IN THE BEGINNING - MITCHILO
When we were commanded to tell the Haggadah to our children this is what was being
referred to. The actual Haggadah begins here. The word Haggadah means "Tough talk".
Hard words to swallow: "Words, hard as sinews".
What could be so unpalatable and indigestible about the Haggadah story? More than just
the admission of powerlessness it must be our level of depravity that embarrasses us.
This isn't the story of our struggle to get out of Egypt. The Exodus was not a civil rights
march. We weren't fighting anyone. This is not our struggle for the right to equality or
freedom of religion. This is a story of events as they really occurred. Our contribution to
the whole saga is not a noble one.
To understand anything about our history, put it in the context of daily commerce in a
civilization of Bronze-age Mesopotamians and Egyptians 1800-1300 B.C.E. Let us
examine for a moment one aspect of life in that epoch. What did they invent for "Kicks"?
The overwhelming mood and mind-altering experience of ancient times was idol worship
in all its multifarious forms. But most modern people would be disgusted by the worship
of idols of yesteryear.
People had pathological relationships with it. They persisted in practicing its worship in
the face of all evidence that it was harmful to their physical, mental and spiritual health.
High on the list of contemptible people are the panders and purveyors to death-dealing
habits. Be they crack dealers, tobacco houses, sugar barons, propagandists, polluters or
Well, the bad news is that we were up there on the list of exploiters. Our family business
was the making and distribution of idols and fetishes. We had the local franchise
dealership in Ur of the Chaldees.
The good news is that now Hashem has attached us to His worship as it is written.
Joshua said to all the people, "These are the words of Adonai the G-D of Israel: "Over the
river lived your ancestors from time immemorial. Terach father of Abraham and Nachor.
And they worshipped other gods. I acquired your father, taking Abraham from the other
side of the river and walking him through all the Land of Canaan. I increased his seed and
I gave him Issac. To Issac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Mount Seir to Esau as an
inheritance, Jacob and his sons went down into Egypt".
BLESSED IS THE KEEPER OF PROMISES
(a) Blessed is the keeper of promises to Israel!
Is there a suggestion here that Hashem doesn't always keep His promises?
(b) Because the Holy Blessed One calculated the end, to do...
What is the connection between this and the previous statement? What promise to Israel
is being referred to here in the text? In the recorded history of Israel before the Exodus,
no where do we find such a promise made to them. To who, was the promise made? and
what is the meaning of the phrase; "calculated the end, to do"? To do what?
The Haggadah is referring to mysteries spoken about by the Kabbalists. "The last action
in the first thought" -- the last action was the evolution of Israel.
In classical antiquity Israel was a very late development. By tradition, we were, in fact,
the last to evolve. The End, as it were, of the evolutionary process of creation, of
nationhood, of language and culture.
"The promise to Israel" is the promise Hashem made to Himself to create Israel. The first
word of the Torah, "B'RAISHIS" "In the Beginning" refers to Israel who are called
"Raishis". Because "T'shuvah" Recovery, which is reason for the creation, is also called
The final act Hashem did was the evolution of Israel, but it was His primary purpose For
T'shuvah is the primary purpose. For Israel carries the message which is the enormous
wealth referred to at the end of the paragraph. We were given this wealth during the
Exodus in two parts.
"And the Children of Israel came through the sea on dry land" (Exodus 14:22).
Were they in the sea or were they on dry land? asks the Midrash, continuing: "From here
we learn that each individual had to throw himself into the sea before it parted".
Nachshon Ben Aminadav, prince of the tribe of Judah was first to jump into the sea. It
reached his nostrils before splitting for him. Did Nachshon know what would happen or
was he committing suicide? Did all those who followed, the six hundred thousand, did
they know the sea would split or did they expect to drown? Were they expecting some
sort of miracle to occur?
Another question that begs to be asked, concerns the "Great Wealth" promised to our
Father Abraham, which was brought out of Egypt.
It is well known that when the Jewish people left Egypt, they emptied it of treasure,
leaving it like an ocean without fish. There was nothing left for them to borrow or take.
Yet we are told that seven days later Moshe had to drive them away from the scene of the
Splitting of the Red Sea, that they were so busy plundering the booty, stripping the
corpses of the Egyptian dead that they would not move on. Furthermore we are told: the
value of the spoil picked at the seashore was hundreds of times greater than the loot
hauled out of Egypt. The Midrash makes a ratio comparison as that of dots of silver to
lines of gold. How empty could Egypt have been, if there yet remained the vast treasure
carried by the pursuing army which later drowned in the sea?
The answer is of course that there is treasure and then there is treasure!
What so precious was it we brought out of Egypt with us on the first night of Pesach?
What could possibly have been worth those hundreds of tormented years, the slavery, the
pain or the degradation?
First of all we realized that we could not manage our own lives. Intelligent and well
meaning though we were, children of the Holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs, twelve tribes of
G-D, alone we were not enough. Nothing we ourselves were capable of was going to stop
our descent to the lowest depths of defilement.
This may seem at first glance like a very unpretentious truth. Until you realize that many
a civilization has gone from evolution to extinction with no inkling of its implication.
Secondly, we in Egypt came to believe that a only a power infinitely greater than
ourselves was capable of managing, maintaining a sane balance and governing our life's
affairs. Throughout the year that revealed the Ten Plagues, we became imbued with the
profound awareness that the G-D of our Fathers is the Creator of the World, and no one
else. That we had failed in all our attempts to control our Egyptianization. That while it is
true we had not intermarried, we'd maintained our identity as the Children of Israel, we
spoke Hebrew and dressed as Jews.
It was not enough. If there are 50 gates of disgust we had passed through 49 of them. We
could not and cannot do it on our own, we are powerless. In order to be delivered out of
Egypt we would need the Almighty to act as midwife. To have our Jewish gold separated
from the dross that was Egypt we would need an omnipotent, caring and loving G-D.
