Urgency. That’s what comes to mind when I consider the plagues, urgency… and paper plates.
It all goes back to one particular Seder from my childhood. From that Seder onward, I couldn’t think of the plagues without a sense of urgency and a vision of paper plates. For years my family shared most every Jewish holiday with my parent’s best friends, who were of Persian Jewish origin. That year we were having Seder at their home. Included among the guests was an older relative of the family (I can’t remember whether it was a grandmother or an aunt). As we neared the recitation of the plagues, she became more and more agitated. Finally, only a page away, she quickly went into the kitchen and returned with small paper plates for everyone.
Before we could recite the plagues, she insisted we follow a family tradition. As we lessened our cups by a drop of wine in memory of each plague, we were to place those drops on the paper plates and not on the china. I am sure that in the moment I thought this was simply a way of preserving the good china for the meal. What happened next, however, brought clarity to her agitated distribution of the plates and power to a lesson of the plagues themselves.
The moment we completed the recitation of the last of the plagues, seconds after the final drop had been placed, she quickly stood up from the table and with a sense of great urgency, gathered up all the paper and removed the plates from the house to the garbage cans outside. She returned to the dining room with a renewed sense of calm and wholeness, her mission complete.
So what was this all about? It was about our reflecting on the power of the plagues as a destructive force. So painful were these plagues that we removed even their metaphorical representation from our midst with the greatest of urgency, lest their cursed presence descend upon our home. It was a powerful reflection of their fearful nature and a reminder that our freedom came with a price that truly diminishes our cup of joy.
But it stayed with me in the form of another lesson discussed that evening. We live in a world tormented by any number of modern plagues. Still today, many continue to live under oppression, suffer from illness and hunger and endure poverty and discrimination. All too often we decide these plagues are too big for us to make a difference, we accept their presence through our complacency or simply look away and ignore them.
Passover comes to remind us that as a people who have known oppression and seen the pain of the plagued, we dare not avert our gaze or choose inaction in the face of that which plagues others in our own day. Rather we must agitate for change and respond with the same urgency with which those plague-stained paper plates were removed from our Seder table and home.
Which plagues cry out to you today? How can you respond with an urgency that will help bring comfort to the afflicted? What will your Passover inspired social justice commitment this year?