In this week’s Torah portion we read the narrative of the ten plagues (actually, only the first seven plagues, the final three will come next week.) But the concept of calling them “plagues” is actually rabbinic. In the text, they’re best translated as “signs,” demonstrations of divine power.
Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites from the oppression of Egyptian bondage, but Pharaoh’s heart is stiffened, and he declines their plea.
And of course, all hell breaks loose: blood, frogs, lice, insects, even hail (I mean, this is the desert- that’s some sign). But does Pharaoh relent and concede? Heck no! He’s the King! He’s always right! How could be possibly back down?
In truth, we’re all a little guilty (though hopefully not to this extent) of being stubborn, and reluctant to admit when we’ve wronged someone. Acknowledging a mistake is really hard, but admitting you’ve hurt someone is particularly difficult. That’s why it’s important to see signs–to understand when you’ve made a mistake, instead of compounding the situation. Every passing “plague” was another opportunity for Pharaoh to do the right thing, but he simply couldn’t admit his wrongdoing.
We are all humans, and so we’re all bound to err. But a healthy person is aware of their actions. A healthy person notices their mistakes, and does their best to right their wrongs. So don’t miss the signs, or you may end up with frogs in your bed.
Michael Pierce is the rabbinical student intern at Delaware Hillel.