The Plagues of Exodus & Today: New Ways of Thinking

By Faryn Borella and Rabbi Arthur Waskow [Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center.]

There is no such thing as a natural disaster. If there is one thing we learned from Hurricane Katrina, it is this. There is no such thing as a natural disaster. The natural world is capable of tremendous feats, but what makes them disastrous has everything to do with humanity. Where we live. The infrastructure we have in place. The tools we have at our disposal to respond. Repair. Heal. And all of these things are determined by sociological factors--race and class, nationalism and imperialism. What often renders the natural disastrous is the systems we humans put in place to create hierarchies and stratification.

But we, as humans, impact not only disaster. We also have impact on that which is natural. It is becoming increasingly clear that human action is taking what are natural occurrences and intensifying them to the point of calamity. There is nothing inherently wrong with an earthquake. A hurricane. A wildfire. This is the earth’s method of self-regulation from long before humanity was even a thought in its imagination. But what happens when a component of that very earth--the human race--usurps such power as to dysregulate the entire earth’s balance--inverts the earth’s entire operating system, weaponizing its own tools for healing against its self? You end up with superstorms. Mass species extinction. Crop Failure. Mass disease. Undrinkable water. Mass death.

 Earth--whether it be the creator’s creation or the InterBreathing One Themself--will find a means to re-regulate, but this re-regulation may not include us. The human race. Only we have the power to ensure a future with us in it. And this requires first that we take notice.

One way that the Plagues are described in the Book of Exodus are as “signs and wonders.” The intention of the plagues is to indicate that business as usual is no longer an option. They offer a disruption to daily life. They force us to take notice of what is already happening but what we have, thus far, been able to choose to ignore. They are both the direct consequence of corrupt abuse of power and the tool of resistance against it. They serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world order can be born.

The plagues appear as natural disasters. But we know nothing about them is “natural.” They are by humans. To remind us of our collective power to make change. For humans. To awaken us to change our behavior. Through humans. So that we know our potential to serve as conduits for divine power.

Thus the natural disasters of our times serve too as plagues. They place us panim-el-panim with ourselves, forced to stare at ourselves in the mirror and confront what it is that we have done to ourselves. That we have done to Earth. And yet they also serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world order can be born. They are both calamity and possibility. End and Beginning.

The biblical plagues needed to occur in order that Exodus be possible. So too it might be our unfortunate truth that these natural disasters must occur in order that a sustainable future be born. For when we as humans put the systems into place that are now destroying the earth, “we” did not do so with that intention in mind. It was an unforeseen consequence of what could only be understood at the time as progress toward the greater good.

 It is only in retrospect that we now more and more fully understand the consequences of these actions. And these consequences create openings--openings into which we can envision, new ways of being. What do these calamities allow us to see that we might not have been able to see before? Once we realize the consequences, once we realize that some powerful corporations and governments keep upholding their habitual behavior despite knowing their disastrous consequences, how do we respond?  How might these “plagues” offer not only the problem but also the solution?

Therefore, we invite you in the Ten Days leading up to Passover to contemplate the Plagues of our times--both their destructive properties and the opening they give us to vision something better. To be with the pain of being confronted in order that the liberating possibility be laid bare before you. And to begin to dance with that liberating possibility, ever so slowly at first. More swiftly as we learn to understand. More swiftly still as we learn how swiftly the consequences come.

The devastation of the plagues was not linear nor progressive. They were cumulative. So too are our plagues. Each is devastating individually, but cumulatively, they are earth-shattering. Cumulatively, they are Collapse.

So we have assigned each plague a day to capture the linearity of the Exodus narrative, and each plague its own contemporary manifestation. We must attend to the double impact of each Plague  -- to damage us and to awaken us.  We grapple with the astounding parallels between the biblical story and our travail today.

But the non-linearity of the biblical plagues and their different numbering and ordering in different parts of the Tanakh demonstrate that this order is arbitrary. Therefore, we ask you to enter these ten days leading up to Pesach as a meditation upon the plagues of our time, and to engage with their non-linearity.

Choose a day. Or days. Choose a plague. Or plagues. And take action aligned with their liberatory possibility. Choose to engage where you can. For you cannot address collapse. But you can address one of the pillars that seems to make Collapse inevitable. Break one or more of these pillars, and you – we – make collapse far less likely.



Key Event

Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

Contemporary “Anti-Plague”: Liberatory Potential “

Sun, Mar 29

4th of Nisan

Water into Blood

Polluted, Undrinkable Waters and Mass Droughts

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems

Mon, Mar 30



Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.

Tue, March 31



Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wed, Apr 1


Wild beasts

Species Extinction

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Thu, Apr 2


Pestilence of livestock

Factory Farming Industry

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestoock

Fri, Apr 3



Exacerbated Spread of Disease

Free Healthcare  for All

Sat, Apr 4

10th of Nisan--Paschal lamb set apart;  Malachi Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol.

Taking Haftarah Hagadol into the Streets?

Thunderstorm of hail and fire

Superstorms and Wildfires

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and destruction of energy monopolies.

Sun, Apr 5

Palm Sunday.

Multireigious marches against “pyramids of power”?


Crop Failures.

Local, Organic Farms.

Mon, Apr 6



Mass Blackouts, reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Congregation-based & neighborhood-based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids

Tue, Apr 7


Death of the firstborn

Climate Collapse and its destruction of the next generation

The Sunrise Movement and other youth movements demanding holistic action like the Green New Deal

 All the ancient Plagues were brought on by Pharaoh’s cruelty and stubbornness, by his addiction to his own power, and by his insistence on being treated as a god. Today the plagues are brought upon us by the  addiction of major corporations and governments to their own power and by the public acceptance that their wealth is a marker of Divine approval of the social system  they dominate  -- the social system built on domination. In the ancient Exodus, the power of the Interbreathing Spirit of all life undermined public acceptance of the Pharaoh’s authority. Today, a new paradigm -- an ecological, not hierarchical worldview -- must gain strength to undermine our modern pharaohs.

 Today, to end the power of modern pharaohs to subjugate our communities and all Earth, we must reframe spiritual, religious, and ethical understanding to celebrate the Interbreathing Spirit, not domineering King or Lord.

 On the evenings of April 9 and 10, we can create Pesach Seders that point toward the Beloved Community and the Earth of Promise – not a geographic Exodus but one that transforms society and makes all Earth a conscious, loving eco-system.

 These are suggestions --  Callings toward a new way of seeing the ancient Plagues and of making them apply directly to our own lives.

 Please write us directly: What do these suggestions rouse in you? What would YOU want to do to challenge modern pharaohs and create the Beloved Community, the Earth of Promise, during the days or weeks before and during Pesach?


With blessings of imagination, freedom, and community --  Arthur & Faryn

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