Today is the start of the first full day of Passover. Passover is the best Jewish holiday — although this isn’t saying a lot, considering that one of our other holidays is basically “A Day of Feeling Guilty About Everything.”
Here’s a quick historical backstory of Passover for those of you who aren’t Jewish: the Pharaoh of Egypt, recognizing our strong Jewish work ethic, enslaved the Jewish people, and put us to work building… pyramids and other geometrical buildings like that.
Now, lo, many years passed. The Jews grew tired of the being enslaved thing and yearned for a different life. So Moses, head Jew, went to the Pharaoh and said, pretty reasonably: “Let my people go.” The Pharaoh was not about that at all, and said No. Moses warned him a bunch of times that if he didn’t let us go, the land of Egypt would be struck by ten-ish or so plagues. The Pharaoh, being a scoffing sort, scoffed at this.
And here’s what happened next: THE LAND OF EGYPT GOT HIT BY TEN NASTY PLAGUES BECAUSE YOU DO NOT MESS WITH THE JEWS. YEE-HAW!
The whole plague thing gave birth to the modern holiday of “Passover,” which commemorates the freeing of us Jew slaves from Egypt, and which is named for the “passing-over” of the Angel of Death in the final plague.
As a kid I got to celebrate “Passover,” which is the best holiday of all time for a kid because you get to drink eight glasses of wine because everyone drinks eight glasses of wine to commemorate something or other. Plus, really weird food: bitter herbs, matzoh ball soup, hard boiled eggs in salt water… Plus you get money for finding a hidden piece of matzoh. Just an excellent holiday all around. So here — in honor of Passover — is a review of all the plagues…
First Plague — Blood: “All the waters of the land turned to blood.” Well, as a first plague, that’s not too shabby. It’s an attention-getter too. I mean, everyone loves water. Who doesn’t not use water during the course of a given day? Nobody, that’s who! …But I think, if I was an Egyptian, the problem here would be calling my attention to the fact that this was a plague from God intended to point out my bad behavior vis-a-vis enslaving the Jews.
I tend to take the long view with things like these, so my reaction would have been something like: “Blood? The water’s all turned to blood? Well you just never know in this crazy world, now do you? Water one day, blood the next. …Do you think it’ll go back to being water tomorrow? Well, there’s only one way to find out; and that way is — you guessed it – sitting around and waiting to see what happens next! …In the meantime, who wants blood sausage? Raise your hand if you do!” (counting the raised hands) “Oh no… that’s too many. We can’t make that many blood sausages.” Grade: B-minus
Second Plague — Frogs: “Frogs covered all the land of Egypt.” Sure. Whatever. Frogs, nifty. This is less like a plague and more like God is sort of mildly teasing you. I mean, everyone knows the frog prank. You sneak a frog into your desk at school, the frog escapes, hilarity ensues, the teacher gives you a lecture on either: (1) frog biology or (2) responsibility.
This is just a larger-scale version of that. So the land is covered with frogs. Big freaking deal. Was God lazy or hungover after the first plague? “So um, second plague, second plague. Oh Jesus, I hate doing these. Just, um… cover the land with something bad. Like frogs. Or dung. Or nuclear weapons. What do you mean, ‘We need to know which one?’Just pick one. Jesus Christ.” Grade: D
Lice: “The dust turned to lice and covered everyone.” Yeeargh! At this point, I would start to be like, “Free the Jews! Free Tibet! Free everything! Just get these motherhumping lice off of me!”
I hate bugs and I hate lice. Remember how in lice inspection day in school, your head would automatically start itching and you’d be like, “Oh god no I have lice and I’m going to be humiliated in front of everyone,” except it was just you being nervous and you didn’t really have lice at all? Well, this would be like that, except you’d actually have lice and they’d be everywhere. Everywhere. (Especially considering the fact that on the scale of “Countries That I Consider to Be ‘Dusty,’” Egypt rates a solid ten out of ten.)
