Slavery and the Plagues

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


From both my personal experience and my historical memory, I disagree with the view attributed to Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan that slaves would not ask "permission" to become free. Most oppressed groups begin by asking their oppressors to adhere to some element in their value-system that would end the oppression. If that appeal is rejected, step by step resistance grows until it becomes rebellion, nonviolent or violent.

To my mind, it makes perfect sense that radical injustice brings about a series of dysfunctions in society, including in the society's relationship with the earth, and that these dysfunctions surface in the form of what the Torah calls "plagues" (in KJV translation; the original is closer to "smitings").

For example ----- If great corporations smash small cultures and communities in the search for enormous profits, it is no surprise that they poison the atmosphere in the process, damaging the ozone layer and forcing "global scorching." Those are precisely plagues or smitings in the Exodus sense, and they damage (unfortunately) not just the corporate bosses who made the decisions that led to these plagues, but also everyone else -- just as the plagues of blood, frogs, etc etc, the slaying of the first-born, did.

If for "God" (YHWH) in the story you read "The Breath and Process that Underlies All Life," then the story makes perfect sense to me.

Including the pattern whereby Pharaoh starts out hardening hs own heart and then "God" hardens his heart. We begin by choosing arrogance, and then become addicted to it. The process takes over, and hardens us into the hardness we had chosen.

by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Director, The Shalom Center.

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