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Thought for the Day: Blood and Frogs -- Ridiculing Avoda Zara

Here is a seemingly dry halacha: only a non-Jew can nullify an avoda zara (terrible translation: idol).  That is, the Torah demands that we destroy any idol that is actively being worshiped.  If a Jew, chas v'shalom, owns an avoda zara, then it has to be destroyed; he cannot nullify it/render just another rock/metal/wood sculpture.  A non-Jew, on the other hand, can declare his avoda zarato be null and void.  Until today, the only practical difference I could have imagined was that a crucifix owned by a Jew would always work against vampires, while one owned by a non-Jew might not work.  Good to know if you think you might meet some vampires.  I certainly never thought about why that might be true.  Ho-hum.

As it happens, that halacha is not so much a legal oddity as a psychological reality.  As Jews, avoda zara is our enemy.  When we try to nullify an avoda zara, the same thing happens as whenever an outsider tries to diminish the standing of an icon -- you lend importance to that icon.  The very fact that you feel the need to attack proves its importance to its adherents.  Moreover, if you "kill" it (which you can't do anyway since it doesn't really exist), you've created a martyr and really lost the war.  The only way to bring about the downfall of an icon is for it to lose the respect and admiration of its adherents.  How do you orchestrate that?  Now we come to another seemingly dry halacha -- all ליצנות/mockery is forbidden, except mocking avoda zara.  Turning avoda zara into an object of derision is a beautiful mitzvah.

And that, I just heard via mp3 recording technology from R' Yisrael Belsky, is precisely why the first two of the plagues in Egypt were blood and frogs.  The ancient Egyptians worshiped both the Nile and the animals that emerged from it.  By turning the Nile into a reeking sludge pool of blood, that god became and object of derision.  The god wasn't killed; instead it was, so to speak, forced to do something disgusting.  Here the people were ready to fight for their god, do defend the faith as it were, and that god turns out to be an agent of HaShem!  Not only an agent, but a slobbering lap dog who will do any silly or disgusting thing he is told to do.

Next the חרטומים/magicians/holy witch doctors are called in.  They can't stop this degradation, but if they don't do something they will look foolish and powerless as well.  This is a rule: when it's a choice between doing the right thing or saving oneself from embarrassment, saving face wins hands down.  The holy witch doctors therefore opt to show that they, too, can make their god do silly and disgusting tricks.  Both scenarios are replayed with the frogs. who also leave a piles and piles of stinking mess.  Next comes the lice, which the magicians cannot reproduce; they end up looking silly and powerless, after all.

Bottom line: with the first three plagues, the Egyptians are in no shape to "defend the faith".  They are disgusted with and feel disgraced by their erstwhile gods.  The Egyptian gods were no more; nullified by those who originally deified them.  The next six plagues fill the spiritual void left by demonstrating HaShem's mastery of all dimensions of reality.

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