Parashat Vaera 3 Shevat 5781 by Mauricio Quintero
There is only one Unique God
As I read through this week’s portion “Vaera” – וָאֵרָא- (And I appeared) in Shemot 6: 2-9: 35, the pshat (direct meaning) that stood out to me was the complex political, social, religious and economic background of that time.
When we finished Bereshit, we saw that Pharaoh went from being a simple king or ruler to becoming the owner of all Egypt, thanks to Joseph. After Joseph’s Yosef, a new Pharaoh arose to the throne, emulating the evil Nimrod, becoming an incarnated god. We see a pattern of behavior in the descendants of the sons of Ham – an inclination to deny the existence of the Creator and to supplant him. We also see how man can be corrupted throughout the generations, no matter where or when. Instead of simply satisfying his basic needs, he prefers to seek wealth, fame, and power to rule over others and ends his days denying the One True God, the Bore Olam. This is how we see men’s “egos” at the forefront of their nations, blinding them and what is described in the prophecy in Ezekiel 28:2 about the king of Tyre: “because your heart is lifted up, and you have said: I am a god, I sit in the seat of God …… yet you are man, and not God, though you set your heart as the heart of God …”.
We see this “deification” reflected even today, where men “usurp” the position of God, bringing misfortune and destruction to their nations… as we have seen throughout history: Bonaparte, Hitler, Chávez, Hirohito, and even today, nations like North Korea worship their “supreme leaders”. So, if in the “modern” world it happens that people deify simple men who may have a higher degree of education and knowledge, what would have happened back in Egypt? The answer is clear: the assimilation caused a good part of Jacob’s children to forget the God of their parents and turn to Egyptian customs.
We can compare this story to a frog placed in a pot of cold water, which when slowly brought to a boil, doesn’t jump out but becomes “frog soup.” Similarly, in Talmud (Sotah 11) our sages wrote that the decline of Israel was a gradual process. They tell us that the timeframe between Jacob going down to Egypt and Moshe being raised as a leader, was 210 years. Within about 86 to 110 years, they had become enslaved.
In Parashat Vayechi, unlike all the other Parashiot of the Torah, there was hardly any space between the end of the preceding parashah (Vayigash) and the beginning of Vayechi. The Midrash asks, why is that parashah “closed”? Because at Jacob’s death, “Israel’s eyes and hearts were closed due to their suffering because [the Egyptians] began to enslave them” (Bereshit Raba 96: 1). This indicates that slavery was born from assimilation from the moment they descended to Egypt. Today, the process toward slavery is born when we begin to live a secular life, separated from the Eternal, forgetting to whom we will render an account; this degradation manifests itself in the physical body. This process can be compared with a person with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism; its physical consequences are seen today, and we can deduce that he is an alcoholic; but did his alcoholism begin when he was already drinking too much? No! His alcoholism began in his mind before he took his first drink when he had unresolved issues; alcohol became the outlet for his emotional illness.
In last week’s portion of Shemot, we read that Pharaoh was equivalent to the denial of God; it says in Shemot 5: 2 “And Pharaoh said: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should pay attention to His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then, in a prophecy against Egypt, we clearly see who Pharaoh claimed to be, from Ezekiel 29: 3 and 8 “My river (Nile) is mine own, and I have made it for myself “. We see the relationship of the Israelites with Pharaoh in Exodus 29:6-7) in which we see that Israel´s trust was turning towards the new god, Pharaoh forgetting the Bore Olam.
We also read that the slaves of Israel complained about their physical pain, but never against the customs of Egypt nor its denial of God. We read in Shemot 6: 5 that they loved the Egyptian culture: “And moreover I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant”. How do we come to this conclusion? At no time does it indicate that they prayed to the Eternal and asked him to leave Egypt; in fact, we read in the 10 words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt …” this is like a child when his parents take him out of a pool, but the child prefers to stay. When I read this portion, I never saw that they felt uncomfortable in Egypt; what I saw was a nation – Israel – without identity, complaining of physical pain, not a lack of a relationship with God.
Egypt was the pinnacle of science, technology, medicine, agriculture, architecture, a great army, etc. To live in Egypt was to be in the “right place” … materially speaking, even if it implied “a spiritual narrowness” (the meaning of Mitzrayim) along with the assimilation of its ideas of what and who their god is and becoming corrupted with their pagan ideas and immoral practices.
