In this week’s Torah portion, Vaera, G-d instructs Moshe and Aharon to confront Pharoah and demand he allow the Israelites to go off and pray. It soon became a high-stakes challenge between G-d’s power and Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers.
Aaron’s first move was to throw down his staff and it became a serpent. Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers did the same. Then Aharon used his staff to strike the Nile and changed the water to blood. Pharaoh’s magicians used their occult arts and did it too. Next Aharon used his staff and made frogs fill the water ways of Egypt. The magicians used their magic again and made the same thing happen.
Then came the dreaded gnats.
YHWH said to Moshe:
Say to Aharon:
Stretch your staff and strike the dust and the land
it will become gnats throughout the land of Egypt!
They did thus,
Aharon stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust
of the ground,
and gnats were on man and on beast;
all the dust on the ground because gnats throughout all the land
Now the magicians did thus with their occult-arts, to bring forth
the gnats, but they could not,
the gnats were on man and on beast.
The magicians said to Pharaoh:
This the finger of g-d!
Exodus 8:12 – 8:15
I wonder….why after all of the plagues that G-d brought down on the Egyptian people and that Pharoah’s magicians we able to duplicate — water turned to blood, frogs filling the water and the land — did the tiny, swarming gnats seem heaven sent to the Egyptian sorcerers. Why did the existence of these little flying things that landed on and likely in the ears of the Egyptians and their animals seem too unbearable to be the work of anything but G-d.
When I view this Torah portion through the lens of Mindfulness, It strikes me (pun intended) that gnats are like those pesky, incessant, buzzing thoughts all humans have and contend with moment to moment. They aren’t the big things that plague our lives — like illness or loss — but rather the small concerns or slights that literally buzz around our mind all day long.
Like Pharoah’s sorcerers, we now know that without awareness and mindfulness, our thoughts can have a corrosive effect on the quality of our lives. In essence, a thought is a pest, but can feel like a plague.
Here’s the kind of gnats that swarm around in my mind moment to moment. “Why didn’t that person answer my email…did I do something wrong? Why didn’t the other mom in the carpool line wave back at me yesterday….is she mad at me? Which are the right couples to invite to Shabbat dinner next week…and will they all get along?
And then, surprisingly, the location of my most persistent gnat attacks come in the quiet of a yoga class. I try to be mindful as I stretch and breathe deeply in and out. But as soon as the teacher turns on the chill music……buZZZZ…..out comes swarms of comparative thoughts, judgements about my body, and a reoccurring desire for the class to end. Half way into an hour class, I can feel plagued for sure.
But, something different happened recently when the yoga teacher chose not to put on the usual music. Instead she had a recording of a gong that sounded lightly every few minutes throughout the whole class. Each time I was busy swatting at gnat thoughts during this class the gong would bring me back to my breath and my body, and a sense of gratitude that I had both, and they were allowing me to bend and stretch my way through the class.