Ten Ways to Destroy
by Yosef Y. Jacobson
The ten famous plagues that are recorded in the Torah (Ex. 7:14-12:36), are not
to be viewed as merely a set of supernatural occurrences that destroyed the Egyptian
empire around 3,300 years ago. The Torah is a blueprint for life, a manual for
the development of the human race - not merely a record of ancient tales. The
episodes recorded in the Torah represent timeless, spiritual tales occurring continuously
in the heart of each man.
How are we then to apply the remote story of the ten plagues to our personal
lives in the 21st century?
Anatomy of the
The Kabbala teaches that every human soul is comprised of ten points
of energy, ten characteristics that make up its inner "personality".
The first three form the super-conscious identity of the soul and its cognitive
powers. The final seven constitute the emotional persona of the soul.
ten characteristics, also known as the ten sefirot, ten emanating lights, are
depicted in Kabbala in the following manner:
Hebrew Name English
Keter The super-conscious
of us has been given a choice in life. We may either refine these ten attributes
so that they express our inner divine light, or we may pervert and corrupt these
very attributes by using them in unhealthy and immoral ways. Ancient Egypt, with
its demonic program of systematically eliminating an entire people, the Hebrews,
from the face of the earth, chose to embark on the latter path.
personal lives, Egypt reflects a state of psychological dysfunction, in which
one or more of the soul's attributes become distorted and dysfunctional, hindering
a human being's ability for true self-actualization and fulfillment. This is indicated
in the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, which may be translated as "inhibitions"
or "constraints". When we fail to confront our own demons, our perverted
attributes can return to us too in the form of psychological plagues.
Death of Super-Conscious
Blood - Destructive
The first plague, in which the Nile River turned into blood,
was a physical symbol of the destructive confidence that became the hallmark of
Egypt (geographically as well as psychologically). Instead of a constructive confidence
that builds one's spiritual character and fosters sensitivity to others, "Egyptian"
confidence breeds dominance and exploitation. When one's perception of confidence
becomes truly corrupt, it can lead to generating rivers of blood, as the Egyptians
indeed did. (See Midrash Rabba, Shemot 1:34; Targum Yonasan and Rashi to Ex. 2:23)
Nile River embodied the source of Egyptian confidence and security. Since little
rain falls in Egypt, the country's agriculture and sustenance are completely dependent
on the Nile, therefore the ancient Egyptians actually deified the Nile (See Shemot
Rabba 9:9). The waters of the Nile turning into blood reflected the perverse state
of a nation which turns its confidence into blood, using its position of strength
and power to slaughter and butcher countless innocent human beings.
- Cold Intimacy
The second plague, in which swarms of frogs inundated
Egypt, symbolizes the cold and dispassionate intimacy which characterizes a man
living in a psychological Egypt.
Frogs are cold-blooded amphibious creatures
that hatch in cold environments. Female frogs usually deposit their eggs into
water where they hatch into tadpoles. Some frogs attach their eggs to water plants;
others lay the eggs in damp moss or attach them to the limbs or leaves of trees
overhanging the water.
Land-dwelling frogs deposit their eggs in cool,
moist holes. Due to this, and to the fact that eggs deposited in this fashion
receive no parental protection, frogs reflect in the Kabbala an emotional state
of apathy, detachment and coldness. This condition robs a human being of the ability
to experience genuine emotional intimacy with any other person - a spouse, a child
or a friend.
(This brings to mind an anecdote. A man was once asked, "What
is the difference between ignorance and apathy?" To which he replied, "I
don't know and I don't care.")
Lice - Unhealthy Submission
third plague, in which the dust of Egypt turned into lice, reflects the symptoms
of unhealthy submission. This attribute, like all aspects of the soul, may either
be productive or destructive. To forever remain a humble student of life's lessons
is one of the noblest character traits an individual can possess. The ability
to surrender one's ego to a higher truth is the foundation for all spiritual growth,
as is the capacity to confess to an error or a wrongdoing. "May my soul be
like dust," is a daily Jewish prayer, expressing our wish that we remain
humble in the presence of life's mysteries. That is healthy humility and submission.
