall Be Released" but rather a composition which would turn out to be his final "hit single."

Dylan mused that whether you are rich or poor, a banker or construction worker, whether your tastes are caviar or bread, whether you sleep on the floor or on a king sized bed, "you have to serve somebody."

In this famous song, Dylan noted that in our struggle to load our lives with material assets, we often lose track of life itself.  

The ancient Prophets called these distractions "fetishes." In today's terms, those would be High Definition televisions, Smartphones, sleek cars and anything else which we frantically declare that we need to acquire or continuously upgrade.

But what are we really doing? What are we numbing ourselves from?

We are only on this earth for a short time and so often we are distracted or obsessed with the material. So, the question remains, "who do we serve?"

It's an interesting question which is drawn directly from the Torah and from the pages of the Passover Haggadah. In this week's Parashah, as the Israelites toil in Egypt, Moses repeatedly approaches Pharaoh and directs the king to "Let my people go."

Each time that Pharaoh begins to soften, his heart "hardens." This stubbornness is met with more plagues until Pharaoh finally capitulates.

The plagues of course are blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock disease, boils, hail, locust, darkness and death of the first born.

But what is really going on here?  

Are we to assume that the Ten Plagues emerged in a random or miraculous manner, or is there a deeper meaning?

In their analysis of the text, many Biblical scholars note that each of the Ten Plagues took direct aim at a specific Egyptian god.

Let's examine for example the plagues of blood, frogs and darkness. There existed an Egyptian god named Hapi, overseer of the Nile. What better way to bring Hapi to its knees by turning the Nile into blood. The goddess of fertility, water and renewal was a "frog headed" entity named Hekhet. Amon-Ra was god of the sun, and...you get the idea.

How interesting it is that the final plague, the Plague of the First Born, claimed thousands of Egyptian lives, including the son of Pharaoh, who claimed to be God. The final plague teaches us that there can be no human god.

It is one reason why the Shema Yisrael prayer is so central to Judaism. It teaches that true balance and godliness exists within moral behavior, and the spiritual connectivity of all life.

No matter how you view God - as male or female entity, creative loving force, force of nature, judge and sustainer of life, this week's Torah portion and its accompanying plagues begs us to ask the question, "who is it that we serve, and are we in balance?"

There are things we can do to correct the imbalance. The Talmud teaches that each of us raises our godliness when we support the needy, visit the sick, comfort the mourner, provide loving companionship or assist someone in need before we are asked.

Our mystics remind us to take walks in the forest, to focus on others, to meditate and to pray.

For the world is made up of more than physical and material influences. Reflection, prayer, acts of loving kindness, and a dedication to others ultimately bring us true and enduring satisfaction.

We battle to achieve a balance between the physical and the spiritual all the days of our lives.

This week's Torah portion beckons us to ask ourselves today the important question:

"Who is it that we truly serve?"

And are we truly satisfied with the answer?

Shabbat shalom.

Kol tuv (with all goodness).

Rabb Irwin Huberman

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