What priceless knowledge this is.
Now to return to the question we asked at the outset, what happened at the sea?
Knowing intellectually that something is true, is only the first step. Being able to act on
that knowledge is a much more difficult matter. What happens when our fears meet our
challenges? There we were at the Red Sea, the Egyptian cavalry and army bearing down
on us, there was nowhere to run.
Moshe said "Hashem has said "Be quiet" He will do the fighting for you. Why are you
crying at me? Tell the children of Israel to begin moving".
This was the first real moment in history when our fears met a challenge. It was a
triumphant moment because we made the decision to turn our will and life over to the
care of Hashem. To answer the question; did Nachshon know the sea was going to split
for him? He didn't stop to ask. Turning life over to the care of G-D, precludes such
When I know I'm being taken care of, what does it matter whether I'm being told to walk
or stand still? To jump into the sea or into the flames? When it was all over, when we
began realizing what had happened to us, the jump we had made, the quantum leap, the
purest act of faith, we couldn't get over it. We sat together on the seashore going over it,
again and again.
This was wealth beyond anything we had dreamed. That we could give up managing our
own lives and turn it over to the care of a kind, caring, loving G-D? It was totally
unprecedented. It was revolutionary. It was even greater wealth than we had brought out
of Egypt with us. Moshe had to get us moving, urging us away from there. He knew it
was not the end of our spiritual journey, there was more to come.
It is said that the riches we brought out of Egypt was given us in the merit of the women,
while the riches we acquired at the Sea was in the merit of the men. The hidden meaning
is this. The realization we were out of control, that only Hashem could straighten us out,
was achieved passively. We did no more than watch the plagues befall the Egyptians. It
took no participation on our part.
Passivity is often symbolized in Jewish stories by 'woman'. The realization we could
make leaps of faith required action on our part. We ourselves had to do the jumping,
intellectualizing about faith in G-D wouldn't save us. Action is denoted in this story by
the symbol 'man'.
I. One is known as the Plunder of Egypt which refers to our realization of the first
First, we realized how powerless we were, then we realized that a power greater than
ourselves could restore us to sanity.
II. The second installment of riches is referred to as the Plunder of the Red Sea.
We were faced with the Egyptian army, whose only thought was our annihilation. Behind
us was the sea. We felt trapped and desperate. We cried to Moshe; he cried to Hashem.
He told Moshe to tell us not to worry,
"Just let go, let G-D. All you have to do is start walking".
Instead of crying out again, "where shall we walk to"? We turned our will and lives over
to the care of Hashem and started walking into the sea. We walked until the water came
up to our nostrils without looking back. And the waters parted.
This knowledge that we could turn our will and life over was the greatest wealth we
could ever have been given, and we are told that the Plunder of the Sea was more
valuable even than the Plunder of Egypt.
The first installment of riches is known as the "Women's" meaning that it is passively
1. We admitted we were powerless...
2. We came to believe.......
The second part is known as the "men's" since it requires action.
3. We made a decision....
The textual ambiguities in this paragraph are too numerous to elucidate individually and
their translation into English would require further explanations and commentaries. So
much is left for those who want to learn of the mysteries of the Kabala and more will be
The word "Kaitz" "end" has a numerical value of 190 which was the number of years
spent developing the latent personalities of the slaves we later became. We were in Egypt
only for 210 years.
The 190 years previous to that is calculated from the birth of Yitzchak and goes to make
up the 400 years of exile, promised to Abraham. In fact our problems all began with the
birth of Yitzchak.
"And they will be slaves to them and they will oppress them four hundred years".
It is not clear who will oppress whom and who will suffer the most.
"And also the nation they serve I will judge".
Hashem promised to be judgmental also to the Egyptians. He was most judgmental about
us. In fact the vast majority of us never made it into Recovery and four-fifths of us died
in the days of darkness during the Plague of Darkness. The percentages haven't changed
much over the millennia.
"Hashem calculated the end to do".
4. In the world of the Kabbala, words have meanings within meanings. "ASA" "to
do" appears a number of times in the story of the Exodus. It refers to the fourth
and final stage of development in the creation. ASIYA, DOING, is the ultimate
purpose and meaning of the creation. T'shuva, fixing, recovery, is likewise the
ultimate meaning. We Israel are the Ultimate meaning, we are ASIYA. Now in
the order of the Kabbala, the order of creation is formalized thus; corresponding
to the four stages of thought into speech:
1) Unconscious thought, inspirational.
2) Conscious creative thought.
3) Rational, reflective, selective thought, and
Corresponding to the four words ATZILUTH, B'RIYAH, YETZIRA, and finally ASIYA,
each is a form of creativity but ASIYA is the most tangible, as speech is the most tangible
Corresponding to this are four stages of Recovery:
1) We were relieved of the obsession,
2) We made decisions to change our lives and take steps,
3) We took those steps, one at a time and finally;
4) We carried the message.
"When Hashem did for me" intimates at these processes.
THIS IS WHAT STOOD BY OUR FATHERS - V'HEE SH'OMDO
(We lift the cup and hold it in the palm of our hand as we recite this chapter.)
The promise to Israel which the "Keeper of Promises" made is what has stood as a
beacon for us, a guarantee of continuity.
We lift the cup to remind us of the second term "V'hitzalty", "And I saved you". The
Holy-One-Blessed-is-He saves us again and again. In this context, Hatzala refers to the
intimacy we enjoy with our savior. We need keep no secrets. We may feel ashamed at the
thought that again and again we dream of "using". It wasn't only in Egypt that we were
slaves, we relapsed again and again. Each time our enemies rejoiced in our slavery and
each time they saw us recover.
Every time it happens, they think to hold us in the palm of their hands. But before they
can squeeze and crush us we are gone, for Hashem holds us in the palm of His hand.
The word used in the text is "AMAD" "Stood".
