Blog Vaera 5782 from RANEBI’s message on 26 Tevet 5778 בלוג וָאֵרָא
The Hebrew word Vaera translated as, “he appeared”, holds the understanding, “he revealed himself”. While wording in the Torah is very important, let’s remember to not take everything so literally but know that it was written in a simple way so that we can glean its principles on how to live. The children of Israel had been living under Egyptian oppression for many years. The Egyptians had gods for everything, even competing among themselves, a concept that has been accepted in many religions today. The children of Israel would learn that the Bore Olam was the invisible, all-present God who revealed Himself through His actions. Here in Exodus, we will see the transformation of the people from families to tribes with God as their guide. He would choose men to do the leading, but they were not gods; there is only One God; this is the basics. Our Bore Olam doesn’t need to fight against any other gods, and He will define who He is. We humans tend to need a god that we can see and touch. Our Creator orchestrated all the events that led up to the Israelites living in Goshen where they were separated from the Egyptians who looked down on them because they were shepherds. Other second-class citizens were also living among them in Goshen.
It wasn’t that this new Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph, rather he didn’t want to acknowledge that Joseph had done so much good for the people of Egypt. He initiated a process of oppression and enslavement for the Israelites because he was afraid of how much they were spreading and might join their enemies. The Bore Olam created humans to be free, but there are always people who want to oppress others for power. Any system that oppresses its people are evil regimes and these regimes are seen more and more in the world today. This scenario taking place in Egypt at that time, has repeated itself down through the centuries. At the beginning, Moshe was disappointed because the Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him, nor did he have the approval of his people. The Creator allowed this for a reason.
It’s important for us to understand that with all His power, God could have taken the Israelites out of Egypt with one word. Wouldn’t that have demonstrated His awesome Power for all time? But He did this for the benefit of his people Israel, as well as the Gentile nation, Egypt. He wanted to teach them through His revelation that He was the only true God. Both sides needed to see Him for who He was, through personal experience. It was a process. The Creator can change our minds in a second, but He allows us to go through our process because He gave us free will. The process to gain enlightenment takes time, sometimes more, sometimes less. As we grow spiritually, we become less negative but due to tunnel vision, some tend to hold onto their stubborn pride. Our people were partially blind to who the God of their forefathers was. He told Moshe that they knew Him in a different way than they had previously. At that time, they knew Him as El Shaddai; this was not His name, rather it was a description of what he had done for Israel until then. It refers to how He “breastfed” them, as a mother nursed her baby. Now God would appear to His people as YHVH, displaying how He would transcend all their previous knowledge of Him. He would act and intervene in their life, then, and throughout history.
The First Commandment explains that He is the God of history. He would have an encounter with both Israel and Egypt showing what He is capable of. Israel had enjoyed much prosperity and good times in Egypt before this Pharaoh arose. They never asked to return to Canaan where their life had been so hard. They left because of the famine; there was no river in Canaan like the Nile. In Egypt, they didn’t have to depend upon the weather to grow their crops. They grew comfortable in Egypt and didn’t want to leave. They only wanted Pharaoh to lighten their load as we saw in their first complaint to Moses. We can compare this story with the Holocaust. At the time of Hitler, our people had almost completely assimilated into European culture. They were converting in droves to Lutheranism to obtain titles of nobility and mingle with the gentry. They never thought Hitler would last very long. The Jewish people were losing their identity in the same way that they had in Egypt where they were forgetting the God of their forefathers. Now they would need to return to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Finally, it says that the Creator heard their cries and remembered His promise to their fathers. Can the Creator forget? Of course not, it was that the Israelites would finally have to realize that Goshen was not the Promised Land. They didn’t leave willingly, they were expelled.
Pharaoh was immensely proud; he was considered a god to his people. Now the Creator would make Moshe a god to Pharoah, which was a sarcastic way of speaking. The word, Elohim does not necessarily mean God; it can mean judges or lord, dependent upon the context. Here the Creator would reveal Himself as the true God by making Moshe appear as a human-god, who would be over another human-god; like a competition. Pharaoh would lose the battles, one by one. Each plague was a depiction that the gods of the Egyptians had no power. In this process, Pharoah’s pride increased. If he had been smart, he would have very soon counted his losses and given in.
This shows us that when we are stubborn, our stubbornness increases. God would strengthen the stubbornness of Pharaoh who then would have a heavy heart. Did the Creator harden his heart? No, the Pharoah did that to himself. In our own daily life, you would be surprised how we justify ourselves and blame others for what we do wrong and what is happening to us. I have heard theologians ask, “Why didn’t God allow Pharaoh to exercise his free will?” And stating, “How unjust is this God!” It is important to understand that Pharaoh punished himself. Many of us say, “God is punishing me.” I say to you, “You are punishing yourself. You are harvesting what you planted”.
When we see what is going on in the world, do we think that God is punishing the planet, or is it happening because of what we are doing to ourselves? It is easier to blame others but remember, let us not be holier than thou. Are we rooted in our stubbornness, not wanting to change even though we see the signs? What is your plague causing you to drown and in which you are not allowing yourself to change? Are you stubborn and hard-headed when someone advises you to do something in a different way, but you keep thinking that you are right, and they are wrong? This is my life, who are you to get into my life? When people tell us how to take care of ourselves, and we refuse to listen and tell them to leave us alone, but then we get sick, who can we blame?
It’s a battle of stubborn pride. There are countries in the world where people are starving and living in slavery, yet they refuse to acknowledge that their leaders have led them into oppression. This is what Pharaoh did in Egypt. We need to see that in ourselves. Moshe would represent the Creator to Pharaoh and his mouthpiece would be Aaron his brother. Both would present themselves before Pharaoh, Moshe as the representative of Israel, and Aaron his spokesperson.
What is there for us to glean from this Parashah Vaera? It says, 6 So say to the Israelites, “I am Adonai (LORD). I shall free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians; I shall rescue you from their slavery and I shall redeem you with outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement. I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God. And you will know that I am Adonai your God, who has freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. Then I shall lead you into the country which I swore I would give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and shall give it to you as your heritage, I, the LORD. Here we see depicted, the 4 cups of wine that we bless during the seder at Pesach. I’ll set you apart is the first cup, the cup of sanctification; I will take you out of slavery is the second cup of our deliverance, I will redeem you, is the cup of redemption and I will take you as my people and be your God is the cup of restoration. The last cup, Hallel is fulfilled in us being in Jerusalem now.
People have come up with many theological innuendos but what is God telling us from this portion. We respond to our Creator; He acts despite us; He doesn’t wait for us to respond. People say that God only intervenes when we repent. If that were the case, Israel would never have left Egypt. We never hear our people say that they would repent or do teshuva. What a great God we serve! Ask yourself this…. what is the plague that I am holding onto even if you think it is holding onto you? For example, for someone who has an obvious addiction, it is easy to see but others have more subtle battles, like pride, like religious pride, pride of education, something that traps them and hinders them instead of seeing themselves as being free. Ask yourself “Am I stubborn?” Is the Creator trying to lead me in another direction, but I am holding on to where I am for dear life? What is holding you back from having a true and open relationship with the Creator? Remember, He wants to be known by everyone.