This week’s parshah marks the beginning of the Exodus process. It begins with the 10 plagues – specifically the first plague of blood. We know that the beginning sets the tone for what comes after. We will look into this first plague and see what message of freedom it sends to the Jewish People.
In Exodus, Chapter 7, the Almighty tells Aaron to strike the Nile River. In verse 20, it says: “All the water that was in the river changed to blood; the fish that were in the water died, and the river became foul. Egypt could not drink water from the river, and the blood was throughout the land of Egypt.”
The Midrash tells us how far-reaching this plague was. It got to the point where the Egyptians really wanted water and they couldn’t get any. But they realized that the Jews did have water – the water pitchers in Jewish homes were filled and the Egyptians saw them drinking water. Out of frustration, an Egyptian would grab hold of a jug belonging to a Jew and start drinking. But, lo and behold, the water turned to blood. When the Egyptian gave the jug back to the Jew, the blood became water once again.
The Egyptians got smart. They would say to the Jews, “Come here – we’ll drink the water together.” But even though each one was drinking from the same pitcher at the same time, the Jew would be drinking water and the Egyptian would be drinking blood.
What was the message for the Jew who was experiencing this miraculous turn of events?
If God does a miracle across the board, certainly no one is going to think that the miracle was done just for him. For example, when the Jews crossed the Sea of Reeds, it was a miracle. What did every Jew think at that moment? They thought: “I sure hope God isn’t looking at me too closely, because if He does, He’ll probably throw me into the sea along with the Egyptians, because I’m no better than the Egyptians.” They probably wanted to cover their faces and get to the other side before God noticed anything about them. When a group miracle happens, we feel that God loves the Jewish People as a whole, but doesn’t necessarily love little ol’ me.
But when a miracle happens so that when you’re drinking the very same jug of water that the Egyptian is drinking, and the very same water turns to blood for the Egyptian, we understand that God is singling out each and every Jew!
With the first plague, the Jew was suddenly transported back to the world of the First Man before the sin. It was at that point that every Jew felt that God had created the whole world just for him, and that Hashem was tampering with all the rules of nature just for him. Each Jew experienced this miracle, because each Jew drank the water at the same time as the Egyptian. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have noticed that God was making a miracle specifically for him.
We learn from this that redemption begins when the Jew can absorb the feeling that Hashem, our loving God, is watching us and caring for us all the time. The Jew should be able to say, “The world is here just for me.” Only when a Jew realizes that he always has God’s attention, and all his actions do make a difference, can he have hope to self-actualize and develop a meaningful relationship with God through the freedom he is about to receive.
Rabbi Yossi Michalowicz is spiritual leader of the Westmount Shul and Learning Centre in Thornhill, Ont.