This week we are introduced to the ten plagues. Seven plagues appear in our Torah portion and the last three appear in next week’s Torah portion. Have you ever noticed that there are ten plagues, ten commandments, and G-d Created the world with ten utterances? What is the common link?
Three Sets of Ten
First let’s review them. The ten utterances of creation appear in the narrative of Genesis: Let there be (1) heaven and earth. (2) light. (3) firmament. (4) dry land. (5) vegetation. (6) luminaries. (7) birds and fish. (8) animals. (9) humans. (10) The ability to procreate.
The ten plagues appear in the narrative of Exodus: (1) blood. (2) frogs. (3) lice. (4) wild beasts. (5) pestilence. (6) boils. (7) hail. (8) locust. (9) darkness. (10) death of the firstborn.
On Mount Sinai, G-d gave us Ten Commandments: (1) I am G-d. (3) worship no other G-d (3) don’t blaspheme. (4) honor the Shabbat. (5) honor your parents. (6) don’t murder. (7) don’t commit adultery. (8) don’t commit theft. (9) don’t bear false testimony. (10) don’t covet.
The link is this: The ten utterances tell us that G-d created the world. The ten plagues tell us that G-d controls the world. The ten commandments tell us that if G-d crated and controls the world, He created and control us too. Therefore, it is only right that we worship Him. Let’s unpack that.
On the surface it seems that G-d created the world and walked away. There are no telltale signs of His continued presence in creation. It is as if He put a masterful natural system into place and withdrew to let it govern itself.
He could have, but that is not how the Torah presents creation. G-d didn’t spoke the words, “Let there be light” one time. Rather, G-d says, “Let there be light,” all the time—continuously recreating the light at each moment. As light travels along its path, it ceases to exist and is recreated each moment.
The same is true of you and me. We seem static, but we are not. We seem able to think a complete cogent thought, but we don’t exist long enough to complete even a basic thought. Each nanosecond (or perhaps more frequently) G-d creates a new version of us with our entire past loaded onto the backend.
That’s a humbling thought. How can I take credit for anything I do if the me that started the project is not the me that finished it? If G-d created a whole series of stills and let them run past the camera in continual motion to create the appearance of a moving picture, I am but a figment of G-d’s imagination. He wrote this essay and used me as His instrument. I did nothing. How humbling.
Still, this is not visible in daily life. I can choose to believe it. The Torah tells me it is so. But there is no evidence of this in all of the universe. On the surface it seems that the same water that existed before, exists today. The same stick that existed earlier, exists now. Nothing changed. Nothing is in flux.
Along came the ten plagues and demonstrated that everything is in flux. Water can become blood and blood can become water. A stick can be a snake, and a snake can be a stick. Electrons can be extinguished one moment—leaving us in complete darkness—and reignite the next moment. It is all up to G-d.
We don’t see it as G-d changing the static nature of water and transforming it into blood. We see it differently. Till that point, G-d recreated water each moment. At that point, He decided to recreate it as blood. Just like you can say the word water a hundred times, and then change your mind and say blood, so did G-d. You keep saying blood until you decide to say water again, and so did G-d. He recreated blood until He decided to start saying water again. Poof the blood turned back to water.
The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa’s wife complained that there was no oil left in the cupboard for illumination. He replied, “He who tells oil to combust, will tell vinegar to combust.” To him, it was a simple matter of G-d rewriting the code for the vinegar that he was recreating anyway. As you create me each moment different from the previous moment, do the same for vinegar.
If I am walking down the street, the me created in the present, is one step further along than the me created a moment ago. The me created in the future, will have a more developed thought than the thought in the present me, etc. So, the real me changes each nanosecond. G-d doesn’t recreate a perfect replica of my previous self. He is always tinkering with me so I can appear to be making progress. Said, Rabi Chanina, do the same, dear G-d, to the vinegar. When you recreate it, rewrite its code, and make it combustive.
The ten plagues showed us that G-d didn’t create a natural system and walk away. He continually recreates it and can adjust any part of it at will. The power of a miracle is not merely in demonstrating G-d’s ability to change nature. It is in making us aware that G-d is constantly recreating and therefore coordinating and orchestrating every aspect of life.
I don’t need to witness a miracle of biblical proportions to see G-d’s hand in my life. Once I know that G-d is involved, I can see Him in every aspect of life. When a cheque arrives in the mail today for the precise amount of the bill that arrived yesterday, I see G-d’s hand at work. When I go for my morning jog and run into the neighbor I couldn’t reach all week, I see G-d’s hand at work. If I get in the car and drive and absolutely nothing remarkable happens, I still see G-d’s hand at work. I navigated a road full of deadly weapons and not a single driver aimed his rolling weapon, deliberately or inadvertently, at me.
It's all a matter of perspective, and miracles realign our perspective. Not only in the macro moments when G-d opens the heavens and appears like a knight in shining armor, but also in the dull mundane moments. They are all G-d’s doing. I don’t need to witness a constant diet of miracles to see His hand. Once humanity witnessed a few miracles of biblical proportions, the point was made. The lesson remains.
The Ten Commandments
If G-d recreates me constantly, and orchestrates the tiniest events that govern my life, all of me belongs to Him. My life is not mine to do with as I please. There is no me, there are only endless versions of me that spews from His imagination. If there is no me, nothing can belong to me. What then is the point of me?
The answer comes in the form of the ten commandments. G-d made me to serve Him. That is my only purpose. My sole reason. I can give purpose to G-d’s continual effort or leave them purposeless. Amazingly, G-d gave us free choice. He left it to us to decide whether His efforts will have meaning. But if we choose to live meaningfully and grant purpose to His creation, He gave us a manual— the Torah.
No engineer worth his salt would build a machine and fail to write a manual for its operation. Neither did G-d. He crated us and provided us with a manual called the Torah.
Why ten? Why not nine or eleven?
Well, that’s an essay for itself, but the common number certainly serves to link these three sets. The real question is not why ten. The real question is how many of these ten do you keep?