We had an interesting conversation in synagogue this past Shabbat morning discussing the Torah portion of Vaera. The first seven plagues occur, and we began by trying to understand what the third plague, Arov, a mixed multitude, means, as the word occurs in no other place in the Torah. We do find the phrase Erev Rav, a mixed multitude, in this week’s portion, referring to the non-Israelite people who joined in the Exodus. Both words are taken from the same root, but in the case of Arov, it is unclear what it specifically refers to. This subject is worthy of a lengthier discussion than this blog.
I then asked people to share their opinion on what constitutes a plague in today’s world. Some mentioned cancer and other diseases. Some mentioned pollution, global warming, severe weather and other environmental issues. One mentioned politicians. One mentioned war. Several mentioned the "H word". One mentioned cell phones.
It is clear in the Torah text that God is the source of the ten plagues. God causes them, they exist for a specific period of time, and God ceases them as readily as they began. What might not have been apparent immediately is the source of the current list that people mentioned – humanity. We have caused most of the plagues that people mentioned, and we have it in our power to also cease them if we choose to do so. Their continued presence raises important questions: Do we have the ability to cease any of the modern plagues? If no, don’t we have enough bright people on this planet to figure out solutions? If yes, what is stopping us? Money? Consensus? Moral courage?
By our failing to cease any of the modern plagues that we cause, perhaps the plagues are merely the symptoms? Might we indeed be the plague? Humanity is the plague on this planet, and only humanity is the cure. Something to pause and think about.