January 8-9, 2016 – 28 Tevet 5776
Annual (Exodus 6:2-9:35): Etz Hayim p. 351; Hertz p. 233
Triennial (Exodus 8:16-9:35): Etz Hayim p. 362; Hertz p. 240
Haftarah (Ezekiel 28:25-29:21): Etz Hayim, p. 370; Hertz p. 244
Knowledge of God as a Promise and as a Result
By Philip Bressler, Student at CY and The Rabbinical School of Hebrew College
Va’era opens with God reminding Moses of the covenant established with the Patriarchs, and conveying to him the speech he is to deliver to the Israelites. After Moses’s and Aaron’s failure to persuade Pharaoh to release the people, Israel’s spirits need to be raised. Pharaoh has doubled the burden placed upon them and their faith in God’s power is at a nadir. This is the critical juncture at which God is established as a divine power who keeps promises. Through a series of strong verbs in Exodus 6:6-7, God explicitly declares how God will bring the people out bondage, into the Land they will possess –“I will bring you out … I will rescue you … I will redeem you … I will take you to Me for a people … I will be for you a God.” Each statement is a promise which God will fulfill.
But at this point the pattern breaks. God’s next statement is, “then you will know that I am Adonai your God.” This is followed by two more first-person verbs–“I will bring you into the land … I will give it to you for an inheritance.” The Or ha-Hayyim (18th century) raises a logical difficulty with this interruption: “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God,” is the consequential outcome of witnessing these wondrous acts and should come at the end of the promises instead of in the middle.
The Or haHayyim resolves this difficulty by reading, “then you will know,” as a precondition to the final two promises, as if the verses read, “if you will know that I am the Lord your God … only then I will bring you into the land.” But, Biblical Hebrew has a way of expressing conditional grammatically and it does not appear here. Rather, “you will know that I am Adonai your God,” is presented as a factual statement. It is yet one more promise which God will fulfill.
When Moses states these words, Israel is still enslaved in Egypt. They cannot imagine a God that has the power to set them free. Indeed, even Moses himself has trouble believing in such a message. God promises Moses and Israel that not only will God deliver on the promise of the physical salvation; God promises that their redemption from Egypt will cause an entire change in the very fabric of their being. God is not presenting them with a test – if you believe, then I will save. Rather this verse in evidence of another act of love by God. Despite their current doubts, their inability to believe in themselves, in Moses’s and Aaron’s leadership and in God’s power, they will in the future experience the penetration of God into the depths of their souls. God promises them, “You may not know me now, but you will know me in the future.”
A Vort for Parshat Va’era
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Just before the dramatic story of the redemption from Egypt begins, the Torah interrupts the narrative with the genealogy of the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Levi, the latter including the birth of Moses and Aaron to Amram and Yocheved (6:14-27). Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Germany, 19th C) says this is to emphasize the totally human character of Moses and Aaron, lest we assign them divine attributes, as other peoples have done to their heroes and redeemers. “Our Moses was human, remained human, and was never anything but human,” Hirsch wrote. The Sefer HaMoreh vHaTalmud says the Torah wants to tell us that any human, through deeds and character, can reach the highest levels, even that of Moses and Aaron. It’s our choice and within our grasp.
God plans to take his people out of the slavery to the land promised to their ancestors. (It will take a little while.) In the meantime, God sends 7 plagues to Egypt (for the last 3, come back next week) but Pharaoh does not let the people go.
1) Moshe (Moses) delivers God’s plan to the people (6:2-8): He, the God that promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the land of Canaan, hears the cries of the Children of Israel and therefore will take them out of Egypt, make them His people, and bring them to the land He promised their ancestors. What is the reaction of the Children of Israel to this declaration (6:9)? Why, according to the Torah do they react in such a manner? There may be different ways of understanding what the Torah says.
2) In this Parsha we find 7 of the 10 plagues that the Torah tells us that God brought upon the Egyptians. What is the reason for the plagues? As there could be very different answers to this, I suggest that you discuss it before checking out what the Torah gives as the reason (7:5). Keep your eyes open! Does this reason continue through all the plagues?
3) The Egyptian magicians are able to replicate the results of the initial sign and the first 2 plagues (7:8-8:3). Why is it important that they can do so? (You might want to think about the effect on the various people who witnessed this.)
4) What are the first 3 plagues (7:14-8:15)? Who performs them? Why do you think that Moshe does not do them? What is Moshe’s role during these plagues?
5) Pharaoh’s heart is described as strong (חזק) or heavy (כבד) but who is causing it to be so? Is it God or is it Pharaoh himself, and is it consistent? Why is this significant? Finally, what do the expressions ‘heavying/strengthening a heart’ mean? (7:13,14,22, 8:11,15, 28, 9:7, 12,34-35)