Perils arise and stand over us, threatening to destroy us. Not just in Pharaoh's Egypt but
in every generation new substances, and new habits each with life-threatening
consequences seems about to engulf us. And the Holy One save us again, His promise
looms every bit as large and powerful as any threat.
GO OUT AND LEARN - TZAY U'LMAD
Go out and learn what Lavan the Arami plotted to do to Yaakov our father. He was worse
than Pharaoh who only wanted to kill the males. Lavan tried to uproot us completely.
Pharaoh hated us as a people, Lavan hated us as an idea. To glimpse how profound such
hatred can be it is necessary to project ourselves beyond the present moment and imagine
as it were the world without all possibility of redemption. Lavans' world.
Lavan was the brother of Rivka (Rebecca) wife of Yitzchak. When Eliezer, Avraham's
servant, went to Mesopotamia to betroth Rivka as a bride for Yitzchak, Lavan tried to
poison him so that no Jewish nation could be born.
Later Yaakov (Lavan's nephew) came to Lavan looking for a wife for himself. He fell in
love with Rachel, Lavan's daughter, but was tricked into marrying Leah. Lavan was
desperate to prevent the marriage of Yaakov and Rachel, for they would give birth to
Joseph and the hope of redemption from Egypt. To Benjamin and the hope for ultimate
redemption. Lavan tried 100 ways to cheat Yaakov out of every possible joy and profit,
but he never succeeded because Yaakov was such a straightforward man and because
Hashem took charge of his affairs and caused them to prosper.
Lavan hated Yaakov and everything he stood for; as it is written, "the Aramaian loathed
my father". It was only the promise that Hashem has made to Himself, regarding Israel
that stood us in good stead.
The rest of this verse quoted in the text segues neatly into the Haggadah and the story of
the Exile into Egypt, as it continues:
"And he went down into Egypt, and he sojourned there, small in number, And became
there a great nation, powerful and numerous".
What follows is a note on how we came to be in Egypt. Don't think we went willingly.
Oh No! We were forced down by the word of the Almighty. Don't think we went down
into Egypt intending to stay there. No! We went down merely to sojourn as it is
Did all this hesitation and reticence prevent us becoming enmeshed in the experience of
Egypt and the subsequent slavery? The answer to that is history.
Many of us began using a medication at the express prescription of a medical
practitioner, many of us began eating simply to assuage a ravening hunger. Many of us
were genuinely angry at something in our lives which needed charge. The end result was
always the same. The medication became a habit, the meal became a binge, the anger
became abusive rage, friendship became obsession, the rules changed as we were playing
and we never noticed.
As it is written:
SMALL IN NUMBER
"Seventy souls your fathers went down into Egypt".
Seventy seems to be a pivotal number in the Jewish story. Seventy is the minimum
number of people who can represent Israel, there were seventy elders of the people. There
are seventy interpretations to the Torah.
70 letters in the ineffable name of Hashem.
70 sparks of Holiness scattered in the shattering of vessels, which describes the fall of
Adam and Chava (Eve), and the expulsion from the garden of Eden.
Significantly, Yocheved, mother of Miriam Aharon and Moshe, was born in between the
walls of the city as they arrived. Yocheved was the last of the 70. I think that there are
probably 70 addictions.
BECAME A NATION
We didn't quite fit into the Egyptian lifestyle. Try as we might we could never quite get
comfortable, always feeling outside the mainstream. The story that follows depicts the
beginning of our slavery. We may have tried to assimilate, we began doing things
contrary to our nature simply to be more like the Egyptians. We experimented with their
ideas, trying to absorb and be absorbed by their culture. All we got was the poisonous
propaganda and none of the benefits. They denied us citizenship and gave birth to us
instead of melting us down. As a grain of irritating sand in the stomach of the oyster, we
became a pearl. We stuck out. Egypt became our womb, the crucible of our shape.
AND I PASSED OVER YOU
"I saw you wallowing in your blood. And I said to you, "By your blood shall ye live".
And I said to you "By your blood shall ye live.'"
This is an important rule in Recovery. Are we prepared to go to any lengths?
Will we chase serenity as we chased our Anodyne of choice? Are we prepared to carry
the message to others the way it was carried to us?
"The message is clear" Says Hashem. "Either you invest your blood in this mission I give
you, or else you'll live by your blood".
AND THE EGYPTIANS PLOTTED EVIL AGAINST US
As it is written:
"Let us be crafty, lest they multiply. And it will happen if the opportunity arises, a
war will break out and they will join our enemies and fight us and leave the land".
This is the description of the onset of the disease. The behavior or habit takes on a guile
and cunning as though it were part of a master plan. Powerful and baffling!
So it was with the Egyptians. They did whatever they had to, making sure not to spook us
into refusing. Once we were hooked, they led us gently by the nose down the path to the
point where we no longer had a choice but to do as we were told. They gave us important
tasks to perform, granaries and treasuries to build, told us how well we were doing, how
much they needed us. They told us that what we were paying them in labor was just
taxes. As it is written:
"And they appointed tax collectors over them".
"They gave us hard work".
"And the Egyptians worked the Children of Israel harshly".
The midrash tells us that at first all Egyptians gathered to make bricks. Pharaoh himself
rolled up his sleeves and played in the mud with us making bricks. We thought we were
doing no more than our patriotic duty.
The actual Hebrew word for harshly is PARECH which is made up of two separate
words, PEH-RACH meaning "gentle mouth". This is how addiction always begins. It
feels good. Softly we were seduced into a life that became increasingly harsh and
oppressive. Which of us doesn't remember how hard we worked to stay out there?
AND WE CRIED OUT
And we cried to Hashem G-D of our Fathers. We did not cry to our own personal G-D.
We had no G-D. We were devoid of any conscious contact with Hashem. We had no
interior vision and faith in a Higher Power. The spiritual path of prayer and meditation
was not yet open to us.
