Redemption had begun but it was a slow and long process. The fury of the plagues was unleashed on Egypt and yet, Pharaoh still refused to emancipate the Jewish nation.
The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch forth your hand heavenward, and hail will be upon the entire land of Egypt, upon man and upon beast and upon all the vegetation of the field in the land of Egypt.” So, Moses stretched forth his staff heavenward, and the Lord gave forth thunder and hail, and fire came down to the earth, and the Lord rained down hail upon the land of Egypt. And there was hail, and fire flaming within the hail, very heavy, the likes of which had never been throughout the entire land of Egypt since it had become a nation.” (Exodus 9:22-24)
Rashi explains that this was miraculous hail, “it was a miracle in a miracle, fire and water were mixed together. In order to fulfill the will of their Creator, they created peace between themselves.” Hail stones comprised of opposites, fire and water rained down on Egypt. Each plague contained a message for the Egyptians and the Jews. It was during this plague of barad (hail) that we learned the world is filled with different kinds of people. Every person has a place and every person has a purpose. The Egyptians felt that they had the right to subjugate and persecute the Jewish nation. They felt that their perceived superiority provided them with full autonomy and control over the Children of Abraham. They didn’t perceive what they were doing as evil, they understood it to be quite justifiable. The weak serve the strong, the few serve the many. The Egyptians were the master race and therefore, had every right to do what was needed to advance their own society even if it meant exploiting another nation.
Persecution and subjugation occur when one group feels a level of superiority over another. There are no two more opposite forces than fire and water. It would be easy for fire to feel superior to try to burn up or consume water. It would be just as easy for water to feel superior and try to extinguish fire. Yet, in this plague, both fire and water recognized the greatness and importance of the other and worked together to create something miraculous. In fact, they demonstrated that neither was more important, accepted their differences and worked togetherto sanctify the name of God.
“The Sages in Yavne were wont to say: I who learn Torah am God’s creature and my counterpart who engages in other labor is God’s creature. My work is in the city and his work is in the field. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. And just as he does not presume to perform my work, so I do not presume to perform his work. Lest you say: I engage in Torah study a lot, while he only engages in Torah study a little, so I am better than he, it has already been taught: One who brings a substantial sacrifice and one who brings a meager sacrifice have equal merit, as long as he directs his heart towards Heaven.” (Tractate Berachos 17a)
It would be easy for the Torah scholar to feel superior to the farmer. After all the Torah scholar spends his days plumbing the depths of God’s Torah and ascending to lofty levels of holiness. His soul is filled with holiness, while the farmer’s hands are filled with dirt. The scholar tills the secrets of the Talmud while the farmer simply tills the soil. Yet, the great rabbis of yesteryear understood that despite our difference we are all important. Each of us has a place, each of us has a mission and if we work together, we advance the cause of holiness and spirituality.
Society has become fractured and polarized. Too often we live with the mantra, “if you don’t share my opinions you are worthless. If you don’t subscribe to my views, political affiliations, religious doctrines, societal outlooks, then you have no value in my eyes.” The world is filled with fire and water. The water spends so much time and energy trying to extinguish the fire and the fire expends so much energy trying to consume the water. In Egypt we saw how fire and water can coexist. We saw that there is room for respect even in the midst of disagreement. We saw how opposites can come together to work towards a common goal and yet still maintain their respective differences and unique identities. When water and fire stop trying to conquer each other and begin to work together, they bring salvation just a bit closer. Let us try to find ways to build bridges with the people who are fire and water within our lives and in doing so feel the redemptive embrace of our Creator.