"Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, Plague, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, Smiting of the Firstborn."

The above list, familiar to every seder participant, is of the ten makkot which G‑d inflicted upon the land of Egypt prior to liberating the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery.

What is a makkah? The Hebrew term is often translated as "plague," as in "The Ten Plagues." A more precise translation of the word makkah is "blow" — blow as in "whack!" We're not just punishing Egyptians and liberating Jews; we're also bashing and smashing something.

One thing that seems to be getting many of the blows is the Nile: most of the makkot are either inflicted upon the river directly (its water turning to blood or spawning millions of frogs) or else they are enacted on its banks.

Why whack a river? Because the Egyptian Nile is not just a river. It is an idea, an approach to life. And whacking this idea out of our heads is what the Exodus is all about.

Forty years after they exited Egypt, on the eve of their entry into the Holy Land, Moses says to the Children of Israel:

For the land into which you are entering, to inherit it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you are coming, that you sow your seed and water it with your feet like a vegetable garden.

The land into which you are crossing to inherit is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water of the rain of the heavens.

A land which the L-rd your G‑d seeks; constantly the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)

The commentaries explain that "the land of Egypt does not drink rainwater; rather, the Nile rises and waters it." The Egyptian surveying his source of sustenance sees a mighty river that rises, regular as clockwork, to flood its banks and fill the reservoirs he's prepared for it; walking circles with his feet he pushes a wheel round and round to raise the water to the irrigation ditches that criss-cross his fields. Never once, in his entire career as a farmer, does he lift his eyes upward.

The Israelite farmer, in contrast, drinks water of the rain of the heavens. His source of sustenance is neither regular nor predictable. It does not well up from a channel grooved in the earth, nor is it treaded up from a hole in the ground. His eyes are forever trained upward, in hope and expectation, and in faith that life will, indeed, shower from Above.

It is true that rain also comes from below; according to Genesis 2:6, "A vapor rises from the earth, and quenches the face of the land." G‑d did not create us to be passive recipients of a unilateral flow of sustenance from heaven. Our toil and effort, our initiative and creativity, prompted by the warming sun of divine empowerment and inspiration, rise as mists from the earth to float as clouds before the heavens, from where they return as the blessings of life. But ever-present is the awareness that it's all orchestrated and driven from above. The point of reference is not earth but heaven.

Whack the river, G‑d commanded Moses. We need to beat the Nile out of the heads of My people, so that we can bring them into the land that drinks water of the rain of the heavens.