Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
Sh'mot (Exodus)
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Va'era (And I appeared)





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1. Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. Plague details:
5. Exercises
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1. Parsha details:  Ex 6:2-9:35 (tri 8:16-9:35) [Haftorah Ezekiel 28:25-29:21] 
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2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The Parsha starts with the charge to Moses to tell him to start the process that will lead to the exodus.  And we are told about the first seven plagues and the rod-serpent.  The meat in this Parsha is not the plagues themselves, but in details and substance woven in and around the plagues.

We ended the last Parsha with Moses complaining to God that Israel had turned on him because God didn't immediately solve everything for the Children of Israel.  God explained to Moses that "Now shall you see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land."  Moses chewed on that for a while -- and maybe he understood that God couldn't take these people, who had been slaves for generations, and suddenly make them a strong and free people.  The trite phrase "easy come-easy go" comes into play here.

People only change when there is considerable motivation (they weren't that different from today in this respect) -- like no other choice?  God is setting the stage to make sure that the people cannot easily return to the miserable life in Egypt -- instead, they will be forced to learn about freedom in a wilderness.  These people had free choice, as we do today.  Sometimes it takes a pretty strong 'kick in the head' to get our attention.  And we see the development of this situation over the course of the plagues and eventual exodus.  

How long did this process take?  Each plague takes a certain amount of time -- weeks?  months?  Probably varies.  And then there is the time needed to set up the audience with Pharaoh, his magicians, and so on.  And then we need time for Pharaoh to digest the information (even sending to Goshen to see what's happening there) and react or not react. Ten plagues plus the serpent-rod.

So let's look at some of the subtleties in this Parsha -- they abound.  Verse 3 is usually translated as shown in our excerpts: " And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name The Lord was I not known to them."  I'm going to go into the Hebrew here, using '|' to show the troph (note) units: "Va'eyra | el-Avraham | el-Yitz'khak v'el-Ya'akov b'Eyl Shaddai | ush'mi YHVH | lo noda'ti lahem."  And part of the usual translation comes from the fact that the note over Shaddai (etnachta) is equivalent to a semicolon.  The English word-for-word would be: "And I appeared | to-Abraham to-Isaac | and to-Jacob as God Almighty |; my name  YHVH | I was not known to them."  Could a translation of this read "And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty; my name is YHVH, [yet] I was not [really] known to them." (this is no further stretch than the traditional insertion of the phrase 'by the name of' put before El Shaddai.  God often reflects as he talks to Moses and others -- could we not even hear God saying to Himself in this pause, "my name, YHVH [they even called me by that Name, my very Name, and yet, sigh,]  I was not really known to them."  And now, this People will see what I am about to do.....

And so Moses talks to the people of Israel -- they don't listen -- they are too focused on the daily hassles.  It is so easy to get negative when things are stressed and miss the important things right in front of you and not move things forward when opportunity presents itself.    And it does delay the process here.  We can detect this by the breaks in the narrative (the 'pey' on the Hebrew side and a paragraph symbol on the English tells us where these occur in Torah).  So the story might go something like this:  They didn't listen because....  DELAY  God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses responds that the people didn't even listen, why would Pharaoh????  DELAY  And God speaks to Moses AND Aaron.....  (Sometimes we need more than one 'whap upside the head'....)

Then we get a genealogy table (they are always so much fun....).  This particular one is brief and has led some people to limit the number of people in Egypt.  The reason it is brief is that these are the people who go to Pharaoh with Moses and Aaron -- not surprisingly they are children of the first three sons of Leah, probably closer to Moses and Aaron than the other brothers and their families.

And so the pageantry begins.  I detailed the seven plagues in section 5 below.  Something to note here is that these are not supernatural miracles -- these are natural things.  The significant points are timing and, sometimes, location.  God tells Moses to have Pharaoh select the times for these events -- demonstrating that Moses is not running around causing them.  Now, a little deeper....  Pharaoh's magicians are doing much the same things, at least in the beginning.  But -- like the sorcerer's apprentice, they cannot stop what they begin.....  We must assume Moses could.

