At Passover last Friday we named them and marked each by spilling on our plates a drop of red-wine blood: the Ten Plagues that the God of Moses inflicted on the Egyptians.

Exodus explains that most of the violence was gratuitous; Pharaoh was prepared to give in long before, but God hardened his heart over and over, prolonging and escalating the suffering.

It is as though we ourselves left Egypt.

We prepared a lamb for dinner and set a little of its blood aside in a bowl. We dipped a sprig of the Ezov plant – a plant known for its purgative and purifying properties – into the blood painted a sign around the front door of our house.

That night the God of Moses killed the eldest son in every unmarked house in Egypt.

At this year’s Seder, I introduced a new reading, immediately after the Ten Plagues. Egyptians’ own words – about what it is to feel God’s Absence, and to know his Presence.  I translated from the Hieroglyphs – “The God’s Marks” — poetry carved in stone in Amarna, in approximately 1600 B.C. Perhaps 50-80 years before the Exodus. My translation is literal, but I excerpted and reordered some passages for thematic clarity.

Egypt and the Cosmos

I.  Negative Vision

So many are your works!

Yet much remains hidden

O solitary god

You have no consort.

You made the world

To please your own heart


You were all alone.


You would not be alone with your creation

You made your creatures see it.


Lord, you are far away!

And yet your light reaches out.


But when you leave our minds

Our world is in darkness

A foretaste of death.

Like bodies lying inside a great house,

Faces wrapped in cloth

Seeing nothing

Oblivious even to the Thief who takes

Everything there is.


Lions hunt us.

Vipers poison us.


This Darkness is a house of death

That walls all earth in silence

When you are lost to us

Beyond our horizon

Gone away.



II. Positive Vision

Life-giving Life

You made Time

So that your creations could take form.


Each day is your holy day

All Egypt celebrates

You wake your people

They stand, purify themselves, and bind their garments

They raise their arms to praise You.


The world grows busy with work

Each practicing the craft that suits him best

Animals graze content

In pasturelands and orchards


All plants grow green

Birds wake and rise from their nests

You are with them.


Herds leap to their feet

Birds startle and fly away

All alive because of You.


In the waters of a mother’s womb

You transform seeds

Making them human beings.


You quickened a son in his mother’s body.

He was quiet then, you soothed his tears,

You nursed him in the womb.


You gave him the breath of life;

All his life’s work, he owes to you.


When he crowned on the day of his birth

Born to his rightful place

You were the one to open his mouth.


A chick in its egg already chirps.

A stone, you gave it breath inside,

Uniting it with life.

It cracks the egg, and from its egg breaks free,

It chirps, is unified, moves freely on two feet,

It breaks free as it speaks.


Men and women, cattle and wild creatures

All that goes on foot and all that flies on the wing

The lands beyond the desert, Syria and Nubia

And the Black Land of Egypt.


You give humanity a home and livelihood

To each his measured grain and days of life.

They speak many languages

Their qualities vary

Even their complexions are distinct:

You make unique the peoples of the world.


To give life to all nations is your wish

You made the Nile

With its sources hidden.


You made humanity for yourself

You are their Lord who cares for them.


You give life to the peoples beyond the desert

You made a Nile in the sky to descend for them

Flooding down on the mountains like a sea

Soaking their fields from the sky.


How well-crafted are your plans

O Lord forever of the cycles of life:


A Nile falling from the sky

For the foreign nations

And the wild creatures


And a Nile flowing from the soil

For Egypt, your beloved land.