Let me get this out of the way at the beginning, I hate horror films. Life is scary enough as it is and I don’t need to go to the movie theater to be reminded of that. Of course nowadays movie theaters are somewhat passé, as Netflix’s premier of Sandra Bullock’s “Birdbox” made abundantly clear.
The film, based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, is about a world where a mysterious invisible force is causing mass suicide in human society. Bullock’s character Malorie, must take her two children blindfolded to safety, avoiding the sight of these spooks. Yikes!
For the ancient Egyptians confronting the force of our God in the form of plagues, especially the last three (locusts, darkness, death of the first born) in this week’s Torah portion, Bo, must be a little like what the characters in “Birdbox” are experiencing. This is most definitely in the horror genre for Egyptian society. But, our ancestors were haunted by what happened as well.
We see this in the form of a rabbinic midrash (extra-biblical story) where God mourns the loss of life when Pharaoh and his army are drowned in the sea. We also see it later in the story of the Golden Calf where the gold stolen in the plague of darkness is used for evil purposes. The punishment they experience later seems like a fulfillment of a curse. When God’s force is unleashed in the world there are no real winners. While we poke fun of the plagues on Passover, often making them into children’s games, this is serious business. We are not meant to feel the joy of cheap thrills in this section of Torah, rather just relief that we have survived such heavenly trauma.