i think the ten plagues of egypt probably happened slowly but simultaneously, with one fading into another before egyptians had the chance to process the first one. i think things become unbearable when they’re overwhelming, not when they’re one-at-a-time troubles. a people can deal with all the water in the well turning into blood or with frogs hopscotching around the neighborhood or with boils — singular. a people cannot deal with blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and מכת בכורות all at once.
do you think the biblical egyptians were singing dark, dirge versions of Dayenu as the plagues kept happening? it would have been enough to have one trouble — but ten troubles, with life progressively becoming more unbearable until you are FORCED to do the scary thing you know is right? Dayenu. the darkest, dirgiest Dayenu.
i don’t know why the G-d of my ancestors thinks i am a biblical egyptian. i think He is mixing metaphors. if i look back at the life i straight up Exodus’d, i can see the G-d of my ancestors started sending plagues long before i was looking for them — a stubborn voice asking me to LOOK and LISTEN while my equally stubborn voice had her eyes closed and her fingers in her ears.
G-d was like: listen, you dumb bitch. your 25x great grandmother didn’t have a choice about whether or not to stay in plague-ridden egypt, so i didn’t send the plagues to her doorstep, specifically. but you have a choice! you can do the annoying, hard thing and pretend you’re Moshe and wax lyrical about being a boo-hoo stranger in a strange land, or you can do the easy thing i’m trying to show you and get the HELL out of KENTUCKY before i SEND מכת בכורות and FORCE YOU to COME HOME to your JEWISH FAMILY. you’ve MADE your POINT. BURGEONING GIRL INDEPENDENCE ISN’T HALAKHA (and neither are those tattoos, BY. THE. WAY).
i was literally sitting on my bed in my new apartment in Louisville, Kentucky reading and taking notes on jewish folklore when i saw the first cockroach. the G-d of my ancestors is not subtle.
the first cockroach was the biggest thing i’d ever seen. it appeared on the floor out of the corner of my eye and i was primally afraid of it before i even knew what it was. and then there was another one — darting out of my closet up the wall, then back down the wall. and then there were 40 cockroaches, at the very least. there were probably 80, if i’m being generous, and i am.
as far as i was concerned, they’d just taken over the lease. i wasn’t technically allowed to sublet the apartment, per the terms of said lease, but i figured the building would make an exception for the chance to do business with a swarm of roaches. i was on the phone with my parents, crying so hard, like a real life adult lady on her own in the big city, and we figured out how to call the landlord and get an emergency exterminator in ASAP. i slept at a friend’s.
but then: i didn’t quit Kentucky. i bought spray and became accustomed to (if not used to — never used to) the sound of a cockroach dying forever beneath my shoe. i pretended not to worry that bugs were crawling all over me and my stuff while i slept. and i pretended it was okay that every once in a while for the next nine months i’d have to kill a bug the size of a golf ball in my apartment. periodic insect murder was part of the low, low price of burgeoning girl independence.
i learned a lot about my cockroach overlords. i learned it wasn’t my fault they’d invaded — this type of cockroach comes from old pipes, not from dirt and food. i learned they hate heat, which is why they’d show up in my bathtub every time it got a little warm outside. and i learned they have a sense of humor, or at least a sense of irony; i’d always see one or two or three when i’d almost forgotten my apartment had a cockroach problem, or when i’d had a bad day already, or when i’d had a GOOD day and needed to be taken down a peg.
cockroach infestation was my first dark Dayenu. it was enough, but i managed it, because it was the only thing. and otherwise, i absolutely loved Kentucky. i loved the way burgeoning girl independence made me feel. i loved my job, i loved my new friends, i loved figuring out adult ways to stay in touch with my pre-Kentucky life.
things that weren’t cockroaches started creeping in, though. my best friend was hit by a car and fractured her skull DAYS after the first wave of cockroaches — another best friend had a health scare soon after. there was no biblical plague of Best Friends In Danger, but accidents + medical testing + cockroaches did not feel manageable. for the first time in my shaky new adulthood, i felt insecure and wrong and evil for moving 800 miles away from everyone in the world who cares about me. but: i stayed stubborn. i stayed in Kentucky, because it was the harder thing to do.
i stayed in Kentucky even though Kentucky had no idea what to do with me. there was no biblical plague of Oh, You’re Jewish?, but being fundamentally misunderstood by 95% of people i came in contact with did not feel manageable. i was used to being jewish loudly, publicly, and communally. there was always at least one or two more of me around. not so in Kentucky. that’s not a criticism — it’s an anomaly that i grew up around so many other jews. but i’ve never been more aware that i was different. i’ve never had to smile and nod so much.
