A Shabbat Message from Rabbi Bob Freedman:
I am always amused, and at the same time horrified, by the account of the third plague. "Aaron held out his arm with the rod and struck the dust of the earth, and vermin came upon human and beast. All the dust of the earth turned to lice throughout the land of Egypt. The [Egyptian] magicians did the like with their spells to produce lice, but they could not. (Exodus 8:13-14)
The prideful stupidity of the magicians is breath-taking. Rather than making a spell to nullify Aaron's lice manufacture, or cooking up some pesticide, they only tried to impress their king by...making more lice. Couldn't they see that their pride was only adding to the trouble of Egypt? Thank goodness they didn't succeed.
For several years I was a volunteer mediator for the Franklin Township civil court. I remember in particular a dispute between two neighbors. One of them had hosted a party at which loud music was played. In response, on the following night, the neighbor opened his windows, put some heavy metal rock music on the stereo, and cranked up the volume. Over the following two weeks their enmity grew, each trying to outdo the other in annoyance. Eventually the two took each other to court. The judge sent them to mediation, but both were adamant that they wanted justice. So the mediation failed, and the case went back to court. The cost of their pride was high: more legal fees, time away from work, and strife in their neighborhood.
What the Egyptian magicians lacked was a sense of responsibility to their community. Their pride and their desire to impress the Pharaoh blinded them to the possibilities of remediation of the plague that was making everyone suffer. They, along with Pharaoh, suffered from hardening of arteries that should have carried humility, compassion, and, well, just plain common sense. I can imagine them scratching their bites even as they tried to make more lice.
As we in this congregation begin to recover from the passing of Rabbi Feldman z"l, and seek to honor his memory, I invite each of us to do our part to make our community ever more healthy and whole.