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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Israel’s Self-Emancipation

Israel’s Self-Emancipation

Jan 16, 2010 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Va'era

There is a lot of action in Parashat Va-era, but not much of it directly involves the people of Israel. Their role is primarily to witness the increasingly violent confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. Given last week’s negative response of the Israelite elders to Moses and Aaron, this passivity is quite understandable. His early experience with Israel has demoralized Moses, for he objects to God’s renewed command this week with bitter words: “In fact, even the Israelites haven’t listened to me, so how will Pharaoh ever heed me, and I have impeded speech!” (6:12).

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The Lessons of Va-era

The Lessons of Va-era

Jan 5, 2008 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Va'era

This week’s parashah abounds in venerable theological problems, beginning with its name and opening verses. How could it be that God “appeared” to the ancestors but that some aspect of God—or some truth articulated in God’s name—was not “made known” to them and will be revealed only now, to Moses? The answer that seems most persuasive to me bears a lesson that, like so many others in the Torah, is not so much theological as ethical; it teaches far less about the nature of God than it does about human responsibility.

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Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

Jan 20, 2007 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Why did God “harden Pharaoh’s heart”? To what extent was God acting justly or fairly? How may we understand God’s gesture in light of free choice? Parashat Va-era presents a classic challenge to our modern sensibilities. Yet ours is not the first generation to ask these questions.

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Conditioning Our Hearts

Conditioning Our Hearts

Jan 20, 2007 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Va'era

In this week’s parashah, as our narrative draws ever closer to the climactic Exodus from Egypt, we feel the drama building.

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Memory

Memory

Jan 28, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Parashat Va’era opens with a stirring pronouncement by God. In Exodus 6:2-6, God declares to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Adonai. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the Land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered my covenant. Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage'” No longer will God be a silent spectator in the Egyptian drama. 

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God of Wrath?

God of Wrath?

Jan 26, 2006 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Va'era

There’s an expression that appears periodically in the popular press that annoys me to no end: “The Old Testament God of wrath.”

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Human Experiences of the Divine

Human Experiences of the Divine

Jan 8, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

Maimonides’ incomparable twelfth-century code of Jewish law opens with a resounding theological preamble, “The basic principle of all basic principles and the pillar of all sciences is to realize that there is a First Being who brought every existing thing into being” (Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, 43).

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Preparing to Hear

Preparing to Hear

Jan 8, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Last week’s parashah, Sh’mot, closes on a discouraging note. Having remained loyal to the command of God, Moses and Aaron stand before Pharaoh conveying the word of God, “Let My people go…” In rage and defiance, Pharaoh not only denies the request, but further embitters the lives of the Israelites as he refuses to provide straw for the slaves. They must now break their backs gathering materials to make the same quota of bricks as before. Though lifted by a moment of hope upon hearing that God had taken note of their plight, the Israelites now become impatient and enraged, even skeptical of Moses’ message. After being reproached by a group of Israelites, Moses turns to God asks candidly, “Why did You bring harm upon this people?” This week’s parashah, Parashat Va–era, opens in a moment of prophetic frustration and divine assurance.

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The Staff of Moses

The Staff of Moses

Jan 24, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

In the saga of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, the staff of Moses is more than a prop. Though inanimate, it is nothing short of a lead character, an effective change-agent in the face of determined resistance. To reflect on its ubiquitous role is to gain some insight into the Bible’s view of sorcery.

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Communicating in Context

Communicating in Context

Jan 24, 2004 By Rachel Ain | Commentary | Va'era

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar teaches “Do not pacify your colleague when his anger is raging; do not comfort him when his dead lies before him; do not challenge him at the time he makes a vow; and do not intrude upon him at the time of his disgrace.” (Pirkei Avot 4:23) Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar is teaching us an important lesson. We must not only be cautious with the words that we speak, but the context in which we communicate those words to our fellow human beings.

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What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Jan 4, 2003 By Lauren Eichler Berkun | Commentary | Va'era

The Book of Exodus is entitled “Shemot” in Hebrew, meaning “Names.” In the first parashah of Shemot, we learned the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob. This week, in the second portion of Shemot, we focus on the names of God. The opening statement of Parashat Va—Era has puzzled Torah commentators throughout many centuries . . .

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Small Acts of Kindness

Small Acts of Kindness

Jan 4, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

A careful reading of the Torah narrative would quickly persuade us that not all of the ten plagues are unleashed by Moses. The midrash, in fact, attributes only three to Moses – those of hail, locusts and darkness. The first three plagues – those of blood, frogs and vermin – are attributed to Aaron, while still three others – insects, pestilence and the death of the first born – come directly from God. Finally, one plague – that of boils – is triggered by all three of them jointly.

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Being the Stranger

Being the Stranger

Jan 12, 2002 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Va'era

Parashat Vaera opens dramatically with God’s stirring proclamation to Moses: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai , but I did not make myself known to them by my nameAdonai . I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings (megureihem ), where they had sojourned (garu )” (Exodus 6: 2-4). God then goes on to make a fourfold promise of redemption. Still, God’s introductory words are striking — linking this promise of redemption to the same promise made to Moses’ ancestors. It is the fulfillment of an ancestral promise. Yet, what is even more profound is the language of Exodus 6:4 — specifically the repetition of the root ger, sojourner.

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Forbidden Magic

Forbidden Magic

Jan 12, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

In the Torah magic is forbidden–not because it is ineffective but because it does violence to the sovereignty of God. Exodus commands: “You shall not tolerate a sorceress” (22:17). Deuteronomy elaborates: Let no one be found among you . . . who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead” (18:10-11). The length of the list mirrors just how widespread the practice of magic was in the ancient Near East.

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A Hardened Heart

A Hardened Heart

Nov 7, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

“To harden the heart” is a figure of speech that goes back to the book of Exodus.

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4 Cups of Wine

4 Cups of Wine

Jan 11, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era | Pesah

As envisioned by Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema at the end of the second century, the standard curriculum of a young Jew begins with the study of Bible at five, Mishna at ten and Talmud at fifteen. Age thirteen marks the transition to adulthood with the onset of obligatory adherence to the norms of Jewish life. Our parasha offers an instructive example of what this curriculum entailed, and a fleeting glimpse of the nature of rabbinic Judaism as a whole.

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Reverence for God

Reverence for God

Jan 8, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era

When I was in high school, the name of Immanuel Velikovski was already well known to me. That is because my father took a deep interest in any scholar who tried to confirm the historical accounts of the Bible. And Velikovski did just that with a passion and independence that infuriated the scientific establishment. Like Freud, a psychoanalyst and humanist and also a Jew, Velikovski dared to explain the ten plagues in Egypt on the basis of a heavenly cataclysm.

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Va’era

Va’era

Jan 1, 1980

2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord.

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Va’era

Va’era

Jan 1, 1980

25 Thus said the Lord God: When I have gathered the House of Israel from the peoples among which they have been dispersed, and have shown Myself holy through them in the sight of the nations, they shall settle on their own soil, which I gave to My servant Jacob,

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