(1/8/22) BO (EXODUS 10:1- 13:16)
This parshah was my oldest daughter’s parshah for her Bat Mitzvah. I feel like she got one of the most fruitful passages in the whole Torah. In this passage you get the plagues, and how to process that as reader of the Torah, and as a believer in whatever G’d you believe in. There’s so much the unravel here, and the language is also so interesting. (Like I feel like I’ve been turning over the phrase “heart hardening” for the past 4 years in my head).
My daughter ended up writing an amazing speech and had a beautiful day, even more than I could have expected. I really didn’t think I would get emotional, but she was really incredible, reading the Torah, reciting the prayers. Independent.
One of the things she thought about, working with the passage, and so now it’s what I think about whenever I read it (this was 3 years ago now), is about what was meant by the 9th plague. And now that we’re almost 2 years into a global pandemic, reading about the power and heaviness of 3 days of not seeing other people. I feel it. In this commentary, the writer Steven Weitzman, touches on similar thoughts to mine-
… “in contrast to the other plagues, the effects of the ninth plague were social and interpersonal: the darkness cut people off from one another: “No one saw his fellow or was able to get up from their place for three days” (Exodus 10:23).
I came across this particular commentary because every week, in addition to reading the two Torah translations I read, and the two commentaries (Women’s Torah Commentary and Torah Queeries), I also take a short Quiz (Chabad.com) about the content of the parshah for the week. Usually I do pretty well, like 10/10 (not because I’m smart but because this is the 3 or 4th time I’m reading most of these passages so geez lets hope I can get those questions right), but every once in a while theres some crazy question that I’m just like wtf. And this week was one. The question was, “how long did the 9th plague- darkness- last. And I was 100% sure I knew the answer. Because the Torah words are very clear and I remembered them. 3 days. And that was a choice so I picked it. And I got it wrong.
I have mentioned before that I like being a good student. I do not like getting things wrong so then of course I had to figure out why. Turns out (and this is often the case for random quiz question that I get wrong) – the question and answer weren’t taken from the Torah's words, but from the medieval commentator Rashi. OK. That feels a little weird because the line literally says “and darkness fell over the land for three days, but all of the people of Israel had light…” (Ex 10:22) and then changes subject. Seems pretty straightforward. ANYWAY. While I was trying to sort out why there was this 3 vs 6 day confusion I found Weitzman’s essay, which felt spot on to how I've been feeling lately (also we've had some crazy biblical hail and snowstorms which shut down Seattle so that also has been just bizarre). And I know it all has nothing to do with being queer, or trans, but it definitely has to do with being RIGHT NOW in the middle of a big mess of a pandemic, and that feels like all I can think about sometimes, and it’s my blog, so there you go. Because it does feel like we are in the middle of a plague.
More from that Weitzman's commentary:
“According to the medieval commentator Rashi, the ninth plague lasted not three days but six—three in which people could not see each other, and three in which they were powerless to rise up from their places. What will happen after the coronavirus pandemic can be divided into two stages as well: one public, the other more private. First will come the all-clear from public health officials and experts, the announcement that it is safe again to return to work, to school, or to the store. Maybe that will happen a month or two from now, or maybe we will have to wait until a vaccine is developed. But whenever the official reprieve happens, there will still follow another, more personal period of darkness for many of us, the second three days, as it were, where we may still be trapped by our own anxieties, suspiciousness, and newfound habits of self-isolation.
I am talking about the moment when we decide to go to the dentist again, or get a haircut, or shake a hand—situations where we need to be close to strangers and reembrace face-to-face interaction. At such moments, privately, each of us will have to make a decision “to rise up from our places,” to risk unexpected intimacy with strangers even though the possibility of contagion— and our fears—persist, and such a decision may not come easily for many of us.”