The closest we could get was to cry to the G-D of our Fathers.
We knew that Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov had a very personal relationship with
Hashem. They tried to pass that information on to us, but we had to go the long way
around and make our own journey.
Most of us are familiar with "foxhole prayers". Promising all manner of things to Hashem
if only He will save us this one more time.
"And Hashem heard our voices". It does not say "He heard our prayers" since they were
hardly that. We were incoherent, in great pain. We did the most we could do, reaching
out and asking for help. No newcomer can do more.
HE SAW OUR PAIN
This is the loss of intimacy as it is written:
"And Hashem saw the Children of Israel and Hashem knew".
The word 'know' has sexual connotations, as it is written:
"And Adam knew his wife and she conceived and bore him a son".
Addiction leads to the place where ultimately nothing remains of the joys and pleasures
we take for granted. Intimacy and addiction are mutually exclusive, for it is accompanied
by high levels of core shame. Intimacy sets the stage for risking exposure and nakedness.
Intimacy uncovers the core self which the addict can never risk for fear of rejection.
The next thing we lost were our children. We mirrored no one and no one mirrored us.
Kabbalistically, 'Son' symbolizes kindness. What remained was unbalanced fear
symbolized by 'Daughter'. All the drugs and behaviors we abused have vicious sideeffects.
More so because
they are distorted
us severely depressed, whilst
reckless left us shrill with paranoia. Killing
and leaving the females
example of imbalance.
The pain was intense.
Hashem also saw the pressure we were under. No one but an addict in search of a fix,
feeding a habit, desperately searching for validation, comfort or relief, knows the
meaning of pressure. What incredible lengths we went to just to avoid the inevitable. We
willingly trod the treadmill of unreality to avoid facing ourselves. Our hunger was a
ravenous beast we desperately tried to keep sedated. The sheer energy expenditure
involved in remaining "out there" far exceeds the most arduous lifestyle we work at in
HASHEM TOOK US OUT OF EGYPT
It wasn't a medical doctor or psychiatrist. It wasn't a judge or probation officers. Hashem
didn't send any of the counselors, advisors or representatives He has it at His command.
In His Glory and Solitary Majesty He brought us out of Egypt. As it is written: "And I
passed through the Land of Egypt this night".
This night refers to the addiction which is the true exile in darkness.
1. Egypt, the seduction of abandonment to the world of slavery is the Place which
we now had the power to resist. "And I smote every firstborn in the land of
2. Firstborn refers to the glittering pantheon of illusory hyped-up irresistible People
whom we now had the power to resist. "And all the idols of Egypt I judged and
3. Idols refers to all the ephemeral objects of our obsession, Things to which we
imagined ourselves eternally enslaved. "I am Hashem". I can restore you to
sanity. " No one else".
Hashem brought us out of Egypt with:
1) A mighty hand.
2) An outstretched arm.
3) Fearsome greatness.
WITH A MIGHTY HAND
This is the Pestilence. Pestilence was real in Egypt, for us now let it be a metaphor.
The five descriptions of Hashem's power correspond to the
five stages of Recovery from
any form of addiction, obsession or compulsion that the disease may take.
The first steps we took,
led to the cessation of our acting out behavior. We had to stop using before we could
recover, but we lived to use as much as we used to live. Sobriety, abstinence, solvency or
whatever recovery we sought required first the Mighty hand of Hashem. This is the
mighty hand referred to in the Haggadah. Just saying NO! is a very difficult action to
A symbol of just how difficult is the Pestilence, the sudden death of all our props and
crutches. Everything we relied upon died or was jerked out from beneath us. In an age
where everything from running water to agriculture to transportation and clothing
depended on beasts of burden and domestic animals, the instantaneous death of cattle,
livestock, horses, asses, camels, sheep and goats, was catastrophic. This is what it was
like to stop using.
The second stage of recovery
is the Outstretched arm, symbolized by the cutting sword. We begin to cut ourselves off
from the people, places and things associated with our addiction. If we don't make this
break, odds are we will relapse. Pushing away from ourselves all the accouterments and
paraphernalia of using. We begin by holding them at arm's length. We are still fascinated
and obsessed by them.
With the third stage of recovery
comes great fear, symbolized by the "Shechina", the Divine Presence, awareness. As we
go beyond earliest recovery, distancing ourselves a little from the whole experience, we
encounter fear of returning and relapsing. The fear of our vulnerability. Fears of many
varieties surface. We discover that the whole fabric of our lives has been shot through
with fear. We feel defenseless and naked. Stripped of our armor, we a gripped by terror
for our lives. We know that without help from somewhere, we must surely go back to a
life of using. This fear is a natural, healthy and defensive response to the reality of
weakness when we consider the life-threatening nature of our disease. Fear for the loss of
sobriety can be a valuable tool in staying "clean".
The fourth stage is
The Sign, the image of the external power which keeps us from hurting ourselves. The
almost tangible, visible, physical guarantee of safety. The object of our desperate whiteknuckled
"hanging on" through the turbulence of
Recovery. The symbol
is a staff.
The Hebrew word for staff is; MATEH which besides meaning staff, also means TRIBE.
The words "staff" and "tribe" are interchangeable since the staff is actually a symbol of
identification in tribal societies. Each of the twelve tribes was represented by an elder or
PRINCE. His symbol of authority and vested power was the staff he carried. For many of
us our tribe is the fellowship we belong to and the meetings we attend. It is the staff of
our life, when meetings are our bread and butter.
The fifth stage of Recovery
is the Miracle, the Wonder, the change we have wrought in ourselves through the new
course of our action. We have turned our life around and now have a new purpose. This
is symbolized by BLOOD. Earlier we referred to Hashem's condition upon our Recovery.
"Either by your blood ye shall live or else by your blood shall ye live".
This is the full circle, the last stage of our Recovery when we internalize the steps,
becoming staffs of life.