Destructive "Egyptian" submission is a humility that crushes
one's spirit and dulls its zest for life. In this type of submission, where one
thinks of himself as a worthless inconsequential creature, the perception of the
self as useless dust develops into lice that demoralize and debase one's life.
Like lice, this type of humility sucks out a person's blood, depriving him of
his vitality and energy-flow. The holy Rabbi Aaron of Karlin put it in these words:
"Depression is not a sin; yet what depression does, no sin can do."
Devouring Beasts - Wild Ambition
The fourth plague, in which
a swarm of devouring beasts attacked Egypt, is the physical symbol of unhealthy
ambition. Ambition is one of the greatest gifts in life. It is the engine that
drives man to achieve greatness and make a difference in the world. Yet if we
do not refine this character trait, our ambitions can turn us into "devouring
beasts" that crush and destroy the people we perceive standing in the way
of the fulfillment of our goals.
Epidemic - Sly Compassion
fifth plague, in which an epidemic annihilated the Egyptians' cattle, served as
the physical embodiment of the attribute of sly compassion, which, like an epidemic,
harms people silently and inconspicuously.
What is compassion? The Kabbala
states that compassion is more powerful and enduring than love. Love usually overlooks
the flaws of a beloved one; therefore, when flaws do emerge, they may weaken the
love, if not destroy it totally. Compassion, on the other hand, takes into consideration
all the flaws of the individual and extends a helping heart and hand notwithstanding.
This is moral compassion, the ability of a soul to experience the pain and the
needs of its fellow man.
"Egyptian" compassion is sly, shrewd
and deceitful, where the seducing quality of compassion is used in order to exploit
people's weaknesses for selfish purposes and destructive goals. When one uses
compassion in this well-finessed manner, it inflicts damage on a person in the
silent deadly way of an epidemic.
[The point becomes clearer when the epidemic
plague is contrasted with the plague of hail that also annihilated the cattle
of Egypt. The former occurred silently, while the latter was performed with lots
of commotion (Zohar vol. 2 p. 31b). The difference between the two is further
indicated in the Hebrew names of the two plagues: "dever" (epidemic)
and "barad" (hail). Both words consist of the same three Hebrew letters,
dalet-bet-reish. But while in the word dever the letter bet is softened, in the
word barad it is not (Zohar ibid.). All of this reflects the nature of sly compassion,
which kills softly.]
Boils - Brutal Rejection
The sixth plague,
in which embers from a hot furnace were hurled over the land developing into boils
on the skin of the Egyptian population, is the physical symbol of cruel rejection.
The Hebrew term for this plague, shchin, implies heat
In Kabbala, fire
embodies the soul's capacity to reject. Just like fire, an act or verbal rebuff
may "scorch" or even demolish the one who is rejected. An additional
connection between fire and rejection lies in the fact that fire surges upwards,
moving away from earth. Rejection too constitutes an act of traveling inward and
upward into one's own world, removing one self from the people and the events
Yet a healthy soul needs to know how to reject just as it must
know how to embrace. One is often called upon to refuse a destructive urge, to
sever an unhealthy relationship, to say no to a spoiled child or an unethical
business offer. That is healthy fire. It is a fire that destroys the negative
in order to build the positive.
However, when our inner capacity for rejection
turns into hate, bitterness and cruelty, the embers of our soul become a destructive
force. Like boils, they infect our lives and the lives of people around us.
- Frozen Love
The seventh plague, in which produce-destroying hail descended
upon Egypt, is symbolic of selfish love. If fire symbolizes rejection, water,
naturally descending from a higher plane to a lower plane, embodies the qualities
of generosity and loving-kindness. In Kabbala, the flow of love is compared to
a flow of water, irrigating and nourishing a human soul with its refreshing vibrancy.
Yet, a man who finds himself in "Egyptian" bondage knows only
an icy love, a love that is based entirely on self-seeking motives and self-centered
This person's rain-like flow of love becomes cold and frozen
like hail, harming his loved ones instead of nurturing them.
the mystical significance behind the fact that the hail that fell in Egypt had
burning flames within it (Ex. 9:24). The cold and icy individual is also aflame
- he is fired with self-love and ablaze with egotistical passions. Indeed, it
is his excess of inner heat that is the cause of his icy exterior. Thus, the hail
that fell in Egypt, icy without and fiery within, reflected the nature of "Egyptian"
love: coldness displayed toward other people coupled with warmth displayed toward
Seven and Three - From Heart to Mind
It is no coincidence
that the first seven plagues are recorded in one section of the Bible (Vayera),
while the final three plagues are recorded in another (Bo).
