Passover is one of my favorite Jewish holidays because of the stirring tale of the 10 plagues, the subsequent Exodus, and the traditional foods that we consume to honor our deliverance from slavery under Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
The haggadah presents the plagues as miraculous works of God. The Lord, of course, empowered the Hebrews to struggle against Pharaoh’s cruelty and treachery. In my opinion, the plagues are the world’s first successful application of political terror designed to bring about two transformative goals – freedom and deliverance.
Whenever I share my perception at the seder table, people never quite process it. The word ‘plagues’ seems miraculous and appropriate; ‘political terror’ not really; okay, next reader and please pass the gefilte fish.
Think about the final plague, the Angel of Death passing over the Hebrew homes to take the lives of all first-born Egyptian males. The Egyptian elite sent their children to the same school where Hebrew female slave cooks served them lunch that may have been spiked with a slow acting poison. This final plague, an act of revenge for the slaying of a generation of Jewish first-born males, save for Moses, left Egyptian parents wailing in the night.
The Exodus – Moses’ parting the sea – has been explained by some as brilliantly working the tides. The Hebrews smartly walked across during low level – Pharaoh and the Egyptians arrived as the tide rose, arrogantly proceeded, and were deep-sixed.
Whether the plagues were miraculous or 10 acts of ingenious political terror, they worked to free the Hebrews from bondage and, on seder night, we celebrate that deliverance. Thank God.
Arnold Heller chairs the Atlanta-Ra’anana Sister City Committee. He is author of “Dues: The Coming of Allie Cohen.”