By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
A basic ideal in contemporary thinking is not only the rights of the individual but also the power of the individual. If there is an issue which you really care about, then through the democratic process, the power of lobbying, getting the media involved to raise public interest and affect opinion -- you can actually do something about it. In some sense, each person can change the world.
In spiritual terms, this is an ancient Jewish idea. More than eight centuries ago Maimonides wrote that each person should consider themselves equally balanced between good and bad, and the world as a whole as equally balanced between good and bad. This means, says Maimonides, one's next step can change the balance for oneself and for the whole world. One good deed, or even, comments the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one good thought, can bring tip the balance of existence to the side of good, and bring healing to the world.
This means that each person is highly significant. His or her perception of life can be a crucial factor not only for their own well being, but for the world as a whole.
Our perception of life is in fact a key theme in the Torah portion of this week of Va’aira (Shmos [Exodus] 6:2- 9:35), which tells of the plagues which G-d sent against the Egyptians.
What was the purpose of the plagues?
Well, one answer is, to force the Egyptians, particularly Pharaoh, to let the Jews go free. They can also be seen as a punishment for their cruelty towards their Jewish slaves. But, if we look carefully at the Torah text, we see that this was not just a matter of a show force nor of causing pain. The goal was more subtle.
G-d explains that the purpose of the miracles in Egypt is so that "Egypt will know that I am G-d."
When Pharaoh first confronted Moses, who was asking that the Jews should be given their freedom, Pharaoh responded: "Who is G-d that I should listen to Him and let the Jews go free? I do not know G-d." This means that the purpose of the plagues was to make Pharaoh recognize G-d. Only then would he let the Jews leave Egypt.
In fact, however, this too is not the final goal of the plagues, G-d gives a further explanation to Moses. The plagues come so that the Jewish people will tell their children and grandchildren about what happened, and they "will know that I am G-d."
The purpose of the plagues was to change our perception of life, so that, through the generations, we recognize G-d and the significance of His teachings. For ancient Pharaoh, the plagues meant that he eventually obeyed G-d and let the Jewish people free. For us they mean that we recognize G-d's power in our lives, and therefore make the right step which will bring goodness and healing to the world.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org – by Rabbi Tali Loewenthal)