Parashat Va’eira – Erev Shabbat 15 January 2021
Week of 10 January – 16 January 2021
Torah Portion: Exodus 6:2 – 9:35 Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21
Theme: Promises and Plagues.
There is irony in the ominous revelation that sets the scene for Parashat Va’eira: “the children of Israel will be driven out of the land of Egypt by Pharaoh” (6:1), yet that will also achieve the deliverance from slavery that Moses had been trying to negotiate for them (chapter 5). In the haftarah, Ezekiel, though speaking from Babylon in the sixth century BCE, reinforces the tone of this portion of Exodus, as he reflects on the desolation of Egypt and the vindication of the House of Israel.
The parasha opens with God’s truly magnificent and amazingly intimate self-disclosure to Moses, beginning simply with “I am Adonai (יהוה); I appeared to Abraham …” (6:23). God recalls the divine name, El Shaddai (God who is sufficient, די), which had been revealed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with whom God had established his covenant. Now, however, in the context of the anguish of slavery, God remembers that covenant and reveals his name to Moses as Adonai/YHWH (יהוה), the name to which the LORD attaches five significant commitments: 1) I shall take you out from the burdens of Egypt; 2) I shall rescue you from their service; 3) I shall redeem you; 4) I shall take you to be my people and I will be your God; 5) I shall bring you to the land sworn to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and give it to you as a heritage (6:6-8).
Fulfilling that promise requires overcoming the reticence of Moses (6:12, 30) and the resistance of Pharaoh, whose heart is resolutely set against releasing the children of Israel. The tactics employed to accomplish this occupy most of the parasha. To disarm Pharaoh, the LORD announces to Moses that he will enable Aaron to turn his rod into a serpent that will devour the rods/serpents of the Egyptian magician- priests, and that happens. The LORD then brings about, through Moses (at 80) and Aaron (at 83), a series of plagues, seven of which appear in this parasha: 1) water turned to blood, 2) an infestation of frogs, 3) dust turned into lice, 4) swarms of insects, 5) pestilence on livestock, 6) boils on humans and beasts, and 7) hail that shattered trees. Yet none of these affected Goshen, where the children of Israel had settled.
Accompanying these extraordinary feats, there is the persistent refrain of Moses’ plea to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” (7:25; 8:16; 9:13), along with the observation that follows each plague: “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” (7:13, 22; 8:15, 28; 9:7, 12, 35). These phrases show the increasing tension of the confrontation; however, we must not forget the LORD’s assurance: “I shall harden Pharaoh’s heart and I shall multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt … and Egypt shall know that I am יהוה (7:3-5). The whole parasha reflects the sensitivity of the LORD towards Moses in preparing him for what is to come, not only in the promises that open Va’eira, but also in the detailed instructions that precede each plague.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Has reticence ever been a part of your response to a call to service? How were you able to recognize, acknowledge, and overcome it, so as to accomplish what you needed to do? 2. In the light of your own personal experience and spirituality now, what name would you like to attribute to God?
Bibliography: Plaut, W.G., Editor, The Torah, A Modern Commentary (New York, 1981); Scherman, R.N., Ed., Tanach, The Stone Edition, Mesorah Publications, (New York, 1998).
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006