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    Respect for the Egyptians

    Spilling a drop of wine at the mention of each of the ten plagues is said to be a tear of sympathy for the Egyptians.

    Egyptians drowning in the sea, Venice Haggadah, 1609

    The Midrash Avkir and the Gemara in Sanhedrin 39b tell us that the ministering angels began to celebrate when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in safety, but God said, “You dare to sing to me when My creatures are drowning in the sea? Where is your humanity?”

    This reprimand is deservedly famous, but few people know what precedes it in the rabbinic text.

    The dialogue begins with the guardian angel of Egypt, Uzza, who saw that God was about to drown the Egyptians in the sea and said, “God, You created the universe with Your attribute of mercy – how can You drown my children in the water of the sea?”

    God turned to the whole heavenly array and asked them to decide between Him and Uzza. The guardian angels of all the other nations spoke up in support of Uzza but the angel Gabriel went down to Egypt where the buildings and pyramids had been erected.

    He removed a brick behind which the taskmasters had placed the body of a Jewish child in order to strengthen the building, and he said: “O God, look at what they have done with your children!”

    God and the other angels were shocked. He decided according to the attribute of justice and decided to drown the Egyptians in the sea.

    Those who are interested will find this anecdote relevant to the bitter final verse in Psalm 137.

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