The first seven
plagues - blood, frogs, lice, devouring beasts, epidemic, boils and hail - reflected
the Egyptian perversion of the seven emotions - confidence, bonding, submission,
ambition, compassion, rejection and love.
The last three plagues - locust,
darkness and the death of the first-born - represent the more severe corruption
of the intellectual faculties and super-conscious dimension of the Egyptian soul.
When one's emotions and instincts are impaired, the sane and objective mind offers
hope for healing. Yet when one's mind starts playing ugly games, the path toward
recovery becomes painstakingly challenging.
Locust - Perverted Intelligence
The eighth plague, in which invading locusts left no greenery in their
path, serves as a symbol of the destructive consequences of a corrupted mind.
The ability of intellectual inquiry and scrutiny remains the singular most
precious gift of the human race. It allows us to explore the universe, improve
our lives and discover the higher moral calling of the human family.
the very same power may serve as a tool to rationalize every evil practiced under
the sun and to justify every destructive lifestyle or habit. Like the locust that
consumed all existing plants of Egypt, leaving in its wake barren soil, the corrupt
mind can uproot every existing moral structure and established sacred foundation,
leaving in its wake a desolate society bereft of spiritual values and absolute
principles. This is the tragedy of Egypt-like intellectualism, where one becomes
so open minded that his brains fall out.
Darkness - A Locked Mind
ninth plague, in which a thick darkness enveloped all of Egypt, reflects the inability
of the inhibited "Egyptian" soul to actualize its faculty of conception.
This is the ability of one's mind to conceive a new and original idea that had
been previously inaccessible. How? By the mind keenly realizing its limitations
and borders, suspending its intellectual ego and opening itself up to a higher
light, the previously inaccessible truth can emerge and illuminate the newly created
When one is arrogant and smug, he deprives his mind of the ability
to experience illumination, forcing himself to remain in darkness, constricted
forever to a narrow vision of life.
Death of Firstborn - Death of Identity
The tenth and final plague, the death of every Egyptian first-born, was the
most devastating of all. It reflected the fact that the Egyptian abuse of the
soul did not only affect its conscious faculties, but went on to distort and destroy
its super-conscious forces as well.
In the Kabbala, the first-born is symbolic
of the inital instincts and motives of a soul that lie beneath the surface of
the conscious self. That dimension of the personality is naturally more difficult
to violate because it is hidden and inaccessible. But a lifestyle of ongoing addiction
and abuse will ultimately bring about the death of the first-born - the death
of the super-conscious element of one's soul.
This was the final "bullet"
that put an end to the vicious cycle of Egyptian addiction and abuse. With this
plague the Jewish people were set free and were well on their way to receive the
What are the Ten Commandments? They correspond to the
ten plagues.(See Seder Hayom, Geulat Olam - Haggada by the Chida, Sfat Emet and
Shem Meshmuel, parashat Veira.) Just as the plagues reflect the perversion of
the ten faculties of the soul, the Ten Commandments represent the path of spiritual
healing in each of these ten faculties, allowing them to express the harmony and
splendor of man's divine essence.
Note: Drawn from
the following sources: Zohar Vol. 2 29a. Shaar Hapasukim (by the Arizal), parashat
Veira. Sedur Reb Yaakov Emdin, Haggada Shel Pesach. Yalkut Reuvani, parashat Veira.
Minchat Eliyahu, chapter 24. Pri Tzaddik, parashat Bo. The psychological interpretation
of the soul's faculties in their constructive and destructive patterns is based
on the writings of Chabad Chassidism.
Copyright © 2002
by Yosef Y. Jacobson, with gratitude to Shmuel Levin for his editorial assistance.
Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson is an acclaimed teacher, lecturer and writer,
based in the New York area. For a copy of his speaking schedule, or to order his
audio tapes or subcribe to his weekly essay, contact: YYJacobson@aol.com.