It is one of the peculiarities of the Passover story that God sends ten plagues down on all of the Egyptians, not just the ones who were in favor of slavery. It is likely that there were a fair number of Egyptians who said, “I see no reason to detain these Hebrew slaves any longer than we already have,” and who nevertheless found themselves drinking blood instead of water. By the time frogs had hopped through the land, and gnats and flies had stung everything in sight, there were doubtless more Egyptians who said, “You know, I would rather do without slaves than have all of these terrible pests around,” and who still suffered from pestilence and boils. By the time the threats came from the sky—hail, locusts, and darkness—there couldn’t have been too many Egyptians who were in favor of keeping the Jews in bondage, except the stubborn Pharaoh, who only changed his mind when his own son, who by this point was probably an abolitionist—a word which here means “in favor of ending slavery if only because he was sick of plagues”—was slaughtered as part of the tenth and final plague. It is likely that the entire Egyptian nation disagreed with the Pharaoh by that time, and yet it was the entire nation that was punished.
This is not fair, and Jewish tradition has us spill ten drops from the beverage of our choice when naming the plagues, in order to remember the suffering of the Egyptians. Of course, the pain and terror of ten plagues cannot compare with a glass that is slightly less full than it was originally, but tradition dictates that these ten drops are symbolic, a word which here means “a way of expressing how sorry we are about something that happened a long time ago and was not directly our fault.” This symbolism may come in handy, so that some night at dinner you can say, “When I spilled grape juice all over your beautiful white tablecloth, it was not an accident, but my way of apologizing for various terrible things that have happened to innocent people.”
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