Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Dec 31, 2021 By Dave Yedid | Commentary | Va'era

These two verses describe the impact of the final plague in the parashah, hail. They come in the short thaw between Pharoah softening his heart—for the first time this parashah—and hardening it again, where our parashah ends. Why does our Torah mention these four crops? What do they have to do with the plagues, or in the calculation of Pharaoh’s change of heart?

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To Destroy and to Overthrow, to Build and to Plant

To Destroy and to Overthrow, to Build and to Plant

Jan 15, 2021 By Marcus Mordecai Schwartz | Commentary | Va'era

For me, this is one of the most troubling passages in the Torah. First, God assigns Moses and Aaron the task of speaking to Pharaoh, explicitly calling Aaron a prophet. Presumably, a prophet tells people what could come to pass, so that they have the opportunity to repent their sins and turn toward God. 

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Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom

Jan 24, 2020 By Joel Pitkowsky | Commentary | Va'era

A moment of great tragedy occurs in this week’s Torah reading, although it is not a moment that many people focus on when they read these chapters. There is so much drama in this story, so many scenes that we can visualize either because we’ve seen them acted out on stage or in a movie (or perhaps in our dining room during a Passover Seder), or because they are powerful moments that speak to our connection with one of the pivotal Jewish moments, that many people pass over (pun intended!) the quieter elements of the story.

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Open Your Eyes, Open Your Ears

Open Your Eyes, Open Your Ears

Jan 4, 2019 By Jack Moline | Commentary | Va'era

Liberation being what it is, oppression is a necessary precursor. Would the world have been a better place if liberation were never necessary? That’s either a profound or a sophomoric question. Before I make my case, let me acknowledge that the question is purely hypothetical because liberation does exist as a response to the preexisting condition of oppression.

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Redeeming the Plagues

Redeeming the Plagues

Jan 12, 2018 By Miriam Liebman | Commentary | Va'era | Pesah

Every year at the Passover seder, there is a brief pause in the chaos when everyone dips a finger in their cup of wine and spills a single drop for each of the ten plagues. We are spilling wine to remind ourselves that although the plagues served as miracles for us, those miracles came at the expense of others.

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Precious Sufferings: The Dynamics of Transformation

Precious Sufferings: The Dynamics of Transformation

Jan 27, 2017 By E. Noach Shapiro | Commentary | Va'era

Listening to Moses try and wrap his mind around becoming an agent of change and transformation for the Israelites and the Egyptians is, at times, painful. As we eavesdrop on the early exchanges between God and Moses, a raw intimacy between Moses and us emerges. In his back and forth with God about his assignment to be God’s voice in Egypt, Moses immediately reveals his deep insecurity: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?!” (Exod. 3:11).

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Promises Broken and Kept

Promises Broken and Kept

Jan 27, 2017 By Emily Barton | Commentary | Va'era

Promises, promises
I’m all through with promises, promises now
I don’t know how I got the nerve to walk out…
Oh, promises, promises
This is where those promises, promises end
I don’t pretend that what was wrong can be right
Things that I promised myself fell apart
But I found my heart

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Words Fail Me

Words Fail Me

Jan 8, 2016 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Va'era

This common idiom—so casually tossed off in a moment of surprise—expresses a deep truth. Words do indeed fail us, sometimes to tragic effect. 

That is the way the Zohar (the foundational text of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism) understands our exile in Egypt: as the exile of speech, a failure of words. In this reading, the breakdown of speech is both cause and effect of our enslavement, while healing and redeeming speech—finding our voice—is both the process and hallmark of redemption. 

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God-naming

God-naming

Jan 8, 2016 By Reuven Greenvald | Commentary | Va'era

“And God spoke to Moshe, and [God] said to him: I am YHVH. I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Ya’akov as El Shaddai, but by my name YHVH I was not known to them” (Exodus 6:2–3).

When God shifts from using the ancient El Shaddai (usually translated as “God Almighty”) to YHVH, meaning, “I will be what I will be,” the divine-human relationship becomes more intimate.  

