In the Passover haggadah, we read of the 10 Plagues that God sent to convince Pharoah to let the Hebrew slaves go free. The plagues -- bloody, violent, magical -- are a dramatic highpoint of the narrative. Mindful of the pain these plagues brought even to innocent Egyptians, Jews have traditionally spilled out a drop of their festive seder wine at the recitation of each plague.
We don't suggest that these modern plagues are the work of a punitive God or punishment for society's wrongdoing -- we'll leave that analysis to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
But we recall that with the original plagues, the rabbis tell us, the purpose was to instruct the Israelites as much as to punish the Egyptians. In that light, we offer 10 contemporary plagues, named in Hebrew, as an opportunity to mourn their victims and discuss how we can prevent them and their like from plaguing us next year.
DELEKH: The curse of our dependency on oil, with its demonic offspring -- global warming, despotic regimes, skyrocketing prices.
ABRAMOFF: The plague of money in politics -- Is Jack Abramoff the worst offender, or just the one who got caught?
ANTISHEMIUT: Anti-Semitism in Europe, as it unfolded in the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, and the Middle East. If only cartoons were the worst of it.
DARFUR: The murder of hundreds of thousands in Darfur, and the shame of our insufficient response. Truly, when there is suffering and enslavement, no man is free. Go to www.savedarfur.org to help.
KATRINA: A flood of biblical proportions befalls a city of music. Not a plague of the Almighty, but a volatile combination of climatic chance and possible global warming potently mixed with a pathetic lack of preparedness and an inadequate response.
IRAQ: Some 3,000 Americans dead, thousands more wounded, and a toll on Iraqis that dwarfs these numbers. A war of choice has become a plague leaving few good choices.
BIN LADEN: His name is one with Sept. 11. But the plague of Islamo-fascism that he helped unleash is bigger and more dangerous than the fugitive. It will outlive him to our peril.
HAMAS: Israel now has, at its doorstep, a government bent on its destruction instead of a potential partner for lasting piece.
IRAN: Nukes + Shiite hegemony in Iraq + radical president = Plague, and not just for Israel.
TIRDEMET SHARON: The stroke and coma that felled Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plunged Israel into uncertainty it can scarcely afford.