As Passover approaches, I ponder how to make the biblical story detailing the Jews’ exodus from Egypt more relatable to my children, ages 14, 14, and 10. As we read the narrative in the hagaddah at our seders, I know that my older sons will be listening and processing it with their own particular brand of teenage cynicism and doubt. And I get it.
The chronicle of the Jews emerging triumphantly from slavery and beginning the journey that eventually led them to Israel is part of the tapestry of our history. It highlights origins of anti-Semitism that are still pervasive today. I think my kids understand and accept this part; however, other facets of the Passover lore are somewhat far-fetched in their world. Pharaohs, plagues, and parting seas are the stuff of fairy tales or Hollywood. The story is dramatic and poignant, but it doesn’t seem possible to them. Truthfully, I don’t care if they believe the story or not–I will leave it to them to make their own decisions. But I do see some modern day parallels that I think they can understand and even relate to.
I focus on the 10 plagues because this story element inspires their incredulity and doubt. The plagues are dramatic and shocking, and if portrayed in a modern movie, the special effects could be quite spectacular. But it doesn’t seem real. What each plague represents, however, truly is relevant to all of us today.
I have created an updated version of the plagues to demonstrate that the concepts are still topical and prevalent in our world. I’m using the seder as a teachable moment to open my children’s eyes to the greater world, and to instill a sense of responsibility to work towards a solution.
1. Blood. With the wave of Aaron’s rod, all bodies of Egyptian water became blood. Today, instead of blood, our waters are polluted from chemical dumping, spilled oil, and discarded garbage. Many parts of the world have limited or compromised water supplies, leading to sickness, draught, and the death and extinction of many animals.
2. Frogs. Frogs emerged from bodies of water and invaded the land. Our world today also contains beings that interfere with the lives of others, causing discord and suffering. The increasing prevalence of abuse of people and animals is a plague that troubles me deeply. It must be addressed through education, training, and a commitment to protect the abused and punish the perpetrators, and not the other way around.
3. Lice. These pesky insects, minute warriors that reproduce at an alarming rate, infested Egypt. In thousands of years, the world has not managed to eradicate lice. This particular plague, unfortunately, is one that invaded our own home, and I’m sure the memory of painful combing, foul shampoos, and obsessive washing of cloth materials still lingers.
4. Wild Beasts. Hordes of wild beasts invaded the houses of Pharaoh and his servants, bringing death and destruction. I liken this plague to modern terrorism in that groups like Hamas and ISIS, who don’t value human life, are an insidious omnipresence, killing indiscriminately and reveling in the death of innocents.
5. Cattle Plague. When the Pharaoh refused (again) to release the Jewish people, a grievous plague wiped out their cattle. While I am tempted to point out that the Mad Cow disease that surfaced in the late 1980s is a modern parallel (and it is), there is one greater. Disruptions in food supply due to disease, poverty, or crop destruction create the same plague that affects millions of people in every country in the world: hunger.
6. Boils. Moses threw furnace soot, and it turned to a fine dust blanketing Egypt, causing its inhabitants to break out in boils. Our world today is blighted with illness and sickness, and while modern medicine has made hefty advances, there are still many incurable diseases.
7. Hail. A vast wave of thunder and hail obliterated every man or animal in the fields. My children have personal experience with the destruction from extreme weather. We lived through Hurricane Sandy, and witnessed the damage to our home, neighborhood, and surrounding areas. Two and a half years later, some people haven’t been able to return to their homes, and other houses in our neighborhood remain condemned.
8. Locusts. The wind brought with it masses of locusts that blanketed the earth. Locusts cause mass destruction and irreparable damage, as does the prevalence of guns in our world today. Though the threats may differ, the results are the same.
9. Darkness. A deep darkness cloaked Egypt and imprisoned Egyptians in their homes, blinded. I believe that darkness is a euphemism for the ignorance and prejudice that plagues our world today. The ugliness that comes from discrimination of people for race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or perceived class creates a world of bullies and dictators that reinforces hatred and violence.
10. Slaying of the First Born. The firstborn of all Egyptian men or cattle were murdered. On any given day, the media reports on the plague of people slaughtering others, by accident and with intent. It occurs so frequently that we are dulled to its evils. While some stories are far worse than others, the fact remains that violence is a given in this world, and it only seems to escalate.
I hope my kids will understand the concept of a plague–a world problem that we all need to be aware of and combat in our own way. Passover is a good time to reinforce these concepts.
Now if I could just get them to try the gefilte fish…