THE TEN PLAGUES
It is customary when announcing the ten plagues to shed ten drops of wine from the cup,
to indicate the absence of joy in the punishment of our enemies. It is never the right time
to gloat at the downfall of others and this ritual reminds us of that.
The Kabbalists imbue the action with a deeper significance. The wine, as we mentioned
earlier, represents the powers of thought, more specifically the "understanding" or
deduction we associate with intuition. This is known as BINA and is attributed to the
feminine or receptive aspect of life. Prophecy with its receptive role vis-a-vis Hashem is
feminine and grounded in "BINA", intuition, until the prophecy is passed onwards by the
prophet. Then it becomes positive, masculine and specifically "CHOCHMA", wisdom.
Prophecy requires SIMCHA, joy and gratitude which are associated with wine. They too
are feminine aspects of the psyche. Here, however, we acknowledge another aspect of our
feminine, negative self. Its roots are in the future, for there are many possible futures. The
future like Woman, may give birth to many possibilities. The past is Masculine, there is
only one past. It is in the past that our resentments have their source. Resentments more
than anything in life, cut us off from the source of Simcha and prophecy. We simply have
to let go.
Part of the problem with our feelings is the overwhelmingly, primal nature of their
capacity. At first when we regain our feelings and sensations they feel huge. A small hurt,
like a drop of wine on the end of our fingertip is associated with the entire cup of wine.
We have not learned to differentiate, it feels as though there is a swimming-pool full of
pain in the basement which overflows if we add so much as another single drop to it.
Instead of feeling appropriate sensation, we experience as it were a lifetime of stored
hurts we never felt before.
Fears and hatreds have similar dynamics.
At this point in the seder when we announce the anguish suffered vicariously as it were
on our behalf by the Egyptians in the Haggadah, we let go our resentment and rage. We
spill it over the edge recognizing for a moment the primal nature of our rage and how it
resembles a cup filled to the brim. What remains afterwards is thus our cup of joy and
These are the ten plagues that the Holy-one-blessed-be-He brought upon the Egyptians in
Each of us has suffered the plagues in all their variety of forms and richness of diversity.
The order of manifestation as they occurred to the Egyptians in Egypt was particular to
them. Rather than compare our own stories, let us identify.
THE FANTASY OF OMNIPOTENCE
To understand the significance of the first plague we must first understand what
importance was attached to the River Nile in Ancient Egypt. A great deal has been
written on the subject and this is not the place for a detailed review. Suffice it to say that
for Hashem to strike all the water of the Nile into blood was to strike directly at the heart
of political, cultural, religious and economic life. Much more than merely a classic
military tactic. Cut off their water!
The Nile irrigates the whole of Egypt by inundation. It is swollen by rains in the
mountains at its source. Heavy with organic sediment, it overflows its banks, irrigating as
it fertilizes. It is the source of life, wealth and art. It is a god. Ceremonies associated with
the inundation, rituals and sacrifices comprised a large part of Egyptian daily life. The
priesthood, centering upon the King and Queen of Egypt, the Pharaoh, was dedicated to
the perpetuation of the links between the royal family and the Nile. As Pharaoh walked
down to the water, it would rise to meet him. Pharaoh by association became a god. The
Nile was not a symbol; it was a reality.
Some of us have had a similar relationships with a substance, mood-altering ritual or
Suddenly after Millennia of being their most trustworthy, reliable friend, the river turned
into a putrid filthy morass of blood, an enemy. We too have gone through this state of
change when our "best friend" showed its true ugly face, the other side of dependence
where all is ill health and slavery. No more than we were the Egyptians able to forsake
the Nile. Just because it had turned to blood didn't mean that their habits changed
suddenly. They continued in their denial through all the stages of substitution and
rationalization. As it is written:
"And all the Egyptians continued to dig beside the river looking for water to
drink, because they could not drink the river water"
This plague reduced Pharaoh from the proud vain tyrant to a ridiculous figure, butt of a
divine joke. When Hashem warned that He would mock Pharaoh and his institutions, that
He would playfully dismember the instruments of government, this plague of frogs surely
fulfilled all that promise.
A frog appeared in Pharaoh's palace, in his bed chamber, in his bed. When it was
crushed, two live frogs appeared in place of the dead one. They multiplied like insects
and croaking, hopped out of Pharaohs bedroom and made their way through the palace.
They invaded the ministry buildings surrounding the royal palace. From the government
departments they split, multiplied and spread like tendrils of the bureaucracy itself into
every corner of Egypt, into people's kitchens, their kneading troughs, even into their
ovens. (The Hebrew for frog, "TSFARDEA" also translates into BIRDWITTED -
"Nonsense!") Like the croaking reptile which simply announces itself and tries to be
louder than the next croaking frog, so are politicians. All this could not fail to be
interpreted by the Egyptian civilian as a humorous humiliation of their monarchy and its
vested interests by a Higher Power.
We too have seen all our efforts at control come to nought. We have been humiliated
disastrously in direct consequence of our actions and decisions, we have seen them bear
witness to our stupidity, to our delusions. As we tried to get the cosmos to dance to our
tune, and all its creatures to act the parts we assigned to them, we appeared no less
ridiculous than frogs.
This plague was an attack on the disease's most powerful weapon, "Denial". Denial is a
mechanism whereby the most outrageous manifestations of the addiction can be
explained without admitting the necessity of change. An example would be someone with
lung cancer blaming automobile emissions for the illness whilst smoking three packets of
cigarettes every day. The Egyptians had a similar attitude. When the plagues began to
strike, The College of Magicians produced practitioners who could simulate these effects
with their thaumaturgical arts. The result of their success was to enable Egypt to prolong
its agony, it was "business as usual". This is the function of denial. The mere fact that
they could product similar results with magic meant somehow that their lives were not as
unmanageable as Moses was attempting to point out. Pharaoh didn't feel quite powerless
over events as long as someone close to him was murmuring into his ear, "It's only a
strong manipulation of natural forces, your majesty". But as with all illusion there is a
natural upper limit to the intricacy of the web.
