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Bo: Measure for Measure

The Ten plagues were all perpetrated against Pharaoh measure for measure. Blood, because they did not permit the daughters of Israel to observe ritual immersion. Frogs, because

while enslaving Israel, the Egyptians ordered them to bring them reptiles and creeping creatures. Lice, because they made the Jews clean the dirty streets… (Midrash Tanchumah, Va’eira #14).

The Midrash goes through the reason for each plague and how it was a direct cause for what the Egyptians had done to the Children of Israel.

Is the “measure for measure” simply a system of retribution for the evils committed by the Egyptians? ‘Here, you made My children tend to your fields? All of your vegetation will be destroyed by hail! You forced my children to heat up warm things for you? Your bodies will be covered with boils!’

What did this accomplish for the Jews? They witnessed miracle after miracle as their former oppressors were being punished for all the pain they had brought upon them.

But more than that; it is one thing for the suffering to cease. It is one thing to watch on as your tormentors are being crushed. It is one thing to start dreaming of a brighter future. But it is quite another thing to be able to slowly recover the parts of yourself that you thought were lost forever.

The “measure for measure” worked as a healing process for our ancestors. As God inflicted plague after plague as a consequence for what the Egyptians had done to the Children of Israel, they in turn were able to recognize in each separate plague the dignity they had lost, the tears they had shed, the wounds they had suffered. Each plague brought on its own cathartic experience, its own opportunity to rebuild.

And, instead of burying those memories under the ruins of their enemies’ destruction, they were able to transform them and make them a part of who they were becoming, as individuals and as a nation. This is why, at the Seder table, generations later, we are able to celebrate our freedom using symbols of our past enslavement.

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