Parashat Va’era
Shabbat Rosh Hodesh
January 27-28, 2017 – 1 Shevat 5777
Annual (Exodus 6:2-9:35): Etz Hayim p.351-368; Hertz p. 232-244
Triennial (Exodus 6:2-7:7): Etz Hayim p. 351-357; Hertz p. 232-236
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15; Etz Hayim p. 930-931; Hertz p. 695
Haftarah (Isaiah 66:1-24, 23): Etz Hayim p.1219-1223; Hertz p. 944-947


Technology in the Exodus from Egypt
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

In Parshat Va’era Operation Exodus from Egypt gets underway, beginning with the confrontation between Moses and Aaron on one side and Pharaoh and his team on the other.  Seven of the Ten Plagues take place this week, and, as in the modern world, technology plays an important part in the struggle.

Before the Ten Plagues we have a “promo” – God tells Moses and Aaron to cast the rod before Pharaoh and it shall become a serpent (Ex. 7:8-10).  When they do, not only is Pharaoh unimpressed; he summons his wise men and sorcerers (chachamim u’mechashfim), and chartumei mitsraim, the Egyptian magicians, do the same thing (turn rods into serpents) “b’lahateihem, with their spells.”  Moses and Aaron have the last word – “Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.”  But Pharaoh evidently was not impressed; “his heart stiffened and he would not listen to them” (7:11-13).

The first plague is, of course, dam, blood – Aaron strikes the waters of the Nile when Pharaoh and his court (kol avadav) are watching, and the Nile turns to blood, the fish die and stink.  But when the Egyptian magicians do the same, “with their spells” again, Pharaoh just stiffens his heart and goes home paying no heed – v’lo shat libo gam l’zot (7:20-23).  He is satisfied with technological parity.

The second plague is tsfardeya, frogs, moving from the river and lakes into people’s lives and homes, into their beds and ovens, no less (7:28).  As before the chartumim use their spells, bringing their frogs upon the land of Egypt (8:3). Of course the Egyptian “technology” is counterproductive; it does not diminish the impact of the plague Moshe and Aaron are inflicting on Egypt.  In fact it intensifies it and the misery of the Egyptian people, which is why Pharaoh calls on Moshe here to stop the plague.  If the people on the home front are suffering, he has a real problem.

With the third plague, kinim (lice or vermin) there is a strategic development – the Egyptian magicians try their spells to produce kinim, as Aaron had done, “v’lo yachlu – but they couldn’t do it” (8:13-14).  At which point they tell Pharaoh, “etsba Elohim hu, this is the finger of God” (8:15).  The chartumim, the professional rank, realize that the technology of Bnei Yisrael is not only better, but that it is Divine.  However Pharaoh, the politician with the personal ego at stake, does not yet get it.  “Don’t confuse me with facts.”  He proceeds ahead, despite the advice of his advisors, not the last time national leaders have so conducted themselves, with their people paying the price.

The chartumim are now out of the picture – Pharaoh’s military technology is no match for God’s finger.  But we meet them one more time, in the sixth plague, schin (boils).  “…boils broke out on man and beast.”  But the magicians were unable even to stand before Moshe, because they, like the rest of the Egyptians, were suffering “from the inflammation breaking out in boils” (9:10-11).  Not only could they not prevent the plague or even duplicate it themselves, they were powerless to protect themselves from it.  Ramban (Nachmanides) adds another reason why they could not stand before Moses; “they were too ashamed and embarrassed even to leave there houses.”   Their professional failure was likely a greater cause of shame to them than the skin inflammations.

A Vort for Parashat Va’era
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The hail of the seventh plague was itself a miracle, fire within it, but according to the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush, Russia, 1809-1879), there was more to it than that.  In the “real world” light travels faster than sound, so that we see the lightening before we hear the thunder.  But with the hail in Egypt the verse (9:23) says that the Lord sent thunder and lightning, which, the Malbim says, means that the Egyptians heard the thunder first, indicating that what was happening could not be easily dismissed as a “heavy storm.”  This was a clear indication of something supernatural.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Moshe tells the people that God plans to take them out of the slavery to the land promised to their ancestors. 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) God says that He had a covenant with the forefathers to give them the land of Canaan in which they lived, and He has heard the cries of the people (6:2-8). To what extant is the salvation of the children of Israel in Egypt a function of their own merit? What might this tell us about their state in Egypt?

2) Moshe seems to feel that his mission so far has been a failure. To what does he attribute the failure (6:12)? Moshe has mentioned a similar problem in the past (4:10). How might his description help us with understanding the difficulty he suffers from?

3) In this Parasha we read about 7 of the 10 plagues. The first 2 plagues effect the Nile river (7:15-8:3). Why do you think that God chooses to target the Nile, making its waters undrinkable or the source of trouble (frogs)?

4) Egypt’s magicians are able to replicate the first 2 plagues (7:22, 8:3-4). What result does their action have on Pharaoh? In the 3rd plague they try to rid the land of the lice. How does this differ from their previous actions? How successful are they? How do they explain this to Pharaoh (8:14-15)?

5) In the fifth plague a sickness kills the livestock of the Egyptians but does not affect any of the Israelites (9:1-7). Why was it important to state this distinction in this plague, even before it started?