Vaera: Shuffling classes

There is one aspect of the Plagues which might otherwise be overlooked, but which requires focus and appreciation: class status.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

We read concerning Makkat Arov, the Plague of Wild Beasts: “And I will set apart the Land of Goshen on that day, where my nation dwells, so that wild beasts not be present there, in order that you will know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land. And I will make a separation between my nation and your nation; this sign will occur tomorrow.” (Exodus 8:18-19) 

And we read concerning Makkat Dever, the Plague of Pestilence: “And the Lord will distinguish between the herds of Yisroel and the herds of Egypt, and there will not die anything of The Children of Israel… And God did this thing the next day, and all of the herds of Egypt died, and from the herds of The Children of Israel nothing died. And Pharaoh sent, and behold, from the herds of Yisroel not a single thing died. ” (ibid. 9:4-7)

It was clear at the start, from the first Plagues and onward, that only the Egyptians and not the Jews would be afflicted. Why, therefore, did God emphasize and make it a point of instructing Pharaoh that a distinction was being made between the Egyptians and the Jews, with the Jews and their possessions being spared from the Plagues; was this not already known?  

There is one aspect of the Plagues which might otherwise be overlooked, but which requires focus and appreciation: class status. Egypt was the most advanced and prosperous country of the time, and its citizens enjoyed being part of a privileged class. In Egyptian society, The Children of Israel were among the lower class, and they were viewed as a threat by the elite Egyptian upper class.

The Plagues brought about a dramatic upheaval in class status, such that The Children of Israel attained a social position of prestige and domination, while the Egyptians were lowered and became reliant on the good graces of The Children of Israel. “And God granted favor to the nation in the eyes of Egypt; and Moshe was of immense stature in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants and in the eyes of the nation.” (ibid. 11:3) This reversal of roles, with Yisroel on the ascendancy and Egypt in social decline, was a component of the punishment represented by the Plagues. This is why we read, as cited above, of the emphasis on distinguishing between Yisroel and Egypt, and the need for Pharaoh and his nation to take note. The Plagues were not merely physical retribution, but they also constituted societal retribution and role reversal.  


There was a concerted effort to portray Jews as rejected by God and lowly, and to discriminate and disseminate religious messages and legislation that put the Jew at the bottom of society.
But there is more: Throughout history, especially as seen with Christianity’s treatment of the Jews in Europe, with Islam’s treatment of the Jews in Arab lands and deep into Asia, and with ancient Greece’s treatment of the Jews in the Land of Israel prior to the Maccabean revolt, there was a concerted effort to portray Jews as rejected by God and lowly, and to discriminate and disseminate religious messages and legislation that put the Jew at the bottom of society. At the heart of these endeavors lay a denial of Bechirat Yisrael, the chosenness of the Jewish People, and an attempt to negate God’s plans for His people and for mankind. “Replacement Theology”, which states that the Christians were now chosen and the Jews rejected, pertains to the efforts and actions of numerous cultures to put down the Jew and assign a chosen and preferred status to the surrounding gentile society.       

Egypt’s enslavement of The Children of Israel and Pharaoh’s and his advisers’ schemes to further harm and even kill Jews represented a rejection of the legacies of Yaakov and Yosef, who brought Divine blessings upon Egypt; the enslavement and persecution of The Children of Israel thereby constituted a rebellion against God Himself. There was a comprehensive negation by Egyptian society of God’s relationship with The Children of Israel.      

Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, was the quintessential affirmation of Bechirat Yisrael, G-d's choosing the Jewish people, and a repudiation of Egyptian society’s efforts to squelch and deny the Jews’ chosenness. This is the meaning of the words of Midrash, as cited by Rashi on the verse, “And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Yisroel is my firstborn son’” (Exodus 4:23), upon which the Midrash comments: “Here did the Holy One, Blessed be He, sign off on the sale of the birthright acquired by Jacob from Esau.” Yetzi’at Egypt represents Bechirat Yisrael par excellence, as a manifestation of the will and authority of God. That is precisely why the distinction between the Egyptians and The Children of Israel, with The Children of Israel emerging from societal repression and rising above the Egyptian elite, plays a pivotal role in the Plagues and the narrative of our nation's Redemption.                             
 






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