Weekly Reading Insights

VaEra 5763


Overview of the Weekly Reading: VaEra
To be read on 1 Shvat 5763 (Jan.4)

Torah: Ex. 6:2-9:35, maftir Num. 28:9-15 
Haftorah: Isaiah 66 (for Rosh Chodesh)
Stats: VaEra, 2nd Reading out of 11 in Exodus and 14th overall, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot.
It is written on 222 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 16th out of 54 in overall length.

Va'era opens with G-d instructing Moshe to tell the Jews His promise to free them, but the Jews were not receptive due to their disappointment and harsh slavery. Listed next is the lineage of some Jewish families, mostly that of Moshe and Aharon. G-d told Moshe to perform a sign before Pharaoh: Aharon threw down Moshe's staff which turned into a serpent. When Pharaoh's magicians turned their staffs into snakes, Moshe's staff swallowed their staffs. The first plague: all water in Egypt turned to blood. Pharaoh's magicians also turned water to blood, and Pharaoh hardened his heart. The water remained blood for seven days. Next was the plague of frogs. This too the magicians duplicated. Pharaoh agreed to let the Jews go worship, but once the plague ended, Pharaoh rescinded. The magicians could not, however, duplicate the third plague of lice. They were awed by G-d's power, but Pharaoh was obstinate. Afterwards were the plagues of wild beasts, an epidemic on livestock, boils, and hail. The plagues didn't harm the Jews. Each time Pharaoh made conditions and concessions, but with the plague's conclusion, the promises evaporated.


"And I appeared (va'eira)." (6:3)

The word "va'eira" is in both the past and present tense, indicating that the revelation of G-dliness that existed in the times of our forefathers continues to exist today as well. Every Jew possesses the quality of Abraham (love of G-d), the quality of Isaac (awe of G-d), and the quality of Jacob (mercy); the revelation of these inner traits is akin to G-d's revelation to the Patriarchs.

(Ohr HaTorah)

"I will take you out... and I will release you... and I will redeem you... and I will take you... and I will bring you into the land." (6:6-8)

The first four expressions of redemption allude to our redemption from Egypt, whereas the fifth expression, "I will bring you," alludes to the future Redemption, the final one which we are now awaiting. Why is this mentioned, then, when foretelling our departure from Egypt? To teach us that ever since the time that we left Egypt, we have been slowly but surely approaching the Final Redemption.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"Aharon threw his staff in front of Pharoah and his servants, and it became a snake." (7:10)

Pharoah claimed that the Jews had sinned and therefore didn't deserve to be taken out of Egypt. Moshe and Aharon responded that a person's environment plays a very important role in his development. Even a holy staff can turn to a vicious snake in the company of Pharoah. On the other hand, a "snake" in the company of Moshe and Aharon can transform itself into a holy staff.

(HaRav Meir Shapiro M'Lublin)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of
Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

“And ‘Elokim’ spoke to Moshe and He said to Him, I am Hashem!” I have expounded at length in my treatise on Passover, as well as in my commentary on the Haggadah shel Pessach on the opening lines in our portion, commencing with Exodus 6,2 until the words “I did not make myself known to them” in verse 3. All the miracles performed by G-d in Egypt which defied all known laws of nature, were invoked by the Ineffable Four-lettered Name é-ä-å-ä (Hashem) which symbolizes G-d as a composite of the Hebrew words for “He was, He is, He will be” the One who created the world ex nihilo and Who is eternal. The name Elokim, on the other hand, symbolizes nature, i.e. the laws of nature. We have repeatedly mentioned that the Hebrew word for ‘the nature’, ha’teva, has the same numerical value as the word Elokim.

It was this Name and what it implies that G-d employed when performing supernatural miracles in Egypt. Whenever Moses appeared before Pharaoh he appeared as a messenger of that attribute, Pharaoh’s reaction in Exodus 5,2 was that he had certainly never heard of such an attribute of any deity “Who is Hashem that I should heed Him”? Pharaoh had no difficulty in accepting G-d in His attribute as Elokim, as we know from Genesis 41,38. The Zohar (Sullam edition Miketz page 13) already comments on Genesis 41, 16 where Joseph says: “G-d will provide a reply for the welfare of Pharoh.”

