The Ten Plagues and the Morning Prayer

In Chassidic thought[1] it is explained that every day we are entrusted with the task of afflicting our evil inclination with the same Ten Plagues that God afflicted the Egyptians with. From the moment we wake up, when we recite the Modeh Ani and with the washing of our hands, getting ready for davening (the morning prayers) all the way to the Amidah and then to Nefilat Apayim we are elevating and drawing closer to Hashem.

Thus, the morning is the time of day during which we are in a sense coming out of our own personal Egypt, every day and in each generation. Each stage of prayer is like another plague upon our evil inclination that sets us more and more free and lets us grow nearer and nearer to Hashem. So let us see how our prayer service every morning corresponds with the 10 plagues, allowing us to free ourselves from our own inner Pharaoh and cling to God. We should note that it is very fitting to deal with this topic at the end of the month of Tevet whose sense is the sense of anger (at the evil inclination).

The Ten Plagues parallel ten stages of the Morning Prayer. The more that we truly serve God, the more that these parallel plagues descend upon the heads of the malevolent husks. Let us review them very briefly:

First, Aaron’s staff swallowed up the staffs of the magicians. A staff, mateh, shares a root with netiyah, “propensity.” When we get up in the morning, we must exert our initial propensity (netiyah ) for holiness over our propensity for other things. This is what we do when we recite the Modeh Ani prayer.

The plague of blood parallels preparation for prayer, beginning with the Tikun Chatzot  prayer at midnight and through the recital of the Offerings. One should feel that he is spilling his blood before God, experiencing bitterness over his sins and distance from God. Then we repent and return to Him.

The plague of frogs parallels the verses of praise in which we sing to God like frogs, which never stop croaking.

The plague of lice parallels the blessing of “Yotzer Or’. When we direct our thoughts to how the angels praise God, it clears our minds (cleans our heads of lice) of all the foolishness that digs into our brains like lice.

The plague of wild animals (arov) parallels the “Shema Yisrael” prayer. When we declare the Unity of God, it nullifies the evil intermixing (irbuvyah, same root as arov) in the world. Everything becomes nullified and included in God’s Unity.

The plague of livestock disease parallels “And you shall love God…with all your soul (nafshecha)”. The meaning of nefesh (soul), is ‘will’. When we give all of our will to God, nullifying our will to His will, this becomes a positive strike upon all of our mikneh, which means ‘livestock’ and also shares a root with kinyanim, ‘possessions’.

The plague of boils also parallels “with all your soul” (nafshecha). ‘Soul’ also means oneg, ‘pleasure’. We give all of our sense of pleasure to God – because the nega (‘affliction’) of boils is the opposite of oneg (‘pleasure’, same letters as nega).

The plague of hail parallels “with all your might” (me’odecha). When we said “with all your soul” we gave all our will and pleasure and nullified them before God. We still remain, however, with the essential will to live. True, there is willingness to sacrifice one’s life if necessary, but we desire life. When we say “With all your might” we give the essence of the feeling of our lives and existence to God. This creates a true storm, thunder, lightening and hail.

Locusts parallel the blessing after the Kriyat Shema – the blessing of Emet v’yatziv (‘True and steadfast’), which ends with Ga’al Yisrael (“Blessed are You…Who Redeemed Israel”). The content of this blessing is the verification (emet) of what was said in the Shema prayer. Everything becomes revealed in reality in the redemption from Egypt. The word emet, ‘truth’ appears eight times in this blessing, and the word for ‘locusts’ arbeh, is eight times God’s Name, Havayah.

 

The Plague of Darkness parallels the Silent Prayer. In Kabbalah we learn that when we pray the Silent Prayer, we enter the Divine World of Atzilut (Emanation), where there is only light and goodness – with no consciousness of being separate from God. This is the feeling that the Children of Israel had during the Plague of Darkness, “And all the Children of Israel had light in their dwelling places” (activating the darkness to descend upon the heads of the wicked).

 

The Plague of the First-Born parallels the Tachanun (Supplication) prayer, which is recited immediately following the Silent Prayer. In the Shema prayer we expressed our willingness to sacrifice our souls to God. But the Tachanun prayer is actual self-sacrifice, “To You, God, I will lift my soul”. When we sacrifice our souls to God, the plague of the first-born is activated and descends upon Egypt – and the redemption arrives.

 

[1]. Rebbe Aharon Halevi of Staroselye in Avodat Halevi s.v. Hu Aharon Umoshe (second essay).

 

 

 

Photo by gary tresize on Unsplash

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