When first we lie or deny the truth, to ourselves or others, we have to compensate. The
ripples spread outward from the event of the denial, each untruth has ripple-like effects,
ramifications, each having to be explained. If I deny the effect of the cigarettes on my
lungs I have to redefine the meaning of the term carcinogenic. If I maintain that denial, I
have to redefine the definitions of phenomena such as melanoma, asbestosis, oncogeny
and other things. If I wish to continue in my denial, I have to explain in some new way
enzyme activity and amino acids and a thousand other facts.
There reaches a point where lies and evasion can no longer explain events fast enough to
avoid the momentum of the truth. Magic and illusion have their own "event horizon". In
Egyptian magic the illusion could not be sustained if it required the denial of something
smaller than a grain of barley. There are simply too many details to take care of to
maintain the illusion. This was the wonder of the plague of lice. They are smaller than a
grain of barley. It was at this stage of events that the Magicians of Egypt began to lose
face and ultimately their power. They tried to duplicate the lice but were unable to. At
which point, they broke through their first level of denial and admitted a Higher Power.
As it is written:
"And the Magicians said to Pharaoh, "It is a finger of G-D".
4. WILD BEASTS:
Maintaining His attack on Pharaoh's denial, Hashem instructed Moshe to confront
Pharaoh in the morning when Pharaoh went down to the water. Pharaoh relieved himself
every morning privately by the water in order to maintain the illusion that he was a god
and so did not need the toilet. Moses warned Pharaoh but he would not budge.
Suddenly like some monstrous, collective delirium tremens, Egypt was filled with
marauding animals, snakes and scorpions. But the land of Goshen where the Children of
Israel lived was free and peaceful. At this point Pharaoh's denial began to crumble and he
proceeded to the next stage of his defeat. He tried to negotiate.
We have all at one time or another tried negotiating with our disease. If I switch brands,
add water, change partners, only on weekends, anything from geographic relocations to
surgery, just let me carry on as I was. And all to maintain the fantasy of omnipotence,
Pharaoh called Moshe and Aharon and told them to start public worship of their G-D in
the land of Goshen, hoping thereby to placate Moshe and maintain control. Moshe
demanded the right to travel three days into the wilderness, Pharaoh agreed on condition
they went no further. The plague was lifted, Pharaoh changed his mind and once again
refused to let them go.
The plague referred to earlier in the Haggadah as "Mighty Hand" was the sudden death of
all the livestock in the fields. We too have seen the disappearance of all our valuable
possessions, jobs, businesses, houses, and automobiles. We know what it means to be
smitten with the pestilence. To look around and survey the desolation of all one's wealth
disintegrating. To ask; "Why is this happening to me"? (as though this wasn't somehow a
logical progression considering the direction in which we were headed).
The "beast" in Egypt was food, clothing, transportation, status symbol, object of worship
and means of waging war. It was commerce and agriculture. It struck the Egyptian
suddenly and forcibly that life could not go on as it had been doing. Pharaoh's reaction
was not so incomprehensible to those of us who have been in his position. He became
defiant. As it is written: "And Pharaoh sent inspectors, and behold not a single one of the
animals belonging to Israel had died in the plague. And Pharaoh hardened his heart and
refused to send out the People".
At the point where their very bodies rebelled and broke into many suppurating boils, the
illusion and denial broke down completely. As it is written:
"And the Magicians could not stand before Moshe because of the boils. The boils
afflicted the Magicians and the Egyptians".
The Magicians lost all their credibility and in fact are never heard or referred to again in
Because the Egyptians felt the way they did about themselves, because their self esteem
like ours, was based so much on their external physiognomy - because they were so
proud of their physical culture, smug and self-satisfied, safe in the knowledge that
whatever hardships would have to be borne as a result of their obstinacy and defiance
could always be deflected upon the slaves and lower orders of society. They were
themselves smitten. Their bodies became disgusting, repulsive and painful. The small
domestic and household pets of which the Egyptians were worshipfully reverent, the dog
and cat, were equally subject to the plague of boils though they had been immune to the
pestilence. The message was clear to them as it has been to us. When we use and abuse,
we jeopardize our selves and all those around us.
Don't look to place blame for misfortune that befalls those we love, somewhere else.
While we were busy chasing our "high", too busy to take care of those who really needed
it, they suffered. If children fell ill because their environment was unsafe - because we
couldn't afford to provide them with the nutrition, hygiene and care they needed or
because our affairs were in such chaos - it's typical for us to go in search of a blame
These plagues, their sequence, their targets and all the details of their execution were
purposeful. Our experiences, however painful and humiliating can always benefit others,
and that's a promise!
Before this plague occurred, Hashem via Moshe warned Pharaoh very specifically about
what was to come adding:
"And this time I will send all my plagues to your heart".
In the description of the hail that fell we are told that it was accompanied by very loud
thunder. However damaging the hail was, its impact was not as great as the thunder. The
hail was not the frozen raindrops with which we are familiar. It more closely resembled
molten lava spewing from an erupting volcano in droplets. Yet the thunder which
accompanied it was far more frightening. Because very loud noise is disorienting, and in
order to hang on to illusions we must be able to fixate on them. When in a disorienting
situation our world collapses. When Pharaoh appealed to Moshe to beg Hashem to lift the
plague, he referred to "the God-thunder and the hail". Moshe answered
"I will pray, the plague will be lifted but you are not ready to let the people go".
