The Roosters and the Frogs
by Rabbi Aron Moss
When it comes to the Pesach Seder, I always get stuck in the ten plagues that were visited on the Egyptians. The Nile River turns to blood, the land is covered in frogs, the people riddled with lice. It all sounds a bit weird. Why would the Almighty G-d afflict a people with these particular plagues? He could have just zapped them, and yet He sends them....frogs?!
I too have been baffled by the plagues, especially the frogs. It is a bit incongruous, like calling a football team "The Roosters." It just doesn't sound so menacing.
You can only understand the plagues if you listen to how G-d Himself described them. He told Moses, "I will smite the Egyptians and bring justice to their gods." G-d was not only punishing the Egyptian people for enslaving the Israelites, He was also smashing the Egyptian value system, their false gods.
People rarely do evil thinking that it is evil. Most villains believe they are doing good, because their value system is so twisted as to view darkness as light, justify evil as good, and explain wickedness as righteousness.
So G-d wanted to not only afflict the Egyptians, but to strike the source of their immorality. Each plague was an attack on the core beliefs of Egypt, the beliefs that led them to drown Israelite babies and become the most immoral society of the day. Let's look at the three examples you mentioned, the river turning to blood, the frogs and the lice.
The Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, for the Nile was their source of irrigation, livelihood and wealth. Thus the Nile represents materialism to the extreme, making a god out of money. That's why it was afflicted first. Where money is god, blood will flow.
The frog was another Egyptian deity. It was the god of fertility. Having children is a noble goal, but for the Egyptians, children were no more than a power base, and being fruitful like a frog meant expanding your clan and extending your influence. When children are seen as frogs, then humans have lost their humanity.
But it was the third plague, the plague of lice, that forced the Egyptians to recognize that the finger of G-d was at play. The Egyptian sorcerers were able to replicate the first two plagues through black magic, and so they weren't convinced that they were being divinely punished. But when lice swarmed over every Egyptian, they lifted their hands up in defeat. This is because as powerful as Egyptian sorcery was, it could not impact something as small as a louse. Egyptian spirituality dealt with big things, major issues, not minute details. They didn't give importance to the small things. They couldn't affect a louse.
We left Egypt and its ugly beliefs behind, to embrace a value system that was its polar opposite. Money is not a god, merely a means to do good. Our children are not trophies, but rather souls entrusted to us by G-d to care for and pass on our values. And the little things do matter. Most of our life is made up not of dramatic choices and big events, but of small details and subtle choices, and they all make a difference.
So on Pesach we go through the ten plagues, and reflect on the values that made Egypt into oppressors, the values we left behind, and the values that have kept us coming to Seder for three thousand years.