Judaism: Plagues that Heal the Soul
Usually, when we think of plagues and afflictions, and certainly when we talk about severe afflictions such as the ten plagues of Egypt, we become filled with feelings of fear and awe. In any case it is important to realize that the Torah, especially the inner spirit of the Torah, includes another facet of suffering apart from the fear-awakening and awe-inspiring effect.
Within human agony is hidden the Creator's love and concern for His creations. Upon occasion, in order to take man to task on his follies and heal him from spiritual maladies, there is no alternative rather than suffering in order to rehabilitate him as the IDF saying goes: "what isn't learned with the head will be learned by the legs." (ie. the punishment for inappropriate conduct is running laps).
However also when messages are internalized the hard way, it is upon us to contemplate and understand the internal message that Hashem is communicating, both so that the suffering is not in vain and in order that we should not have to experience it again.
"I am the Lord your healer":
In the Exodus from Egypt we witness the grace of Hashem in that even though the "Yalkut Shimoni" states: "these worshiped idols and these worshiped idols" (meaning - Israelites were as guilty as the Egyptians in this regard), the plagues were brought on the Egyptians only. Even so, it is incumbent upon us to realize that with every blow that Hashem brought upon the Egyptians, he healed a spiritual malady related to that very plague so by way of the plagues "Egypt was hurt while Israel was (simultaneously) healed" - an idea appearing in the Zohar.
According to this view, the plagues of Egypt are not just a story, or simply the story of God's grace to Israel, instead they are a lesson for future generations as how to heal our souls, and to leave "Mitzrayim" (Egypt) – namely the spiritual obstacles ('straits' from the word 'meitzar') that prevent us from being "A kingdom of priests and a holy nation".
In this article we will not attempt to explain the significance of each of the ten plagues, however by focusing on two of them we may become enlightened about all of the plagues.
The plague of blood:
The first blow of the ten plagues, blood, is the most powerful as the shock value is the greatest from the outset and also because the first serves as the basis for all plagues that followed. In the plague of blood Hashem struck the waters of the Nile, which is the source of all life in Egypt - a land of desert, dryness and very little precipitation. Water, from the standpoint of 'tumah' (impurity), symbolizes all the vices included in the human condition, for all life emanates from water.
Because Egypt is called "the nakedness of the land" - the lowest moral and spiritual level, the Nile became a deity to the people, not just from a material standpoint, but as a focal point of a lustful Hedonistic lifestyle. The entire meaning of life in Egypt was related to the waters suggesting a life focused on fulfillment of desires. Bnai Yisrael too assimilated and became defiled by Egyptian culture, suffering from the same 'illness'.
Through the plague of blood Hashem revealed that this water is sullied and nothing but blood – representing physical lust that heats the blood and causes a person to pursue his desire. Bnai Yisrael are to be nurtured by pure water - 'mayim chayim' (waters of life), symbolizing the Holy Torah. The result is that the first plague afflicted the most basic element, the very source of all human life - water.
The plague of the hail :
The final plague mentioned in our "Parasha" is the plague of hail. We can learn a general principle about all of the plagues from the hail as Hashem states: "because this time I'm sending all plagues." What's so special about the plague of the hail? We can elaborate about a few points:
1. In the Plague of hail, fire and water were used together as the hail that fell was accompanied by fire.
2. Loud noises accompanied the falling of the hail.
Chazal say that thunder and lightning were created only to straighten the curvature of the heart. What is the curvature or perversion of the heart? The most basic perversion of the human heart is pride - the foundation of the original sin of Adam. Thunder and lightning cause the human heart to fear and thus experience humility in the presence of the Creator. This is likely the reason for the use of fire and water together, since the ability to combine two contradicting forces can be achieved only by a measure of humility.
This point illustrates the importance of this plague, specifically directed against Pharaoh whose sin of excessive pride is glaring. Indeed it was in response to plague of hail that Pharoah says: "G-d is righteous and I and my people are wicked." There is no doubt that we too need to cure ourselves from the disease of pride, today just as in ancient times.
May it be His will that "As in the days when we left the land of Egypt I will show them wonders" (Micah 7:15) and we should learn and internalize the remedy contained within the plagues and thereby merit that "any of the diseases that I placed in Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am the Lord, your Healer." (Exodus 15:26)
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