A Plague for Others

When Covid-19 first began killing people in China it felt like a disease far away, a distant threat so remote it did not register. When it later arrived in Iran, the focus became the curious relationship between China and Iran, not that the disease was going global. Then it came to Italy, and just a short time later it was in almost every country.

Yet even as the virus found local victims, people chose to manufacture distance. This was only deadly for the elderly. It killed those with compromised health. There was no true need to worry, as the vast majority of people who tested positive for the coronavirus suffered from a mere cold.

That attitude was best captured in an interview with a teenager enjoying spring break in Florida “If I get corona, I get corona. I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.

This was a plague for “others” and the guidelines calling for “social-distancing” was not relevant for them.

It is something to consider during this holiday of Passover, when plagues came for the Egyptians.

The Quarantine of Goshen

The story of the plagues which helped free the Jews from slavery in Egypt 3,300 years ago had two parts: the first nine plagues and the final one.

During the initial plagues, the land, animals and people of Egypt were attacked broadly with a variety of vermin and afflictions, except for the Jews as God protected them. However, for the final plague, the killing of the first born, the Jews were asked to take specific actions to facilitate their protection. They were to take a lamb, paint its blood on the doorposts of the house, roast the lamb and eat it; a slew of activities which were unnecessary for the first nine plagues. Clearly God was capable of inflecting a plague on segments of the population as He had done nine times before but for the final plague, God wanted the Jews to take a part in their own salvation.

The story of the tenth plague unfolds in three parts. First, Moses addressed Pharaoh in Exodus 11: 4-8 saying that God will kill every first-born in Egypt except for the Jews “in order that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” This plague was specifically designed to highlight the “other.” All people are not the same and will not be impacted the same way.

But the story and message seem to morph. In Exodus 12: 1-20 God addressed the Jews through Moses and Aaron with a detailed plan of the various steps the Jews needed to take during their last night in Egypt, and it wasn’t so much about how to pack. Tucked among the twenty sentences was a critical line “And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The key to avoiding the impact of the plague is “blood on the houses,” an item that was mentioned in passing six sentences earlier as part of a long list of things to do.

God had gone from not asking the Jews to do anything during the first nine plagues, to putting forth a long list of tasks, one of which was – incidentally – key to avoiding the impact of the plague.

In the third part of the revelation of the tenth plague, Moses addressed the Elders in Exodus 12: 21-27 and provided a much more direct plan for salvation: “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For when the LORD goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the LORD will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.” Moses went to the crux of the matter to get the people to focus, directly connecting the blood on the doorposts to salvation. He also elaborated on God’s command telling people to stay inside – to self-quarantine – during the deadly plague.

The story of the deadly plague evolved in a curious fashion. At first Moses told Pharaoh that the plague will be very selective – it will only come for the first-born and only from Egyptians, because “the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” God sees that the people of Egypt and Israel are different and will act accordingly.

But it becomes less clear that this is actually true. God doesn’t seemingly recognize any difference as He asks the Jews to paint the outside of their homes with blood. It is the home markings that God sees. If Jews wandered the streets that night, they would presumably have died, which is why Moses clarified that no one should leave their houses. The distinction between Egyptians and Israelites that Moses discussed with Pharaoh was one of direction, not of personhood.

“Death of Pharaoh’s First Born” painted 1872 by Lawrence Alma -Tadema (1836-1912)

Plagues and deadly viruses may present as threats for “others” but that is delusional. Neither youth nor religion will serve as shield, and leaders as far back as Moses understood that directing people to self-quarantine in their homes is the best precaution.

Related First One Through articles:

Taking the Active Steps Towards Salvation

The CoronavirUS is Not Us Versus Them

Defeating Haman’s Big Ten Sons and Modern Antisemitism

Kohelet, An Ode to Abel

Ruth, The Completed Jew

A Sofer at the Kotel

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5 thoughts on “A Plague for Others

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