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The Modern Day Exodus

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

Returning to the epic Exodus story, Egypt is a hot mess. The Nile turns to blood; frogs, lice, wild animals, and locusts run rampant; and the Egyptians suffer from pestilence (disease), boils, hail, darkness, and the death of the firstborns. What is going on here? Why did G-d use these specific plagues against the Egyptians?

After Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go, Pharaoh replied, “Who is the L‑rd, that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the L‑rd, neither will I let Israel out.”[1]

Through the plagues, G-d showed Pharaoh who He was: a supernatural being who controls all of creation.[2] One by one, the plagues knocked down Egypt’s belief system[3]:

  1. The Nile turning to blood showed that G-d controls the water and on a deeper level, wealth. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile as a god, since they considered it their source of sustenance, enabling them to be a wealthy, materialistic society. It is not the Nile who makes Egyptians (or people) rich, but Hashem.

  2. The frogs were another Egyptian deity, the god of fertility. By causing them to multiply, Hashem made it clear that it is He who controls fertility and all man-made creations.

  3. The lice showed that G-d controls the dust of the land. This plague also made it clear that G-d’s hand was at play since it was the first plague that the Egyptian sorcerers could not replicate.

  4. The wild animals showed that G-d controls all the animals.

  5. The pestilence (disease) that spread between the animals and Egyptians showed that G-d controls the air.

  6. The boils showed that G-d controls our health.

  7. The hail showed that G-d controls the natural systems of rain and fire.

  8. The locusts, which ate through the Egyptian’s crops, showed that G-d controls the earth’s vegetation.

  9. The darkness showed that G-d controls light and darkness.

  10. The death of the firstborn showed that G-d controls life and death, including all the spiritual realms.

G-d’s destruction of Egyptian beliefs culminated in the mitzvah of the Korban Pesach, in which G-d commanded the Jews to slaughter lambs and offer them as a sacrifice before leaving Egypt. The lamb was a god in Egyptian culture. Not only were the Jews commanded to kill the lambs, but they were told to keep the lambs in their homes for four days prior to the sacrifice so that the Egyptians would know their intentions.[4]

Upon hearing this command, Moshe said to G-d, “Lord of the Universe! How can I ask them to do such a thing? Don’t you know that the Egyptians worship the lamb? If we slaughter it in front of their eyes, they will stone us!”

G-d answered Moshe, “By your life! Israel will not leave this place before slaughtering the gods of Egypt in front of their eyes and showing to all that their gods are worthless.”[5]

The Exodus wasn’t just freedom from slavery but freedom from Egyptian culture and beliefs. By taking us out of Egypt, G-d destroyed the belief that nature is the highest power and that man can manipulate nature for his own ends. Rather, G-d revealed that there is a single, supernatural power that controls all of creation, and we are here to serve Him, rather than Him here to serve us.

This is why Passover is the story of the Jewish people. We are a people built on emunah, faith. The Exodus solidified our faith in Hashem and it is upon that foundation that a Jew needs to live his life.

How does this apply today? Say someone works hard in his job and gets a raise. He thinks, “Wow, my efforts were successful.” No. Hashem decided that this person should get a raise; if G-d didn’t want it to happen, all the effort in the world would have been futile. We do not control our lives, G-d does. Yes, we have free will, but we also believe in Divine Providence.

Another example. Someone is G-d forbid sick and desperate to see a doctor. When he sees the doctor, who prescribes the right treatment, he thinks the doctor cured him. No. G-d enabled this doctor to cure him. If G-d didn’t want the man to be cured, no doctor in the world could have saved him.

This is the attitude we should have as Jews; we need to know that there is a power beyond us orchestrating the world always. This faith and trust in G-d needs to be worked on and strengthened. To do this, we need to have the will. Just like G-d made the Jews slaughter the Korban Pesach, we must take an active part in our own Exodus. But if we do, we will be truly free to see reality for what it is.

Book & App Suggestion:

Living Emunah (Rabbi David Ashear has a large following (including me!) who listen to his daily five-minute audio talks on Faith and Divine Providence.  Some of his best talks have been compiled into this book, which has amazing story after story illustrating how Hashem is intimately involved in our lives. You can hear the daily audio talk in the free Power of Speech App.)

[1] Exodus 5:1, 2

[4] Rav Dessler, Strive For Truth, Part 5, p. 200-201 (Shemot 12:3-6)

[5] Id. (Midrash, Shemot Rabba 16:3)

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