Blood.  Aaron holds out the rod and streams, rivers, all pools of water (even very small ones in wood or stone -- what about clay?) become blood water and the fish die and the river stinks.  Okay.  Then the magicians "did likewise with their enchantments" and Pharaoh's heart was hardened.  We are not told how long it lasted when Moses and Aaron did it.  It had to be over for the magicians to 'do likewise'....  and then it takes the full seven days to run its course -- they even have to dig wells to find water to drink. (They didn't do this when Moses and Aaron did it....)  But Pharaoh missed this subtlety as he missed the detail that Aaron's rod swallowed the magician's rods.

Frogs.  Similar scene.  Aaron stretches out his hand and they come up.  Okay.  Then the magicians do 'likewise with their enchantments'.  But they can't get rid of them.  So Pharaoh calls Moses and tells him to get rid of the frogs, Moses says when? Pharaoh answers tomorrow.  Well, they don't disappear -- they die and they stink.  That isn't miraculous (at least not to one who doesn't see the Source), it's just nature, accident, coincidence....  and he changes his mind.

Lice.  This time the magicians can't even do likewise -- they now see the 'finger of God' (finally), but Pharaoh isn't impressed, probably just angry with them for not doing their jobs. (Hard to find good help in those days).  And not much happens -- the lice either stay and people become accustomed to them or the normal elimination procedures take place.

Flies.  No mention of magicians.  Pharaoh is getting exasperated with the Moses character -- just do your sacrifice thing here (where we can keep an eye on you).  Moses says no, not good enough -- Egyptians have a problem with our practices and are likely to stone us.  Okay, says Pharaoh, just outside the land, but not far.  And after the immediate crises of flies is gone, Pharaoh realizes that just outside will be the same as far away -- no more slaves.... and so he recants again.

Blight.  God sets the time and says the livestock of the children of Israel will be spared.  Pharaoh checks this out and remains unimpressed, perhaps even angry.  But blights were probably common.  Let's burn the poor beasts?

Boils.  From ash sprinkled to the heavens.  Moses takes handfuls and tosses it upwards in Pharaoh's sight.  Ashes from?  Diseased burnt cattle?  Hmmmmmm  Magicians can't stand before Moses -- too busy scratching or soaking?  Still no response from Pharaoh -- perhaps he understood the ash thing as the cause of the boils -- or was this just another natural occurrence.

Hail.  Some of Pharaoh's folks are getting the message -- they take in and shelter livestock and servants.  In the heat of the moment, Pharaoh says, okay! We are wicked, God is righteous.  Go!  Moses responds that the hail will cease, but Pharaoh's proclamations are not sincere.  And Moses is right.  Not all who say: "I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked." really mean it. (Methinks the Pharaoh doth protest too much?)

Next week:  Locusts, Darkness and Death of the First Born
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3. Some Observations

Spacing white space --  Many breaks in this Parsha -- a way of denoting time passing and gaps.  How would CNN have covered these events?  Can you see scientist and analysts arguing the various points of view -- is it miracle? is it natural?  What are the economic implications of the ruined crops, the devastated cattle.  

And maybe that was going on in Pharaoh's house with his wise men and magicians.  These slaves were starting to get expensive -- if only one could find a way to stop them from causing this constant agitation and destruction.  They were a valuable resource, but not if Egypt was destroyed because of them.  So when do you cut your loses?  And who is this God that wants the slaves for Himself?  Oh, there's nothing there -- they're just lazy -- too much idle time.  IF you were Pharaoh, what would you be thinking?

Plagues are natural occurrences.  But timing, that's the key here.  And isn't it always the case?

Scientists go to great lengths to show how the plagues occurred through natural events and/or 'tricks' gone awry.  And Torah doesn't claim anything else.  It merely acknowledges the Source who schedules these things.  So why do we need this big production?  Couldn't the Divine just 'flick a finger' and rescue Israel?  Physically, yes.  Spiritually, not even close.  We are a stiff-necked people.  It takes a lot to convince us of anything (just like Pharaoh).  And we are not slaves to the Divine -- we make the choice to be open or not, to approach or not to approach -- and we make it day after day.  How many plagues do we need to get our attention?

