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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

River Red

Parshat Vaera, the parsha where seven of the ten plagues are listed in all of their horror, is part of our yearly celebration of our freedom, the holiday of Passover. The plagues play a central role each year as we recline on our pillows at out Passover seders. We dip our pinkies in the wine at the sorrow of the destruction , but we also sing songs of Pharaoh with frogs in his bed and some of us own little finger puppets representing lice, wild beasts and the river that turns to blood. God has a plan for the Hebrews and Pharaoh and Moshe both play their roles as God hardens Pharaoh's heart.

The road to redemption for the Hebew slaves is gory, wrenching. Sometimes it is glorious but often it is very difficult to read. As I sometimes do in this blog, I want to paint a moment with the words I write; to draw our attention to a scene and imagine being part of it. There are no finger puppets in this piece; no sweet little songs; just the horror of the moment.

The end result of the plagues was freedom, but the journey there, as journeys often are, was harrowing for everyone involved, from Pharoah, to Moses, to the Hebrew slaves, to the ordinary Egyptian people who benefitted by the gifts of the River Nile.

May we hear better news soon.



” And יהוה said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt—its rivers, its canals, its ponds, all its bodies of water—that they may turn to blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and stone.” Moses and Aaron did just as יהוה commanded: he lifted up the rod and struck the water in the Nile in the sight of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and all the water in the Nile was turned into blood and the fish in the Nile died. The Nile stank so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile; and there was blood throughout the land of Egypt.

Exodus 7:17-21


River Red

Hiding her eyes,

horrified, she turns away,

consumed in sorrow,

she cannot bring herself to witness the river


blue, to pink, to rust,

to blood red.

The life giving river

suddenly transformed

lying like a wrinkled red sheet

upon an unmade bed.

The stench of death fills her nostrils

she forces her eyes to open,

to notice the fish floating,

eyes staring at the sky,


For this they were created?

Her breath is ragged as she witnesses

people stampeding away like cattle

they flee from the stinking river,

terror in their eyes;

trampling each other as they run.

By the river's edge cows bellow mournfully,

dogs lap the water and fall to the ground.

Flies feast on dead fish,

mosquitos hover over the water,

ravenous and hungry.

The vulture releases its hunting cry,

sensing what lies below.

A breeze ripples over the water

as though to console the dying river.

This is the plague of blood.

She witnesses this unnatural event,

this un-creation, life to death;

creation suddenly lurching backwards

towards darkness and death.

One people’s punishment is another’s reward.

But really,



there are no winners when plague strikes;

only losers.

So it is with plagues.

The One who metes out suffering

and devises punishments,

The One who turns a river to blood

also hardens hearts;

The Pharaoh watched all this with stony eyes

and walked away,

but not everyone can be hard hearted

so she covers her eyes, and cries tears of red

for the river and all it touches.

She cannot watch.

The first plague- blood.

Ay, this is just the beginning.

Other posts on Parshat Vaera on Words Have Wings



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1 Comment

Jan 21

your Poetic images are so alive. There are No winners when plagues are prevalent. I feel that the world has too much ted now and not enough blue.

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