To Moshe, it was clear that Pharaoh had no intention of letting go, he was ready to die
and bring the entire world down with him. Pharaoh was not a coward, he was not weak
but he was not smart. He was challenging the Almighty. Hashem said, "In order that All
the world might see that I am The Higher Power and that ultimately there is hope, that
prayer and faith are necessary and worthwhile, I will let you live". Pharaoh bore the lice
and the boils without demur. He was not afraid of pain. Yet when the noise of the thunder
filled his head, cutting him off from his defense mechanism he was just as frightened as
any other human would be. Very loud noise by itself is a form of torture against which
the body is not equipped to defend itself. Are we different? Are we ready to let go? Are
we tired of all the noise in our heads?
The locust was also preceded by negotiation. Pharaoh, urged by his people who were
losing heart, tried to bargain with Moshe. But when he was told that Moshe intended
leaving with young and old, men and women, he balked. For reasons that are not entirely
clear, the destruction wrought by the voracious locusts who devoured everything edible,
scared Pharaoh. He panicked, calling Moshe and Aharon, confessing to having sinned
against their G-D and them, begging them to forgive him again and to beg Hashem to
remove "this death".
But the truth is that as much as he wanted to let them go, he wanted to hold on to them.
The significance of this plague was the isolation it imposed upon the Egyptians. As it is
"No one could see his brother and no one could get up for three days".
The darkness, we are told, was palpable. But the greatest darkness is when we cannot
hear what our brothers are saying. Seeing is analogous of all communication between
friends. All meetings of the mind are called seeing. If we continue determinedly down the
path of self-obsession we must eventually reach that point of palpable darkness where all
communication breaks down. If insanity is defined as making the same mistakes but
expecting different results, then Pharaoh King of Egypt must by this time have been
insane. Again he tried negotiating and saving face. He could not admit his powerlessness.
He tried to salvage something from the situation. Eventually he took refuge in rage and
forbade Moshe from setting foot in his palace again. Moshe agreed saying, "Yes, let it be
just as you have spoken. I will not see your face again".
During the three days of darkness, four-fifths of the Children of Israel died of an
overdose and were quietly buried by relatives and friends. Even with all they had seen,
most slaves didn't believe in salvation.
10. SLAYING THE FIRSTBORN:
We tend to blame providence and bad luck for the losses we suffer as a consequence of
using and abusing. The price is the same whether we learn our lesson or not. There is no
way to use safely, and death is always the price. Pharaoh and all his people, every
Egyptian regardless of race, caste or rank - all lost a loved one, child or sibling. The
anguish was great. The capitulation was total: no more deals or negotiations, no more
stipulation or clauses, no more conditions or half measures. They suddenly became aware
of their own mortality. Sometimes it requires the death of someone close to us to make us
ready to change. It is impossible to scare an addict since all the denial mechanisms forbid
it. Sometimes though, a moment spent thinking about the state of life as it is now,
especially when a major tragedy has occurred, is sufficient for the seed of doubt to take
root and grow. Bringing the edifice of denial and delusion crashing down. For each of us
in Recovery, "the slaying of the firstborn" has occurred (at least once).
RABBI YEHUDA GAVE ABBREVIATIONS
As though he had written - BFL WPB HLDF. It has been suggested that Rabbi Yehuda
had a problem and would not waste ten drops of wine when three would do. Of course
many more significant reasons are given to explain his abbreviation of the plagues.
1. The first three plagues were brought about by Moshe's brother Aharon. Moshe
had no part in smiting the Nile or the earth and dust of Egypt. When he was a
baby and placed in a basket and left to drift in the Nile amongst the reeds and
bulrushes, the Nile protected him. It would have been an act of ingratitude for him
to have turned it into blood. When Moshe killed an Egyptian whom he saw
beating a slave, he hid the corpse in the earth and dust of Egypt. To have turned
the dust into lice would also have been an ingratitude. This the Torah teaches us,
is a measure of the responsibility on one who owes gratitude. The second three
were performed by Moshe and Aharon together. The last plagues were brought on
by Moshe himself.
2. The first three plagues were all at the lowest possible level (i.e., sea level and
ground level). The second three were above ground level. The final plagues came
from successively higher levels.
RABBI YOSI HAGLILI SAID:
What possible difference can it make to know that the Egyptians suffered three times as
much at the crossing of the Red Sea?
It is written (Ex. 15.26):
And he said, "If you listen well to the voice of Hashem you G-D and you do what is right
in His eyes, if you hearken to His commandments and guard His statues, all the illness
which I brought upon Egypt I will never bring upon you, for I am Hashem your Healer".
This is perhaps the clearest indication of the nature of things in Egypt. The verse does not
refer to plagues brought upon Egyptians. Rather it speaks of disease and illness upon
Egypt. Finally it introduces the concept of a Healing Higher Power. During the plague of
lice the Magicians referred to the "Finger of G-D". We explained there that this was a
breakthrough in their denial. It was a crack in the apparently seamless wall of
rationalization they had built to explain events that pointed at the need for a change in
their lifestyle. What was their life-style?
Egyptians, we are told, had passed through the fiftieth gate of "Tumah". There is no
specific translation into any language of the word Tumah. In this context it appears to
mean self-centeredness, self-deception, self-abuse, self-destruction, self-obsession. It
amounts to Soul Murder. Life in Egypt was soul destroying. Israel, we are told had
reached the portals of the Fiftieth Gate. They had already passed through forty-nine.
Another moment would have been too late. Hashem rushed them out of Egypt just in time
to prevent them stepping through that final Gate. Each Gateway is another lie I tell
myself, another excuse I make for another selfish act I rationalize. The experience in
Egypt was a journey into sickness and addiction. We went all the way. There was very
little difference between our disease and that of our slave drivers. What happened to the
Egyptians was meant for us. Hashem could have destroyed them instantaneously. The
slaughter of the firstborn could have been extended to everyone.
We Children of Israel had to learn a lesson. We had to see before our eyes fifty kinds of
denial stripped away. We had to come out of fifty kinds of excuse. Our attention had to
be skewered and riveted for a lasting impression to be made. So the whole panoply of the
Exodus unfolded. And Rabbi Yosi Haglili tells us that in fact the Children of Israel saw
the "Hand of Hashem" And they Came to Believe in Hashem and His Servant Moshe.
