One day the Pharoah awoke in his bed, there were frogs on his pillow and frogs on his bed. Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes. Frogs here … Frogs there … Frogs were jumping everywhere.
The ten plagues. They are a part of our Torah and our history. They play a significant part in our Passover seder. Some of you might have bags with different nick-nacks used to portray the plagues. Ping pong balls for hail, a red sheet for blood, and my own favorite, sunglasses for darkness.
These toys and visual aids add a sensory element to our holiday. By seeing and touching, the rabbis hope that we are also able not just to remember, but to experience.
To me, this is the essence of our Torah, and of Judaism. THAT book in there – that is the source of our identity. It houses our memories and dreams, fears and hopes, history and ancestry. But that is ONLY the beginning. It becomes our own when we link it to our OWN lives; like when we drink four cups of wine and then sing at the tops of our lungs, “had gadya.” Yes, we're singing and having fun and spending time with family and friends. But more importantly, we are creating our Jewish identity anew.
Just a few minutes ago, we all stood for the Amidah. Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitzhak, Elohai Ya’akov, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. But, wait a second, we only believe in one God. What’s with this God of Abraham, God of Isaac business? It teaches us that just as Abraham had a unique relationship with God, so did Isaac, so did Jacob, and SO DO WE. So,we study Torah, daven our liturgy, go to Hebrew School, have Bar Mitzvah, go to adult education classes first in order to learn from our collective history, but then to create it ourselves.
Which brings me back to the plagues.
The stories of the ten plagues resides very deeply in the Jewish soul. Actually, to call them the 10 plagues isn’t quite correct; a better translation is 10 “signs and portents,” “ten miracles.”
These miracles; these signs of God – they are so powerful because they are exactly that, they are signs of God. They were right in front of the Israelites faces. They weren’t private theophanies – moments in which one has direct, but private, contact with the divine. They were publicly shared experiences, moments in which there was no doubt of two things: 1) There is a God. 2) That God cares about ME and 3) That God cares about US.
I like to think that the miracles play such a role in our seders because we yearn desperately for the same.
We search for definitive actions from God – from a God that interacts in history, interacts in our lives. From a God that we know cares about us and protects us, from a God that will lead us to OUR promised lands, wherever, and whatever they might be.
And many of us may feel that we haven’t had those moments, or don’t have those experiences. And so, our Passover story – the story we tell ourselves ABOUT ourselves, gives us hope that indeed, that kind of God DOES exist, watching us, loving us, protecting us.
It can seem depressing – all too often, we rely solely on our history to illumine God and God’s relationship with us. Our Torah portion this week, in which God performs more miracles challenges us with a question. It calls from the past, “This was OUR reality as your ancestors, as we were strangers in a strange land. This was OUR truth. But what is YOURS?”
This Torah portion – our entire Torah - beseeches us to take its words, its stories and its experiences with God, and then go to find our own. As God says to Abraham, lech l’cha. Go forward – to our own divine encounters, our own history. Perhaps if we’re willing to look to the future with our OWN eyes, we too will see God’s miracles and portents. Shabbat Shalom.