Anyway, that’s a very good plague, oh Lord! I’m convinced that I’m a bad person now! You can stop now! Please don’t send wild beasts to my house or anything like that! Grade: A
Wild Beasts: “Terrible beasts came into the Egyptians’ homes.” …Honey? Could you get the door? Who is it? A nondescript terrible beast, you say? Oh god, they’ve been coming to everyone’s house.
Anyway, okay, terrible beasts. Okay, we can handle this one. If fairy tales have taught us anything, it’s that terrifying ugly beasts always turn out to be kindly and helpful on the inside, like Ludo in “Labyrinth.” Except for the times that the beasts are just terrible and evil on the inside too. This is why so many people get eaten in fairy tales. You just never know! Grade: C
Cattle Plague and Boils: “All the cattle were covered with this plague.” Plus, “Boils covered everyone.” Meh. We’re doing two grades in one here, because this is such a boring set of plagues. These are the plague equivalent of writing an essay about your cat for second grade English class. No one is fooled. No one thinks, “Oh, Oliver wrote an essay about his cat! What an inspired choice!” No, everyone knows that you procrastinated with writing the essay, then it was eight at night, mom said, “Bed in one hour,” you panicked, looked wildly around the room, and saw Frisky there on the windowsill. Meh. Grade: F
Locusts: “Locusts came and ate everything in the fields.” The fields of… Egypt? Clearly, Egypt was different in ancient times from the largely sand-based Egypt that we’ve come to know and love. But whatever. This is the third boring plague in a row that God has inflicted upon the Egyptians.
…Frankly, when don’t locusts come and eat everything in the fields? I read all the “Little House on the Prairie” books; this happened like four times a week in olden times. And in “Little House,” Pa never wussed out and said, “A plague! Quick, let us sacrifice Mary to Jehovah! …It’s cool; she was already blind anyway! And prissy; she’s annoyingly prissy. …Well, can we think of some reason to sacrifice Mary then?” Grade: F again.
Hail and fire: “A mixture of hail and fire rained on the land.” Hail and fire? How about just fire? Maybe save hail for a different plague or just get rid of hail altogether. After all, when was the last time you stuck your head out the window to see if it was raining fire, saw that it was raining fire, and thought to yourself, “Well, as long as it’s just fire and no hail, I can keep watching ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ But if starts raining hail outside too, I’m really going to have to get off my ass and do something.” Grade: D-minus
Darkness: “The entire land was enveloped in darkness.” Huh. Considering that during a standard 24-hour period, you have about a 99% chance of encountering darkness in some form or other, my response to this plague is: Unimposing!
Plus, what with all the terrible monsters, blood, lice, boils, and deformed mutant cattle running around, the entire land being plunged into darkness would be a relief, to my way of thinking. It’s like, you can’t see anything anymore, then you can walk around humming to yourself and being all like: “La la la la… there are no plagues, everything is fine and I’m not in denial and who wants some nice delicious blood sausage for dinner?” Grade: B-minus
Death of the Firstborn: “Every Egyptian firstborn child was slain.” Actual true historical thingy: ancient people loved their firstborn children and didn’t give a crap about the other ones. Historians are puzzled as to why this was the case. Were firstborn children better-looking? Bigger-eyed? More precocious? The facts are unclear.
In college, I studied Ancient Roman history for a really long time, and thus I learned that ancient people tended to give only their firstborn children real little kid names. So if you were born first, you got named, say, “Josh” or “Tiffany.” But if you were born third, you got named — you guessed it! – “Three.” (Or Tertius, if you actually want the Latin for it.) That’s pretty lame/rude, in my opinion. Although, mulling it over, if my name had to be a number, I would want it to be either “Seven,” or “Thirteen,” both of which are fairly cool names, the longer that you think about it. So maybe the Ancient Romans knew what they were doing. Although we also learned in class that they ate mice and fermented fish guts, so probably not.
Anyway, once God killed their precious boil-covered, lice-infested firstborn children, the Ancient Egyptians decided that enough was enough, and freed the Jews, thereby ending the whole plague thing. From which whole experience was born the saying: “No one pussies out like a lice-infested Egyptian.” Or something. And then the Jews were freed and everything thereafter went totally fine for them. Forever. The end. Grade: B