The Eleventh Plague
Warning: I am about to do something very manipulative, which is to ask the reader to assume a “willing suspension of disbelief.” I want you to envision Geulah, the Final Redemption, and put yourself in it.
We can actually take a lesson concerning this from the Passover Haggadah. It says, “In every generation, a person is obligated to envision himself as if he came out of Egypt.”
I see myself wearing a Levite’s robe and sandals and a turban, walking out into the desert wilderness with Hashem, Moses and a population roughly the size of Chicago.
Now, I would like you to back it up one year. It is just before Moses came down from the mountain to confront Pharaoh. I want you to imagine that you were one of the Hebrew slaves. And you and your parents and grandparents have suffered endlessly under the hand of the Egyptian slavemasters. But you always held out hope, because your people had a tradition that, one day, G-d would redeem you. And now, here comes Moses with his staff and his brother, Aaron. Soon, Moses’s staff will turn into a serpent in front of Pharaoh, and the redemption will have begun.
Now, freeze that moment. Could you have imagined then what was about to happen? Could you have imagined that the Nile was going to turn to blood and a trillion frogs would be hopping around every Egyptian’s bathroom? Or, how about hail mixed with fire the size of matzo balls smashing down Egyptian cows and Egyptian trees and anything Egyptian left outside? Or, could you imagine marching out into the desert led by a pillar of cloud with Ohr Ain Sof pouring out of it so intensely that your polarized raybans meant nothing. Or, could you have imagined that the Red Sea was going to split for you to walk across between two walls of water about a hundred times higher than any tsunami? Or, could you have imagined standing at Mount Sinai and hearing the voice of G-d coming from all six directions, including from an angel that was standing inside of your own mouth saying the Ten Commandments? (Raishit Chachmah, Shaar HaYirah) I certainly could not have imagined any of those things before they happened. My guess is that no one could have imagined them.
Bearing that in mind, it is worth considering the words of our prophets and sages who teach that the final redemption will be like the first redemption, but it will be much greater. How much greater? Rashi says on Isaiah 2:2, that the miracle that will take place on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem will be greater than the miracles that happened on Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, Mount Carmel. And in the Introduction to the Zohar, it says that in the Final Redemption all the seas are going to split for the people to walk through to return home.
This I can promise you: It is going to be way beyond anything anyone can imagine, for goodness, for light, and for love. But first there will be the eleventh plague.
What is the eleventh plague? It is Sam Neuman’s Plague. Sam Neuman, a'h, was my uncle. He was actually my Aunt Rose’s husband, but he was my uncle. And he was easily my favorite person of all time. He was a skinny Russian Jew who came to America when he was seventeen but never lost his thick Russian accent. Sam was an egg candler for a living. He would give my mother, a"h, his sister in law, two dozen double and triple yolk eggs that he set aside during his weekly egg candling. Everything Sam said was either funny because of what he said or funny because of the way he said it. For instance, he once said to me, “America is a strange place. On Labor Day you don’t work.” Sam saw everything through his own unique three thousand year old Jewish lens.
Aunt Rose, a"h. and Uncle Sam lived in Los Angeles, and they always held one of the two family Passover Seders. Around the Seder table there were around fifty family members and a few friends. Sam should normally have been the one to lead the Seder, but he was far too unassuming, so we all took turns reading from the Maxwell House Coffee Haggadah, each one reading a paragraph while my Aunt Rose roamed the room, dishing out matza and horseradish, and charoses.
When we got to the part with the Ten Plagues and were dipping our pinkies in the wine and dripping a drop into the cracked glass bowl, I looked up and saw Sam mumbling something to himself, actually singing under his breath. Every time, we would dip and drip, Sam would mumble and sing. I could not stand the suspense. I got up and walked around the table (I was about fourteen at the time) and walked behind Sam and leaned down to hear what he was singing. And here is what it was: Sam would say one of the plagues and while he was dipping and dripping, he was singing under his breath to himself and to G-d, “It should happen again, it vudn’t hurt. It should happen again, it vudn’t hurt.” That was Sam Neuman’s plague, the Eleventh Plague: “It should happen again. It vudn’t hurt.”
Our family seders were not frum. (not a point of pride, just stating what was) The food was traif, but we did all the mitzvoth. We told the story of going out of Egypt; we ate the matzos, we drank the wine and got drunk and had a great time. We laughed until we were screaming in pain. And when did we laugh the most? When we ate the bitter herbs, the charain (horseradish), and it felt like someone stuck us in the back of the cerebral cortex with an ice pick. That is when we laughed the loudest and stamped our feet with joy. You do not get more a more Jewish Passover Seder than that.
None of us were shul goers, but all of us knew Who the G-d was Who took us out of Egypt. On that night, we were all free. We were all comfortable being exactly who we were and we were all comfortable with G-d. My view of the Seder is to do whatever it takes to enjoy it in the highest degree of freedom and joy. I think a person can define himself or herself by the way he or she is at the Seder. It is not a matter of being praiseworthy; do not fall for the rabbinic guilt trip. What matters is not how many words of Torah you say at the Seder, only a sick mind would think so. What matters is having a good time. It is not the size of the piece of matzo you eat that matters, it is the joy and satisfaction you feel when you eat it, to know that you have been redeemed once more. Baruch Hashem. May it be His will forever. Happy Passover. This year in Yerushalayim. And if we cannot be in it, we can carry it in our hearts, as King David wrote (Psalms 137:5), “If I forget you, O Yerushalayim, may I forget my right arm.”