Pharaoh had learned the meaning of Elokim from Joseph; he acknowledged this deity as superior to other deities. His acknowledgment did not extend to such a deity’s control of what he considered the laws of nature. We have a rule in Berachot 48 “since G-d has assigned sovereignty to a certain king, or kingdom, another king or kingdom must not infringe on the sovereignty of such.”

Pharaoh understood that the existence of the kingdom of Elokim, though presumably greater than that of his own or other kings, would not interfere with the sovereignty of other kingdoms. There are many kingdoms in this world which co-exist although some are more powerful than others.

It is also possible that Pharaoh acknowledged G-d as the Master of the Universe, but did not consider the Universe as G-d’s creation, but rather considered Him part of the Universe. Other philosophers conceive of G-d as inseparable from the world, much as they view light as inseparable from the sun. For all these reasons, i.e. limiting G-d’s possible domain, Pharaoh was angered when Moses pointed out that there was an added dimension to G-d. Pharaoh reacted by increasing the workload of his Jewish slaves, as we read in Exodus 5,9.

When Moses observed this result of his first mission, he called out: “Ever since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, i.e. the Four-lettered one, he has made the burdens of the Jewish people even harder to bear” (5,23). This was something like a challenge to G-d to demonstrate the full impact of His Four-lettered Ineffable Name.

At the beginning of our portion in 6,2, G-d therefore responds to Moses by saying that what He will do will prove that “Ani Hashem”.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:14-63 VaEra)

The Jewish people have been through so much during this long exile. Let us look to the weekly Torah portion to understand what is expected of us to bring the redemption. According to Jewish tradition, time is an upward moving spiral. What happened to previous generations will on some level repeat itself now and in the future. Just as the prelude to our forefathers leaving Egypt was difficult labor, so too, for us to be redeemed we have to go through difficult labor. Our ancestors, who were on higher levels than us, already completed the 'big labor'-elevation of the 'big' sparks. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that for us, on the threshold of the arrival of Mashiach, the labor is with smaller things-inner work, like changing our ingrained bad habits, fostering good relationships with our spouse and family, concern with detail. Fixing nuances was given specifically in our difficult era. Society is shouting at the person to put himself before everyone else. Self-gratification is placed above small personal details. This is the trial of our time: the concealment of what we must do is great.

We see this demonstrated in modern society. Only in this generation, scientists discovered that small things can have enormous future impact. A tiny portion of a drug can cause immense damage as a child develops. Changing a single gene can cure an 'incurable' illness. One simple trait of a parent absorbed by a child dramatically changes the child's life. Likewise, a little word mentioned lightly can affect a relationship forever. On the other hand, we see that people often do not pay attention to big things. Many people are desensitized to significant news events. Apparent givens are negated every day.

We can see a foretaste of this in the behavior of our forefather Yaacov. On his return to the Holy Land, he was ready for the final redemption. After transporting his family from one side of a river to another, Yaacov returned one more time for a few small vessels (Gen.32:25 w/Rashi). This last trip of Yaacov symbolizes the task of our generation-to transform the small details in order to bring the redemption.

Over and over, predictions of dates for the redemption did not materialize; Jews worldwide have endured mass exile and destruction time and again. Enough is enough! It must be that we are on the brink-all that left is to fix some minor details. These fine tunings in each of us are crucial to bring us to the climax.

When everyone does tshuvah (return to a way of life according to G-d's will), Mashiach will come. Tshuvah does not have to be something that takes a long time. When we are speaking about the small details, changing our bad habits, this can be done almost instantly, if we decide so with commitment. The message is that today, in order to be truly successful, one can not ignore the day to day small things, because these are what make a difference.

The 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe once visited a certain town. Before his departure, members of the community escorted him to the train station. As the train approached, the Rebbe was told that only a minute remained until the train would depart. The Rebbe responded, 'a minute is all that is required to do tshuvah.'

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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