Yet their enthusiasm lasted no more than three days as it is written:
"And they went three days into the wilderness and found no water and complained to
Reb Yosi Haglili is telling us of all the misery which we need not suffer. If we keep
walking the steps, learn to listen, do the right thing, etc. Hashem promised us that all the
misery He brought upon Egypt will not befall us, because He is our Healer. We came to
believe in Him at the Red Sea. If it worked for them it can work for us. So the two ideas
Rabbi Eliezer said:
"Each plague was in fact four plagues".
Rabbi Akiva said:
"Each plague was in fact five plagues".
They argue over the nature of anger itself. Rabbi Eliezer believes that "Wrathful
breathing" is not an acting out of anger, unlike the other four expressions which imply
action. Rabbi Akiva disagrees, saying it is a "plague". Perhaps their argument has to do
with their own natures and their perception of the role that healthy anger plays in the life
of a normal person.
Or perhaps their argument refers to Hashem and the description of anger when applied to
Him. Is there such a thing as divine anger which is not manifest in a physical "plague"?
Rabbi Eliezer maintains that Hashem may be angry in the descriptive sense of "Being".
Reb Akiva says No! Hashem angry is a condition that affects all the Universe and is
never just a state of being.
Dayainu does not mean it would have been enough. Rather, it would have been more than
If we count our blessings here we find:
FIFTEEN REASONS FOR BEING GRATEFUL
1. He brought us out of Egypt.
Obviously our first gratitude is for the fact that we are no longer trapped, enslaved to
substances and habits. There could be no growth so long as we were in Egypt.
2. It does not say He judged them, rather, He did judgments among them.
The word "did", ASA refers to the most tangible form of creativity the ultimate unfolding
of Hashem's plans. Hashem is not judgmental simply for its own sake. His judgments are
very creative. He did it for us, in order to show us the nature of our addiction and the
power of the lie in which we lived. Hashem exposed both the Egyptians and their gods.
3. He "Did" their gods.
The creativity we refer to is undoubtedly the humor and playfulness in the humiliation of
the Egyptian gods.
4. He killed their firstborn.
This is the culmination of the first lesson. Slavery means death. Addiction means death.
The worship of ungods means death. Let this be clear and unequivocal.
5. He gave us their money.
It does not say gave us their wealth, rather their money. A medium of exchange, the
dollar is a piece of green paper of little value. But it represents agreement amongst people
to maintain a monetary system and all the cultural ramifications carries. For the system to
be successful, a stable balance of forces must exist in the marketplace.
The whole structure of economics that worked so well for the Egyptians now came to
work for us. It was a sane, peaceful, rewarding system. The word chosen here to describe
money MAMON, is unusual in this context. One might have expected the word
KESEPH, silver to be used. Mamon does not appear in the story of the Exodus, whereas
Keseph, silver is mentioned often. We did not have to go through the hardship of
developing our own through scarcity and hardship and want. We didn't need any more
upheavals in our lives concerning mundane things. Poverty makes Recovery difficult. We
had enough on our hands without skyrocketing inflation and a forced return to the barter
6. He split the Sea for us.
We might have had to fight a pitched battle with them the way we did weeks later with
the Amalekites. The Egyptians might have found themselves drawn away to fight
elsewhere against marauders, or any number of other possibilities. Instead we were taught
to surrender and turn our will over to Hashem. That was good for us.
7. He passed through it on dry land.
We are not merely remarking that Hashem took care of details. When the Red Sea split
and we passed through it, we did not walk through mud and swamp. Everything was as
dry as a bone and the walk was comfortable. We are really pointing out that Hashem is
loving and caring. The ungods we served in Egypt were many things, none of them
loving and caring or anticipating of our needs.
8. He drowned our oppressors in it.
Apparently it was very important to us to see the Egyptians destroyed. Perhaps we were
afraid that so long as they could chase us they were incapable of letting go and we would
have to battle endlessly with them. Perhaps we ourselves could never let go until we saw
them utterly defeated. Whatever the reason, Hashem did drown them all in the Sea.
9. He took care of our needs.
Forty years in the wilderness. Protected us from sun and wind, snow and rain, snakes and
scorpions. We were surrounded by "Clouds of Glory" and never really lacked material
things. We had our needs met.
10. He fed us manna.
This was not just food. This was an entirely new creation. A whole new species of long
molecule, this was not some growth or desert cacti. The Manna gave a whole new
meaning to the phrase "Living by the word of Hashem".
11. He gave us the Shabbos.
Shabbos is priceless; it is not a "Sabbath", or day or rest. Only those who live it know
what it feels like. To describe it is fruitless. A marble statue has as much resemblance to a
real person as the common notion has to the true meaning of Shabbos. It is the pearl of
12. He brought us close to Mount Sinai.
This in itself was an enormous step for us. We became willing to have all our defects of
character removed. We were willing to go to any lengths to do Hashem's will. We were
entirely ready. What higher spiritual peaks could we possibly have aimed for? We
weren't just present at Mount Sinai, we were close.
13. He gave us the Torah.
Not merely a jewel out of His treasury, Hashem gave us the whole treasury.
14. He entered us into the Land of Israel.
15. Built us the "Chosen House" (Temple) to atone for our sins.
Who mentioned sins? Sin is implicit in the way we are. We aren't angels. We aren't
expected to get it right the first time or even the second time. We are going to keep
failing. What matters is progress, not perfection.
The Hebrew words chosen here to mean Temple are BAIS HABECHIRA, literally
translated as "House of Choice". An allusion to the end product of the Exodus. We are no
longer slaves because we have a choice. The real distinction between the using addict and
the recovering addict is the power of choice. And so our gratitude list ends with thanks
for the gift of what is more commonly referred to as Free Will, freedom to choose.
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