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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

01/19/2023 05:00:00 PM

Jan19

Rabbi Daniel K. Alter

Amongst our many skills and talents as human beings, we collectively have great ability to perceive patterns. Our neocortex, the outermost layer of the brain responsible for recognizing patterns, is so developed that it outperforms even the most complex computer algorithms. We are so good that we can even find patterns when none exist!

Many readers of parshat Va’era find a pattern in the description of the plagues (we get the first seven in this portion; the last three come next week in parshat Bo). The challenge is we have found not one but multiple patterns in the plagues! For example:

Pattern 1: 4+4+1+1 - Four nuisances (water to blood, frogs, lice, swarms) plus four serious (pestilence, boils, hail, locusts) plus darkness plus death of the firstborn.

Pattern 2: 2+2+2+2+2 - The first two plagues deal with the Nile river. The next two refer to insects. The third pair covers illness. The four pair deals with crops, and the final pair is alike in scope and terror.

Pattern 3: 3+3+3+1 - This pattern focuses on whether or not Moses warns Pharaoh about the impending plagues. We see a Yes-Yes-No pattern across the three triplets, then a final plague that breaks the pattern.

These are just a few of the patterns we have found. Another focuses on the word used to describe the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart after each plague. Still others see the plagues as polemics against specific ancient Egyptian gods! We could easily dismiss these patterns as coincidences, examples of humanity’s apophenia. However, one of the joys of Jewish text study is that we can find validity in all these patterns. Rather than being forced to choose the single “right” interpretation, we embrace them as examples of the multi-layered quality of Torah. Despite our prestigious brains, we cannot take it all in on the first read. There is always more to discover in the pages of Torah.

Tue, January 31 2023 9 Sh'vat 5783