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Torah Sparks

January 11, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 10:1 - 13:16 (Hertz, p. 248; Etz Hayim, p. 374)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 11:4 - 12:28 (Hertz, p. 252; Etz Hayim, p. 379)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13 - 28 (Hertz, p. 263; Etz Hayim, p. 395)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(10:1-29) The eighth plague, locusts, and the ninth, darkness.

(11:1-3) God announces to Moses the last and decisive plague, and instructs him to tell the people to prepare for leaving by asking the Egyptians for jewels and gold, which the Egyptians, overawed by events and by Moses' apparent power, readily give.

(11:4-10) Moses announces the tenth plague to Pharaoh, and the slaying of all the first-born of Egypt, but God hardens Pharaoh's heart and he does not respond to this final ultimatum.

(12:1-13) The Passover sacrifice in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to take a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that same night, God struck down all the first-born of Egypt.

(12:14-20) Passover for the generations: The Israelites are commanded to observe this festival, the 15th of Nisan, for all time. For the entire seven days of the festival they shall not eat, or even possess, any leaven.

(12:21-28) Moses and Aaron convey the Passover commandments to the people.

(12:29-36) The first-born of Egypt all die, and the Egyptians capitulate. The Israelites prepare to leave.

(12:37-42) The Israelites leave Egypt.

(12:43-13:10) The laws of the Paschal lamb sacrifice for future generations, the dedication to God of the firstborn, and further details concerning the observance of Passover.

Discussion Theme: Idolatry Today

"For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the Lord." (Exodus 12:12)

  1. God's power to take Israel out of Egypt manifests His own exclusivity, mocks the professed divinity of pharaoh, and exposes the deities of Egypt as non gods. (Nachum Sarna)
  2. And Egypt was burying all their first-born whom the Lord had smitten among them; upon their gods the Lord executed judgment.
  3. Since there is no rainfall in Egypt, but the Nile overflows and waters the land and the Egyptians worship the Nile; He therefore plagued first their god and then them. (Rashi Exodus 7:19)
  4. Hapi was the Egyptian god of the Nile. The second plague struck at Heket the god who took the shape of a frog. The fifth plague, cattle< disease, attacked the gods Hathor (cow) and Apis (bull). The ninth plague, darkness, triumphed over the sun god Ra. Finally, the tenth showed the vulnerability of Pharaoh himself, the son of the Sun god. (Noam Zion and David Dishon, A Different Night)
  5. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Go and sacrifice to your God within the land.' But Moses replied, 'It would not be right to dothis, for what we shall sacrifice the abomination of Egypt to God, our God. If we sacrifice the abominations of the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?' "It is characteristic of Judaism's attitude towards ancient and modern paganism. That which other nations sacrifice themselves is what Jews sacrifice to their God. The gods of other nations are the mighty forces of Nature to which Man must submit, as well as the powerful forces of Nature within himself to which he is subject. They worship the forces about them and within themselves. But the Jew in his sacrifice, kills the representatives of these forces, and thereby makes himself conscious of his power of mastering the forces of Nature within himself. In obtaining free control of these and submitting them to the Will of the Almighty One, he frees himself also from the dominion of all the blind external forces of Nature. He sacrifices the gods in his own inner self, and thereby breaks the chains of dominion of the external forces of Nature. (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, Exodus 8:21-22)
  6. If God is the only thing in the universe worthy of worship or adoration, then anyone who becomes obsessed with the desire for wealth, beauty, fame, or power is said to idolize them. From a modern perspective then, idolatry is a universal phenomenon. Almost every country in the world has military parades that glorify power, advertisements that glorify sexual fulfillment, books that extol wealth or influence, and cults that deify movie stars and sports figures... Idolatry is a complex phenomenon that rears its head in every age. Far from being limited to the worship of clay statues, it provides ample temptation today and is likely to provide temptation tomorrow as well. Anything can become an idol if it comes to be regarded as the be-all and end-all of human life. (Kenneth Seeskin, No Other Gods)

Sparks for Reflection:

The plagues described in the Book of Exodus are meant to teach both the Israelites and the Egyptians the folly of idolatry. The sources above show how at every step of the way, God's actions are a polemic against the false gods of Egypt.

>The question is has idolatry disappeared for modern Jews? How does Jewish tradition help us resist the temptations of modern idolatries? How do we make sense of the statement in Sifre Deuteronomy that "Whoever acknowledges idolatry disavows the whole Torah and whoever disavows idolatry acknowledges the whole Torah?"

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