Wiping out modern-day plagues

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Every year at the seder we place a drop of wine on our plates to mark each of the 10 plagues said to have befallen the ancient Egyptians, including frogs, lice, boils, slaying of the first born.

But in this country, as we near the end of the 20th century, many other plagues deserve our recognition as well.

A front-page story in this week's paper mentions several:

AIDS continues to claim tens of thousands of lives worldwide, despite promising advances in treatment. In this country alone, an estimated 1.5-to-2 million people are infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Approximately 200,000 Americans are currently living with AIDS itself.

Breast cancer continues to afflict women of all ages in frightening numbers. Statistics show that one in nine women will get breast cancer.

In addition, domestic abuse, poverty and homelessness still besiege Americans.

Whether or not we symbolize such modern-day plagues with droplets of wine on our Passover plates, the holiday seems an ideal time to examine the ills of today. It is a commemoration of the transition from slavery to freedom, after all, and is therefore a time to consider what we, as individuals and a society, can do to help free our world of suffering.

Consider discussing modern-day plagues at your seder table. Ask guests, especially children, what they consider those plagues to be, and what they believe we can do to alleviate them. Think how much good would be done if everyone who attends a seder actually acts on the suggestions that arise.

As we retell the story of Passover, we are instructed to imagine that we ourselves were slaves in Egypt. As we eat the bread of affliction, we can extend our empathy and compassion in other directions as we try to put ourselves in the shoes of those suffering from illness, poverty, despair.

On a more immediate level, Passover can also be a time to consider what plagues us individually. Have we been hounded by jealousy, fear, selfishness, insecurity? How do we treat others?

While many of us tend to look at Passover themes of enslavement and redemption on a global level, they exist on a personal level as well.

As we recall the path our ancestors took out of Egypt, may we find our own paths to freedom.