Rising to the Challenge
I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night – I, and no Angel. And I will smite every first born in the land of Egypt – I and no Seraph. "And in all the god's of Egypt will I execute judgment – I and no agent' I am God – it is I and no other.
God performed the miracles in Egypt personally.
It is difficult for "modern man" to accept the concept of a God Who is intimately involved in our lives on an ongoing basis. Why? Because of our arrogance, we subconsciously think: "If I was God, I would never stoop so low as to associate with those mortals!"
If we want to be more aware of God's involvement in our lives, we have to first understand that He loves us and cares for us more than we even do ourselves! As such, He wants to see us grow and actualize our potential. He helps us do that by putting us in situations that – while difficult – challenge us to muster our strengths and rise to the occasion. This is the basis of the fundamental Jewish idea that life has purpose and meaning.
A life that is too easy is a life without growth. And a life without growth is on a path of decay and death.
The next time we are confronted with a challenge, rather than complain, we should thank God!
Basis of Jewish Belief
Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf
"With great visions." This refers to the revelation of the Divine Presence, as it says: "Has it ever been that God took to Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, signs and wonders, and with war, a mighty hand, an outstretched arm and awesome manifestations, as the Lord your God did for you in the land of Egypt before your eyes?" (Deut. 4:34)
This quote is taken from a section in the Torah in which Moses is delivering his parting speech to the Jewish nation just prior to his death. At that moment Moses tells of a future epoch, when "God will scatter you amongst the nations and you will be there a tiny minority."
In his prophetic words, Moses goes on to explain that one of the results of this long exile will be a profound estrangement of Jews from a relationship to God and Judaism. We will seek meaning and spirituality in every sort of religion, ideology, and "ism." And then in the future – having been set adrift on the rough waters of history – we will begin to seek the shelter of truth. But how will we know? How will we be able to know if our very own Judaism contains an authentic path to achieving a bond with God?
To know this, Moses says, speaking to these searching Jews of the future, "Please investigate world history back to its earliest times, and see if an event of this magnitude has ever taken place or if such an event has ever been heard of." And what is this unique historical event which Moses is referring to? "Has an entire nation ever heard God speak or has God ever brought one nation out from amidst another nation as God has done for you in Egypt?"
In quoting these words of Moses, the Haggadah gives us the essence of what makes Judaism unique. Judaism, and only Judaism, claims to be rooted in a historical event experienced by an entire nation. The intellectual bedrock of Jewish belief never rests on one man's claim to divinity or revelation, nor that of a small band of witnesses.
Jewish commitment to Judaism is ultimately rooted in the idea that while national historical events may be open to reinterpretation, they can never be either fabricated or erased. The Vietnam War, like the Kennedy assassination, will be debated for years to come. But there is one idea that will never take hold, namely, that these events never happened at all. No conspiracy theory is big enough to invent events of such national consequence in which so many people were involved. Similarly, though the leaders of the Soviet Union would paint Stalin in a variety of shades from savior to demon, there are two things they could never do: Deny him or invent him. The national events which had Stalin at their helm were simply too big to hide and too far-reaching to have been fabricated.
But Moses went even one step further. Consider his words carefully: "if an event of this magnitude has ever taken place or if such an event has ever been heard of."
Over 3,000 years ago, Moses predicted the unpredictable. When he prophesied that no such event would "ever be heard of," he was saying this: Though the Jewish people will always stake it's spiritual claim in the soil of historicity, no other people or religion will ever even attempt to do the same. And historical hindsight bears out this confident vision of Moses – for in fact, no other religion has ever attempted to mount the stage of world history by staking it's claim on the veracity of a national historic event.
And just how did Moses know that this would be the case? The answer is this. Though dreams, visions, and personal revelations can easily be claimed by any individual or committee seeking to found a religion, you just can't claim that a national historical event happened if it didn't. It just won't fly.
Moses knew prophetically what logic likewise dictates. If the Jews were smart enough to come up with a story of national redemption and revelation, then eventually some other group would also invent its own equally compelling story. But we didn't, and they couldn't.