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On Preventing the Hardening of Hearts

On Preventing the Hardening of Hearts

Jan 16, 2015 By Danielle Upbin | Commentary | Va'era

After a long walk across the park on a Shabbat winter morning in New York City, services concluded, guests assembled at an Upper East Side apartment. The host of this particular Rabbinical School student gathering held the meal hostage. The ransom was the answer to his question: “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?”The host had a group of well-educated, eager to answer, soon-to-be rabbis at his disposal. From them, he wasn’t going to accept any rehearsed responses, such as “God had to prove Himself to the Israelites.” Much to the students’ relief, this trial was interrupted by the hostess, and the first course was served. It was a meal unfinished, for even as we all said grace after the meal, we remained, as our host, unsatisfied.

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Eternity in a Word

Eternity in a Word

Jan 16, 2015 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Va'era

God’s name YHVH is the verb “to be” with the past, present, and future tenses folded into the same conjugation: Eternity or Being in a single word.

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A Lesson in Empowering Leaders

A Lesson in Empowering Leaders

Dec 27, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Moses’s intransigence continues in this week’s parashah as our prophet continues to resist his prophetic role.

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Divine Compassion

Divine Compassion

Dec 27, 2013 By Julia Andelman | Commentary | Va'era

The biblical book that we began last week—Shemot—is known in English as Exodus, a name that highlights one of the key dramatic episodes of the book.

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Finding God in the Darkness

Finding God in the Darkness

Feb 5, 2013 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Short Video | Va'era

A video Torah commentary.

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From Slaves of Pharaoh to Servants of God

From Slaves of Pharaoh to Servants of God

Jan 8, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

The opening of Parashat Va’era shows God reiterating the ancestral promise of redemption to a still reluctant Moses.

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Not Rhetoric, but Reality

Not Rhetoric, but Reality

Jan 8, 2013 By Marc Wolf | Commentary | Va'era

One of the more disheartening reports about Israeli society these days is that our brothers and sisters in Israel are simply not as concerned with the struggle for religious pluralism to the degree that we are in North America. Reporting this past week from the JTA, Ben Sales added his voice to the chorus of journalists writing about what many in the Diaspora consider to be of preeminent importance, but what many in the Israeli population are, at best, disinterested in.

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A Study in Redemption

A Study in Redemption

Jan 28, 2012 By Judith Hauptman | Commentary | Va'era

If you followed last week’s Torah portion closely, you are probably sensing that this week’s portion, in the words of Yogi Berra, is “déjà vu all over again.” Last week, in Parashat Shemot, we read an account of Moses’s lineage, of God’s announcing that He will take the people out of Egypt, of a staff turning into a snake and water into blood, of Moshe’s speech-impairment, and of God’s appointing Aaron as surrogate spokesperson for Moshe. Every one of these topics appears in this week’s parashah too.

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The Doubtful Path to God

The Doubtful Path to God

Jan 21, 2012 By Charlie Schwartz | Commentary | Text Study | Va'era

Parashat Va-era opens with a dejected and depressed Moses, crestfallen after an unfruitful encounter with Pharaoh. From the text it seems that Moses had expected the redemption of the Children of Israel to be a quick in-and-out operation, leading to his dismay when the full extent of his mission became clear. This first verse of the parashah, which our midrash builds upon, forms a kind of pep talk from God to Moses, with the Divine trying to reinvigorate and restore faith to God’s servant.

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Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power

Jan 1, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Va'era

Might this midrash be intentionally ironic? Surely, the anonymous Sage who imagines this divine monologue would have acknowledged Abraham’s chutzpah in questioning God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Even if that encounter only amounts to an implicit critique of God’s ways, it sets the stage for one of the most important acts of Moses’s career.

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The Secret of the 10 Plagues

The Secret of the 10 Plagues

Jan 1, 2011 By Stephen P. Garfinkel | Commentary | Va'era

Parashat Va-era, this week’s Torah portion, is full of drama, including most of the 10 plagues needed to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. Moses has just been commissioned as God’s mouthpiece (in last week’s reading), designated to be the person to deliver the divine message of redemption to the people of Israel and to Pharaoh. Before the action, however, the parashah opens with God’s private, even intimate, declaration to Moses.

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