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Opposites attract

Opposites attract, that much we know. Whether it’s a married couple where husband and wife seem to have completely different personalities, friends who have different interests but are always doing things together, or even foods that are seemingly opposites somehow coming together to form a dish neither could accomplish on its own — sweet and savory, hot and cold, and so on. Just because various entities seem to be opposites doesn’t mean they can’t be combined in the interest of better results.

That said, although the various entities can come together, their personalities aren’t affected. They each maintain their unique identity and personality, even as they are able to overlook their differences in order to accomplish a greater good. But because of a power greater than both of them, a force that brings them together, they are able to view the bigger picture and work together.

A classic example of this is found in the Torah, when it describes the seventh plague G-d brought upon the Egyptians in the lead up to the Jews’ exodus, the plague of hail. This plague was more than just a strong hail storm that destroyed a few roofs that brought out roofers offering to make insurance claims on their behalf. This hail is described as the harshest plague up until that point, serving as a pivot in the Egyptians’ approach towards the Jewish people. That’s because it wasn’t just large balls of hail, it was a plague that rained upon Egypt large balls of ice with fire inside, and everything these balls struck was instantly destroyed.

Fire and ice are obviously opposites, but in the service of a higher power they set their divergent natures aside and worked together to fulfill G-d’s wishes. The fire didn’t melt the ice and the ice didn’t extinguish the fire; instead they blended together and did exactly what G-d wanted them to.

Although this was of course a miracle—since fire and ice typically can’t function together in such close proximity—this miracle reminds us that just because on the surface we sometimes feel that what is being demanded of us is impossible and against our nature, if G-d wants it, it can be done. Only G-d can combine such extreme opposites, but the fact that the Torah tells us about it means that to some extent, we too can overlook our natural tendencies in pursuit of a greater purpose.

In fact, G-d Himself displayed this quality, so to speak, by allowing two of His own opposing traits to work together: Despite the purpose of the plagues being destruction, which stems from G-d’s trait of “gevurah,” or severity, there was a warning for all Egyptians to go indoors and take their livestock with them in order to be saved from the impending plague; that was an expression of G-d’s “rachamim,” or mercy. 

Taking this even further, “fire” is a metaphor for G-d’s severity and “water” (or in this case, ice) represents G-d’s mercy. So it is precisely in this plague, where these two opposing traits were combined, that G-d expressed this contradiction openly by allowing the Egyptians to be saved and possibly even repent.

This also serves as a reminder that the purpose of the plagues wasn’t just the destruction, but for the good that comes afterwards. G-d teaches us that we must use the threat of might to deter our enemies, and to be prepared to use it as necessary. But at the same time, at our core we are a people of peace and would much prefer that there be no war, no violence, and that the entire Jewish nation be allowed to live in peace.

We continue to strive for this goal, which will be realized in its fullest form with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate redemption.

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