Parashat Va’eira – Erev Shabbat 20 January 2023 (5783)
Week of 15-21 January 2023
Torah portion: Ex. 6 :2-9 :35 Haftarah: Ezek. 28 :25-29 :21
Theme: Keeping promises
Today’s parasha opens with God confirming to Moses that he will now fulfill his promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, leading his people out of slavery into the promised land. Why did God choose this very moment? Rabbi Simcha Bunam offers an interesting observation: The long years of enslavement in Egypt may have resulted in the fact that many of the people of Israel had become accustomed to the way things were. Accordingly, Rabbi Simcha Bunam offers an interesting reading for Ex. 6:6: God’s promise to the children of Israel to take them out from under the burdens (siwlot) of Egypt. Instead of reading siwlot, he suggests reading sawlanut – patience. Both words sound similar in Hebrew. According to Rabbi Simcha Bunam the most dangerous phase of exile is patience with the suffering, meaning becoming accustomed to painful circumstances. God observed that the Jews had become used to their (unbearable) conditions almost accepting their fate. Indeed, this is a very dangerous moment, the acceptance of evil as a “normal” situation. We should remember that within the awareness that circumstances are unbearably bad still lies the possibility to fight for improvement. But resignation, emotional bluntness and numbness prevent the fight of adverse circumstances, thus calling for divine intervention (cf. Goldberger, p. 172).
The opening passage of Parashat Va’eira, (Ex. 6:2-8) is beautifully structured in form of a chiasma. The passage opens and closes with the refrain “I am Hashem/Adonai”. Second and in the last phrase but one the text refers to the patriarchs. Third comes the Promised Land which is also mentioned again before the second reference to the patriarchs. Fourth and fourth from the end the theme of bondage is mentioned. At the very center of the chiasma stands God’s commission to Moses to tell the people of Israel that Adonai himself will deliver them from bondage. The phrase “I am Adonai/Hashem” appears four times, adding a majestic tone to the whole passage as Leibowitz observes (cf. Leibowitz, 118).
God shows himself to Moses as a promise keeper by first referring to the past and reminding Moses of the covenant he made with his ancestors, now stirring him into action having heard the groan of the enslaved children of Israel. The imminent fulfilment of the promise of deliverance is expressed in seven verbs. All these verbs appear in the Hebrew grammatical construction of the “vav consecutive”, a past form bearing a future meaning: I shall take you out; I shall rescue you; I shall redeem you; I shall take you as my people; I shall be your God; I will bring you into the land; and I will give it to you for a heritage. Interestingly, into this chain of verbs, before the promise of the land, yet another promise is inserted. Ex. 6:7: “and you shall know that I am Hashem your God, who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.” Equally important to God’s promise of redemption and the pledge “I shall be your God” is therefore the awareness and acceptance of the people that he is in fact their God. The “knowing” deep in their consciousness of having been redeemed makes all the difference (cf. Leibowitz, 125).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Where am I too patient with depressing circumstances in my own life and in the life of others, resulting in doing “nothing”? 2. Take time to “be still and know your God”. Bibliography: Goldberger, Michael Schwarzes Feuer auf weissem Feuer (Basel: 2012); Leibowitz, Nehama New Studies in Shemot (Exodus) Part I (Jerusalem: 1996)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Barbara Kauffmann, Germany, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010, 2011, 2012