On the night of Passover, Jewish parents don't tell fairy tales. They teach history.
(from the "Passover Survival Kit Haggadah" – www.leviathanpress.com)
With a Mighty Hand
Rabbi Tom Meyer
The Egyptian experience is also a parable about the body and soul. Egypt is the body – tied to idol worship and sexual promiscuity. You name it, the Egyptians were doing it. The Jews go through this experience of exile, where they are totally run by the body. As the Jews try to assimilate into that way of life, they discover it doesn't work. Body desire alone won't make a human being happy.
After leaving Egypt – the body – the Jews go into the desert. The desert represents the stage of the soul disengaging from the body.
Then they go into Israel. Israel is a contraction of the words "Sar El," meaning "Prince of God." The goal of Israel is to lift the nation into total spirituality – so they can show the world there is a God. The idea is to create a "global high."
And God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great visions, signs and wonders. (Deut. 26:8)
Why did He do it that way? Because the body has a strong grip on the soul. It doesn't want to let go. Similarly, the Jews wanted God to end the slavery, but they weren't prepared to fully let go. The Jews were still attracted to Egyptian idol worship and promiscuity. Of course, they didn't want Egypt's anti-Semitism – but they wanted to keep the rest.
So God had to take drastic action. He had to rip the Jews out of the body. The Jews had to clearly see thatwhat they were doing was wrong.
God did so with "an outstretched arm." The Almighty reaches everywhere. He can control every aspect of nature. The Ten Plagues demonstrated once and for all to Jews and Egyptians that God is running the show. Because the plagues touched every aspect of nature. Later, at Mount Sinai, the heavens opened up and the Jews understood that God runs everything – from the top and all the way to the bottom.
And God brought us out of Egypt – not through an angel, not through a Seraph-type angel, and not through a messenger. But rather, it was the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself alone in all His glory.
Many people don't think that Judaism believes in angels, but we do. Imagine the president who controls everything, but he "assigns power" to others. So too, God employs certain forces of nature. Each aspect of existence is assigned its own "angel." As a finite being climbs step by step up the spiritual ladder, he moves through different levels of these forces until he experiences the Almighty directly.
In Egypt, God took us out directly. If you had been in Egypt, you would have felt the awe of the Almighty's presence. God lowered Himself (so to speak) and personally redeemed the Jewish people. There was no way to ascribe the redemption to anything else.
And I will smite every first born.
God orchestrated all the plagues. But the killing of every first born was the final straw. The Egyptians were crushed because parents could no longer transmit their philosophy to the first born. The power chain was broken.
And in all the god's of Egypt will I execute judgment – I and no agent.
It was not enough for the Jews to be victorious. The Egyptian god – their ideology – also had to be wiped out. In our lifetime, we've seen the ideology of Communism die. If you could live another 500 years, you'd see 50 more ideologies die. In Egypt, they saw it all in one shot. Every false ideology was destroyed.
"With a mighty hand." This refers to the pestilence, as it says: "Behold, the hand of God will be against your cattle in the field, against your horses and donkeys, against your camels, oxen and sheep. It will be a very severe pestilence." (Exodus 9:3)
The plague of pestilence attacked Egyptian horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, flocks. In Egyptian culture, your animal was your income. Agriculture and transportation was performed through animals. This plague hit their economic base. And the Egyptians got worried. Because when the economy goes, people get awfully scared.
With an outstretched arm... with great visions.
The separation of the soul from the body requires tremendous power. Each one of us has experienced challenging trials as we try to gain control of ourselves. In the end, it takes the Almighty to help us. We've seen amazing things in our life – signs and wonders from Above.
The Haggadah says that "signs" refers to the staff that Moses carried. On that staff was engraved the Ten Plagues. In Hebrew, a "sign" is really a prediction of the future. Moses said to the Egyptians: "If you don't let the Jews go free, there is going to be this particular plague tomorrow."
To apply this to our metaphor, a person needs to say to his body: "If you keep trying to take control, there's going to be a whole series of plagues. You're going to have heart disease and tension and anxiety and psychosomatic problems."
Pharaoh ignored the warning signs. Will you?