Therefore, God decided to put an end to this suffering and pride and dictated His purposes for such a deliverance.
First: To fulfill HIS promises made to our patriarchs (Shemot 6: 2-4). Second: To end the physical suffering of his enslaved people in Egypt (Shemot 6: 5). Third: To reveal Himself to the world as Adonai, the owner and Master of the Universe, who is above all physical laws, (Shemot 6: 2) revealing Himself by His Name יְהוָה
Fourth: For Israel, which we read about during the Passover Seder, to remember His four vows (Shemot 6: 6-7): I will bring you out from under the burdens, deliver you from their bondage (eliminate slavery), redeem you (eliminate the effects or consequences of slavery) and take you as His people (with new life, new purpose). And last but not least, to show to humanity and especially the Egyptians that the Bore Olam is the only True God – וְיָדְעוּ מִצְרַיִם כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה Veyad’u Mitzrayim ki-Ani Adonai- “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD” (Shemot 7:5), and, therefore, to demonstrate that no man is god on earth
For this, God used signs, wonders, marvelous events, and miracles through situations in which man could notintervene, but only His hand could perform, and which the magicians of Egypt would recognize as the “finger of God”. On one hand, the signs begin by one serpent eating another, a true Egyptian symbol, and then He controls “physical forces such as water, fire, air, earth”, which according to what we read were venerated as gods by the Egyptians. We see in the 10 wonders, (I prefer to use this term than plagues) a reminder to His people of the 10 expressions of the Creation. In Bereshit, we read that God used the expression: “Let there be …” 10 times! Is this a coincidence? I don’t think so; He is reminding us that He is LORD over all creation, over atmospheric conditions, over people, over insects, over fish, over rivers, and so on. The Creator is making it clear that He is KING above all the kings of the earth, that He is LORD above creation, that He holds the universe in the palm of His Hands, and that He does not share His Glory with anyone.
This is revolutionary… first because it demonstrates to humanity that God created the Universe and the physical world. Neither Pharaoh nor any other man can create something out of nothing. Secondly, God cared about what happened to us when He said, “Let my people go!”. According to the Egyptian religion, “Ra” lived only in heaven and had no communication with mortals, showing us that the gods were not interested in men. Third, God is not governed by any natural, logical, and physical law. Nor does it show that He needs others to rule over everything that exists; He exists in a continuous state (past, present, and future), due to Him simply “Being”. Unlike the Egyptians, their gods had human weaknesses, needs, and were not all-powerful; they had limits and roles. Fourth, God communicates with us directly or through His messengers and prophets, in this case, Moshe and Aaron. They demonstrate that when brothers work together in unity, there is much that they can achieve, even when both the kingdom of Egypt and the nation of Israel in Goshen were against them. In Bereshit, we read about the two other brothers Cain and Abel, but here we see these two brothers, Moshe and Aaron, now working together.
Finally, we see a Pharaoh who, when defeated, recognized that he and his people were wicked (Shemot 9:27), that God is LORD, and that he had sinned against Him, however, God prevented him from doing Teshuva, reinforcing the decisions that Pharaoh had already made in his own heart.
Today, the Creator sees that humanity “has prospered” and “has usurped His role”, deifying itself, believing itself superior to the Eternal, and not recognizing that the Creator is the Only God, ruling over the earth.
Mankind is reviving the Egyptian act of enslaving other humans, in some cases economically, oppressing them in their jobs, and in other cases even leading to physical, spiritual, and mental slavery, denying the existence of God, and challenging His works.
The Bore Olam appeared to tell us: “You are not gods; you are mere mortals!” The Bore Olam remembers us and at the end of 2019, He sent us a small “Keter” (crown) that, even being so small, has dominated the world, so that we would look up to the Heavens. We read in Shemot 6: 8: ” And I will bring you into the land that He promised to our patriarchs“. This a promise yet to be fulfilled because that generation did not deserve it for accepting the bad report of the spies. This promise is connected to the fifth cup at the Pesach Seder that we do not drink, as we wait for the final redemption in the times of the messiah.
There is still time to reconsider our works, to turn back to God, and to recognize that there is only one Unique God. My prayer is that we would merit being like Moses and Aaron, even if it implies standing up against the normalized way of thinking in the world, and that we would merit leaving Mitzrayim to enter the Promised Land in our times.