Preparing for both Passover and World Health Day, 2021-2022 Tzedek Fellow Faygle Train, connects the 10 plagues of Passover with different health issues being experienced today. Read on for practical suggestions for facing them together:


On the 7th April 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates its annual World Health Day, on the theme Our Planet, Our Health. It may seem surprising to connect the holiday of Passover with global health – after all, Passover celebrates when God freed the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt after unleashing ten plagues that punished the cruel Egyptian pharaoh, while world health is… not that!


However, this holiday is deeply rooted in health. The plagues of our past teach us about the plagues of our present – and inspire us to pursue justice where it is needed. Let’s examine how the plagues that befell Egypt relate to Our Planet, Our Health:


Plague  1, water turned to undrinkable blood. This is reminiscent of a pressing environmental and human rights’ challenge: water scarcity. More than 2 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, while 884 million do not have access to safe drinking water.   People with poorly-managed or polluted water are more vulnerable to cholera, typhoid fever, parasites, and diarrhoea – all of which can lead to death.


Plague 2, swarms of frogs, and Plague 4, wild animals. Because climate change is reducing their food and refuge, animals are fleeing their usual breeding and hunting grounds. Bears are roaming North American towns, jellyfish clogging Mediterranean coasts, piranhas attacking South American swimmers, and floods washing crocodiles into Southeast Asian cities. Human safety is at risk!


Plague 3, lice. Egyptian lice did not spread diseases, but there are bugs today who can, causing public health crises. With warmer temperatures, more ticks are causing more cases of Lyme disease. Malarial mosquitoes are also thriving, causing WHO to fear several hundred million more malaria cases annually .


Plague 5, pestilence, and Plague 6, boils. While you probably won’t get boils, WHO data shows that air pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for a wide range of heart, lung, and neurological diseases, as well as 7 million deaths annually.


Plague 7, fiery hail, and Plague 8, hungry locusts, connect to today’s food scarcity concerns. While heat waves and wildfires scorch farmlands and vineyards, climate change also increases pests like locusts who are causing dangerous levels of crop loss in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Up to 811 million people already suffer from hunger but with continued crop loss, farmers may not be able to feed our global population.


Plague 9, darkness. You have electricity – after all, you’re reading this blog! – but WHO is concerned for 2.6 billion people who still rely on unhealthy power sources like kerosene, coal, or dung, resulting in 4 million deaths annually from household air pollution. But we recently witnessed that we can make a difference: when global traffic temporarily halted due to COVID-19 lockdowns, fewer cars dramatically reduced harmful levels of greenhouse gases in the air!


And finally, Plague 10, death of the firstborn. WHO estimates that climate change causes over 150,000 human deaths annually. Studies also show that 47% of plant and animal species have lost some of their populations due to climate change.


But… there is always hope. The plagues ended, the Israelites were freed, and today, Passover serves as a powerful celebration of survival, justice, and education. This Passover – or this World Health Day – which plague will you make history? Will you fight for water justice, or will you donate to conserve wildlife? Will you sponsor mosquito nets to combat malaria, or will you lobby for better air quality measures? Will you invest in agricultural safety, or will you bike or bus?

Your choice is individual… but your impact can be limitless.


If you would like to make the plague of poverty history, contribute what you can to our Passover appeal. Together, we can open the doors of freedom for all.

About the author


Faygle Train is an educator and programme director with experience in Canada, Israel, and Nepal. She is currently completing a Master’s in Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University as well as Tzedek’s 2021-2022 Fellowship online.


*More information on content cited under each plague, see the following links: Plague 1Plague 4Plague 5Plague 6Plague 8Plague 9 (Source 1/Source 2); Plague 10.

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