Pharaoh was merely a pawn, the children of Israel are the audience for whom this drama is playing.  The Divine goes to great pains to teach lessons.  His patience is truly amazing.  And that patience shines through this Parsha.  He charges Moses repeatedly with what to do.  We can only glean from the pauses and lack of comment what is going on with the Children of Israel.  They are watching, but they, like Pharaoh, are not yet convinced.  And many never will be.  It will take forty years in the wilderness to get these people to the point where they are ready (mostly) to enter Canaan.  How long did it take in Egypt until they were ready to do what it took to leave?

The secularist might say that these events happened naturally and Pharaoh, in his uneducated superstitious way, blamed the children of Israel and expelled them.  Could be.  

To paraphrase a saying we used to use when I was in high school:  Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, third time is intentional.  

This is a very deep and subtle Parsha.  I have barely scratched the surface here.  Read and re-read it and watch the details and the words not said.  The white spaces around the word.  They say more than the words do.
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4. Plague details:

A summary of Plague details to make the story easier to follow:
Preplague  Rod becomes serpent
Magicians of Egypt: Do the same thing but their rods are eaten by Aaron's
Pharoah:  No response

Plague #1 Blood (Dam)
Magicians of Egypt:  'did likewise with their enchantments'
Pharaoh:  No response
Secondary effect: Egyptians dig wells for water -- plague lasts 7 days

Plague #2 Frogs (Tz'far'dey'a)
Magicians of Egypt: 'did likewise with their enchantments'
Pharaoh: Tells Moses to 'take away the frogs and says he will let the people go'  -- recants 'when he sees respite'
Secondary effect: The frogs die and are gathered in heaps and stink.

Plague #3 Lice (Kinim)
Magicians of Egypt:  Tried to do the same, but 'could not' -- tell Pharaoh this is 'finger of God'
Pharaoh: No response.
Plague diminishes without reported action by Moses or Aaron, no mention of secondary effects.

Plague #4 Flies ('Arov)
Pharaoh: Says make your sacrifices here, Moses agues that it is an abomination to the Egyptians, Pharoah says, okay go, but not far.  After plague subsides, he recants.  No mention of magicians or secondary effects.
Goshen (first mention): no flies

Plague #5 Cattle Blight (Dever)
Pharaoh: Checks out status in Goshen, no other response.
Goshen: No deaths from the blight  (NOTE:  blight actually covers cattle, horses, asses, camels, oxen, sheep...)

Plague #6 Boils (Sh'khin)
Pharaoh: No response.  Magicians are mentioned as not being able to 'stand before Moses' because of the boils.  Plague comes from furnace dust sprinkled toward heaven. (burnt dead cattle or their bedding?)
Goshen: no mention

Plague #7 Hail (Barad)
Pharaoh: His servants who 'feared the word of the Lord' sheltered their servants and cattle, others did not. Pharaoh said "I have sinned this time... I will let you go" and then 'sins again' and recants.
Goshen: no hail
Secondary effects: broken trees, injuries, deaths (we assume), ruined flax (in bud) and ruined barley (in the ear) -- wheat and spelt okay (They ripen later in the year).

TO BE CONTINUED......

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5. Exercises

1. Time: Focus on a clock or watch face, preferably one with a second hand.  Time, ticking.  How many things occur at just the right time?  What difference would a second here or there make?

2. Hard Heart: Do you ever have a hard heart?  What does it take to soften it?  What signs and miracles do you need to see to open up?  Mentally massage your heart (you can do this physically, too).  What can you do to see that it doesn't get hard? 

3. Name: What does it mean to be known?  How does the Name relate to knowing?  Do you know you?  Do you know the Divine?  Does She know you?

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There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.

b'v'rakha,

Candy

(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved

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