Plagues Suck (or: Passover in a time of plague)

A friend called me the oth­er day won­der­ing why the Hebrew word ״מַכּוֹת״ in the phrase: “אֵלּוּ עֶשֶׂר מַכּוֹת שֶׁהֵבִיא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עַל הַמִּצְרִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן:” is trans­lat­ed as “plagues”. He, an Israeli whose orig­i­nal lan­guage is Hebrew did not see why the direct trans­la­tion of “strikes” (as in hit­ting some­one, i.e. the Egypt­ian,) was­n’t used. Most of us are famil­iar with this mean­ing of the word מַכּוֹת from Chanukkah when we remem­ber the deeds of Judah Mac­cabee, who struck the Hel­lenists on our behalf.

I told him that for at least 20 years I have been using “signs” as a more mean­ing­ful trans­la­tion. Yes, the Egyp­tians were “hit” by the plagues, but that was not for pun­ish­ment, for the sake of hurt­ing. Rather, they should be seen as signs. You could say that these that they were sim­i­lar to the way a par­ent might dis­ci­pline a mis­be­hav­ing child: not to bruise, but to stress that the child must change their behav­ior.

As I wrote in A Grow­ing Hag­gadah:

The Signs

Pharaoh was unwill­ing to release his labor sup­ply.

Pharaoh thought him­self a god. He believed he could do what­ev­er he want­ed to with indi­vid­u­als or entire peo­ples. He need­ed to learn the dif­fi­cult les­son: there exists a Source of Pow­er beyond the self.

A series of signs appeared, trans­for­ma­tions of the expect­ed world the Egyp­tians had come to take for grant­ed. Some of these signs altered the nat­ur­al realm, oth­ers shift­ed social inter­ac­tions. Our Bib­li­cal text and ancient rab­bis expressed these signs as though they occurred on a plane beyond human involve­ment. Today, we under­stand that we need to take an active role in the world we encounter, and in our own trans­for­ma­tion.

In either case, whether affect­ed by humans, the divine or a com­bi­na­tion, our redemp­tion could not and did not take place with­out a strug­gle. Due to that strug­gle, and the resul­tant loss of life, we take drops from our full cups of wine—this, then, sym­bol­izes the diminu­tion of our joy.

Nonethelss, plagues are on every­one’s mind this year (in alpha­bet­i­cal order).

There are plagues that afflict us as liv­ing crea­tures on a del­i­cate and endan­gered bios­phere. There are plagues that we expe­ri­ence in the world of pol­i­tics. There are plagues that we encounter in our rela­tion­ships. There are even ways in which we oppress our­selves. Some are sys­temic, some are per­son­al.

Our ances­tors expe­ri­enced the plagues sent against the Egyp­tians. The Egypt­ian peo­ple ignored the signs. Our ances­tors heed­ed the signs they saw about them in their day.

☞ How might we rec­og­nize these signs?

☞ How will we respond?

This but­ton dates from 2014 and came in a pack­et of sim­i­lar Passover-relat­ed but­tons.

plagues suck
Plagues Suck
received from beave­but­tons, made by Tevah and Jody Platt via etsy.com
Date:2014
Size:2.3 cm
Pin Form:clasp
Print Methodcel­lu­loid
Text:PLAGUES SUCK

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or they are poked into a cork-board on your wall or col­lect­ed in a jar. If you have any lying around that you do not feel emo­tion­al­ly attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point, they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see most of the but­tons shared to date.

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