Torah Weekly - Parshat Va'era

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Parshat Va'era

For the week ending 3 Shevat 5761 / January 26 & 27, 2001

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    Hashem tells Moshe to inform the Jewish People that He is going to take them out of Egypt; however, the Jewish People do not listen. Hashem commands Moshe to go to Pharaoh and ask him to free the Jewish People. Although Aharon shows Pharaoh a sign by turning a staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians copy the sign, emboldening Pharaoh to refuse the request. Hashem punishes the Egyptians and sends plagues of blood and frogs, but the magicians copy these miracles on a smaller scale, again encouraging Pharaoh's obstinance. After the plague of lice, Pharaoh's magicians concede that only G-d could be performing these miracles. Only the Egyptians, and not the Jews in Goshen, suffer during the plagues. The onslaught continues with wild animals, pestilence, boils and fiery hail. However, despite Moshe's offers to end the plagues if Pharaoh will let the Jewish People leave, Pharaoh continues to harden his heart and refuses.




    "Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt,
    and the frog-infestation ascended and covered the land." (7:2)

    One of my indelible childhood memories was the time I saw Walt Disney's "Fantasia." I can remember to this day the elephant in the pink tu-tu dancing the "Sugar Plum Fairy." But the image that remains most vivid in my imagination is Mickey Mouse's performance as the "Sorcerer's Apprentice."

    The story of the sorcerer's apprentice goes like this: The apprentice finds himself alone one day with the sorcerer's book of spells. The sorcerer has gone out (probably to an interminable sorcerers' convention). Mickey has been charged, in the sorcerer's absence, with the cartoon equivalent of sponge-a -- mopping the floor. Lazy and over-confident, as sorcerers' apprentices are prone to be, he decides to take the book of spells for a small "test drive round the block." With the help of the appropriate spell, he succeeds in bringing to life the sponge-a stick to do his work for him. Mickey laughs with delight as the newly animated mop goes back and forth to the well, drawing heavy buckets of water and bringing them to the house.

    With no work to do, Mickey dozes off. When he awakes, he practically has a heart attack. The house is flooded as the enchanted mop keeps drawing more and more water! All Mickey's efforts to stop the mop are in vain. Finally, he seizes an ax and tries to chop the mop into oblivion; the mop, however, divides like an amoebae into two. Now there are two magic mops flooding the house with water! Mickey chops these mops as well, and they divide into four. In a frenzy of panic and rage, Mickey slices and hacks, creating a new mop with each whack. When the sorcerer returns, armies of mops are flooding his house with gallons of water.

    If ever there was a case of art borrowing from reality, this must be it. I doubt Walt Disney ever read the Midrash on this week's Parsha (Disney was known to employ neither Jews nor blacks), but if not, there's an uncanny "coincidence."

    In this week's Parsha we learn of the plague of the frogs: "Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt and the frog-infestation ascended and covered the land." This translation is according to Rashi. The literal translation of the verse, however, is: "Aharon stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt and the frog ascended and covered the land." The Torah says that only one frog came out of the river. On this, the Midrash comments that it was a giant frog, and that it only multiplied when the Egyptians started hitting it. Every time the Egyptians hit the frogs they would multiply exponentially.

    Now there's something that doesn't quite make sense here. If the Egyptians saw that hitting the frogs just made things worse, why didn't they stop hitting the frogs?

    One aspect of having bad character traits is not just that they exert a negative influence on a person, but that they also dominate and distort his view of reality.

    What made Pharaoh and the Egyptians refuse to let the Jews leave Egypt? Pride and anger. The Egyptians were so wrapped up in their anger that it never occurred to them to stop beating the frogs. It's true that at the beginning the frogs were the cause of the anger, but once the Egyptians started beating the frogs, the frogs became merely a means to vent their anger, and the more frogs -- the merrier (or the angrier).

    • The Steipler Gaon as heard from Rabbi B. Rappaport


    Yechezkel 28:25 - 29:21


    Just as Parshat Vaera describes the downfall of Egypt in the times of Moshe Rabbeinu, so the haftara details the demise of a latter-day Egypt in the time of the Prophet Yechezkel.

    Like the Pharaoh of Biblical times, the Pharaoh in the haftara proclaimed himself a god who created the Nile.

    However, Egypt will be conquered by Nevuchadnetzar, the king of Babylon -- and when both these empires will lie in ruins, Israel will emerge unscathed, to re-unite with Hashem.


    Pharaoh said, "Mine is the river and I have made myself." (29:3)

    You're a farmer. You look at the sky. Will it rain? Will you be able to feed your family? When you depend on the rain to fall and water your crops, you realize that you are beholden to Hashem.

    Rain rarely falls in Egypt. The Nile rises up and overflows its banks every year at the same time. The Nile waters the fields of Egypt, seemingly automatically.

    It is for this reason that the Egyptians denied that there is a Power who supervises all. For the dew of heaven is the symbol and the sign of Hashem's power to run the world. Thus, the Egyptians made the river itself into a god.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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