Parashas Vaeira – Putting things into Perspective

In this week’s Parasha we see the start of the plagues which Hashem inflicted upon Egypt. A nice little remez to this is found in the title of the sedra, 'וארא/Vaeira', in which the gematria of the first two letters adds up to the actual amount of plagues which are seen in the Parasha, that being seven... (Calculation: ו = 6 + א = 1).

The sedra begins with the Torah giving over the account of Hashem’s final instructions to Moshe whereby the rare circumstance in which all three common names of Hashem are used by the Torah, each representing the different ways in which He reveals Himself. Through the analysis of these names Rashi amongst other mefarshim, explains how Hashem spoke to Moshe harshly, comparing him unfavourably to the Patriarchs who maintained their faith without complaint even though they were not privileged to see the fulfilment of G-d’s promises to them. Moshe on the other hand argued that he was not suitable for his mission and in last weeks sedra we even learnt how Moshe complained to Hashem regarding his previous unsuccessful attempts, when he was sent in the earlier stages of the enslavement, with the reaction of Pharaoh to further afflict the Jewish people by famously making them produce their own bricks. At one point, Moshe even seemed to question Hashem's decisions by asking... “My lord, why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.” [5:22-23]. So the question is asked, why did Hashem reveal himself to Moshe with his holy four letter name but, as it stated in the Torah, “I did not reveal Myself to them (Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov)” [6:3], with the same name? The Or HaChaim teaches that the usage of this name was special because it represents the essence of Hashem with other mefarshim implying that this is the name which corresponds to Hashem's attribute of pure kindness. We therefore see that, according to the Or HaChaim, even though the Patriarchs knew this Name of Hashem, only Moshe was able to fully comprehend its significance due to the fact that he was on the highest level of prophecy possible. Rashi learns a slightly different understanding of the Name and explains how it is used to represent Hashem as the One who carries out His promises. As Hashem was now ready to free Israel and bring them to the promised land, he was consequentially also ready to fulfil the promises given over to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov which are found in the Book of Bereishis. Hashem did not therefore reveal himself to them when these promises were made with this Name because they were not to be fulfilled until the time of Moshe.

Following Hashem’s reassurances to Moshe that he was going to fulfil his promise and redeem the Nation, the Torah brings down how Hashem informed Moshe that he has “heard the groan of the Children of Israel whom Egypt enslaves and have remembered my covenant” [6:5], thus implying both the physical groan of their hardships but also their prayers which cumulatively added to the coming of the redemption. With this final statement from Hashem, our departure from Egypt was finally sealed and what we next see given over in the Torah is the four expressions of redemption which was the methodology by which Hashem was going to redeem us. Familiarity with these expressions should be ripe with us drinking four cups of wine in honour of them at the Pesach seder, but less is known as to which area of the redemption each expression is actually linked. Chazal therefore teach us that each expression matches up to a particular element of the going out from Egypt. We see that the first expression used is that of, “והוצאתי/I shall take you out”, which implies that Hashem would remove the Jews from the burdens of their slavery even before they were permitted to leave Egypt, which happened six months prior to be precise. The second expression uses the lashon of “והצלתי/I shall rescue you” which connects to the actual physical action in which Hashem would take the Jews out of Egypt and rescue them from being trapped there by the wicked Pharaoh. The next expression of “וגאלתי/I shall redeem you” [6:6 here and above] alludes to the Splitting of the Red Sea which was the ultimate act of redemption as the Jews feared that they would be pursued by their former masters and returned to slavery. We also learn that this was the final act of severance from the Egyptians and it has also been taught by Chazal that it was five times greater a miracle than the suffering they endured during the Ten Plagues. The forth and final phrase is that of “ולקחתי/I shall take you”, to which the mefarshim bring down, is an inference to the ultimate purpose of the Exodus, which was for G-d to take us as a nation which climaxed with the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Moshe was therefore given a full view of future events and of what would happen, and with that Hashem gave him his final command to go and speak to Pharaoh with the Torah informing us that, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aaron and commanded them regarding the Children of Israel and regarding Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to take the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” [6:13].

According to Midrashim, the final commandment to go and speak to Pharaoh came following seven days of intense communication between Moshe and Hashem. We would therefore expect the start of the much anticipated redemption to surely be a logical theme for the next perek immediately proceeding this last command? This is not the case however and what follows in the Torah seems to be yet another list of genealogies with the Torah listing the family members of Reuven, Shimon and then an even more detailed register of the sons of Levi, leading on to the births of Moshe and Aaron and their respective families. The mefarshim therefore ask the obvious question here, what is the relevance of this partial family tree of the Jewish people and why is it placed at such a pinnacle time in this intense account of proceedings? Rashi points out that this is the first time that Moshe and Aaron are being commanded together to do something and therefore the Torah introduces them through showing us their family history. Rabbi Kaplan brings down a much deeper concept which is at play here with this quick 'genealogy-break', however, whereby he teaches that there is a significant point to learn from its positioning in the Torah. He goes on to explain that what we must remember is that Moshe was about to undertake the most important role in Jewish history, he was also going to obtain and use the highest level of prophecy ever known with direct contact with Hashem at any time and place. The Torah has just finished illustrating the enormous job which he needs to undertake and has just given over the expressions of redemption by which Hashem will use Moshe to redeem us. The Torah therefore uses this break in order to prevent us from getting carried away and describes his genealogy in order to remind us that no matter how special Moshe was he was still human, born from normal families and was simply acting as an agent for Hashem. The Torah therefore uses these valuable possukim in order to point this out as a misunderstanding surrounding Moshe's birth or background could lead to some of the wild theories and problems present in other religions today. We therefore believe, and indeed the Torah spells out for us, that the founders of the Jewish people were human and not supernatural or born of virgin mothers or the reincarnation of G-d etc. But yet another question begs to be posed on this break in the narrative of the Torah; and that is that if this is so, then why do we need the backgrounds of Reuven and Shimon included in this genealogy? Surely we only need details on the family of Levi and that would suffice to make this point? Hidden within the answer to this question is another idea that although any Jew has the potential to lift himself to the level of greatness and prophecy, Hashem does not assign such honour haphazardly. Instead of choosing his emissaries from the eldest tribes, Hashem searched until He found the suitable men for the job… Moshe and Aaron. We to must realise that we have roles in this world and endeavour to locate and successfully undertake them in order to fully utilise the gift of life which was bestowed upon us.

May we all grow to reach our full potential and through this bring the Moshiach speedily in our days. I wish everyone a good Shabbos and chatzlacha rabba for the week ahead.

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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