that was hard! but: i stayed stubborn. i entertained the absurdity; i let people apologize to me for celebrating Christmas too hard, i let people congratulate me because The Jews Control Hollywood, i let people get away with thinking my chai necklace was a metal-plated pendant of Perry the Platypus. and i stayed loud. people in my program who knew nothing else about me knew i was Jewish. that felt like the right thing to do. if i couldn’t be at home in a thriving jewish community, i could create one within myself. a one-woman band whose reinforcements were 800 miles away.
i visited my reinforcements for one week in november. i came home to my Jewish family and was force-fed four bagels in two days and i returned to Kentucky with a full health bar. and then: to punish me: the G-d of my ancestors sent two more plagues at once. lice! and boils! in the form of bed bugs and their bites!
G-d was like: LISTEN, YOU DUMB BITCH. you came home for a WEEK and you SAW with YOUR OWN EYES how GREAT you felt! remember what it’s like to be around JEWS? remember what it’s like to be around people who KNOW YOU? who REALLY know you, on a genetic level? remember BAGELS? you just up and left BAGELS? for the SECOND TIME? well. you asked for this. you basically FORCED ME to put bed bugs in your cockroach apartment. enjoy over-explaining your yiddishisms fur die goyim.
but: i stayed stubborn. the exterminators came back and i washed every article of clothing i owned at extremely high temperatures because i loved my job and i loved my friends and i loved my burgeoning girl independence. plague-like discomfort was worth cracking open my adolescent shell.
but then stuff kept happening! work stuff, and personal stuff, and then my dog died. i was two days removed from getting to say goodbye to him — i was scheduled to fly home for my cousin’s wedding on friday, and the dog died on wednesday.
i was exhausted and heartbroken when i had the long weekend at home, but then i got to spend time with best Jewish friends and family and celebrate my closest cousin’s Jewish marriage. my health bar filled again. it was a harder sell this time, but i returned to Kentucky, because i was going to finish what i started. i was now a Marketing Apprentice and an Entertainment Editor and a Plague Manager. i could do two more months! what could happen to outsell cockroaches, bed bugs, friends in danger, pets dying, and the crumbling personal/professional lives of most everyone i cared about in Kentucky?
and G-d was like: LISTEN, YOU DUMB BITCH. remember when i planned your cousin’s wedding the same weekend as your job’s Lobster Feast fundraiser? so you went home, and you had an amazing time, AND you didn’t have to eat shellfish? I’M NOT MESSING AROUND. GO. HOME. you have MADE! YOUR! POINT! you’re an ADULT now! i give! go home! don’t make me do something we’ll both regret!
conditions started approaching worldwide pandemic when i was back in Kentucky. but: i stayed stubborn. i kept going to work and i disinfected the bobblehead on my desk and i bragged about my great immune system and i refused to let myself fear something invisible.
and then, in the middle of the night at the beginning of march, the giant ceiling fan/lamp fixture in my living room crashed into the floor. it was the only light source in the room. after sending so many stupid metaphors, i’m pretty sure G-d sent the WAY too literal plague of darkness to get me to pay attention to the big one — what He’d been brewing up for months.
so i called my boss and i told her i wanted to go home. it only took four biblical plagues — swarms of bugs, lice, boils, and finally darkness — for me to give up. i wish I’D been pharaoh. would’ve saved everyone a lot of trouble.
i called my boss and i told her i wanted to go home and she told me not to worry, because my program was going digital and ending early, anyway. so. i don’t even know if i really gave up? i’m embarrassed i made that call at all, but, without my knowledge, someone else made the call for me.
and, you know — i’d spent so much time interpreting these signs and plagues as evidence that some higher power wanted me to fail, and i’d decided i wasn’t going to fail. i had something to prove. but — because of global pandemic — i’m never going to be sure of whether or not i proved what i was trying to prove. i didn’t get to see it through. maybe the months of “go home, you’re not safe here” weren’t bitter, and they weren’t warning me about my own inexperience, and they weren’t about Kentucky. maybe they weren’t about me at all.
as the firstborn i have always had a special, shivery fear of the final plague: מכת בכורות. i had nightmares as a kid where i’d die because my parents forgot to paint the doorway with lamb’s blood. now i understand that there are rules you have to follow if you’re going to survive an epidemic, whether or not that epidemic is sent by G-d to take out your oppressor’s children. you have to stay inside, safe, with your family, or the death won’t know to discriminate.
i left Kentucky in what can only be described as a Jewish Hurry to hunker down in my family’s house and weather the final plague. maybe all G-d was trying to do for all these months was save me from the heartbreak of quitting so close to the finish line.