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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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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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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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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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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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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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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