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Religion
Parashot

Vaera (and I appeared)

Exodus 6:2 to 9:35, Ezekiel 28:25 to 29:21

Notes

The geneology of 6:14-26 serves as a section divider. Before, Moshe relied on his own effort. Afterward, Moshe relies on God's actions.

In verse 9:14, Adonai mentions that subsequent plagues (fiery hail, darkness, slaying of the firstborn) will be upon "Pharaoh's heart, his servants, and his people". This suggests that Pharaoh did genuinely care about his people.

God not only deals with Pharaoh's heart in this Torah portion, but he will also modify the hearts of the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 29:4 we read that Adonai has not given the Israelites "a heart to know, or eyes ot see, or ears to hear" a full understanding of the God. In Deuteronomy 30:14 we learn that God's commandments are in the Israelite's hearts. Yet in Deuteronomy 30:6 God promised a future deepening of the covenent, when God would "circumcise your heart and the hearts of your decendents to love Adonai you God with all your heart and soul."

In verse 7:9-12, Aaron's staff and the staves of the Egyptian magicians each become a tahneen. The meaning of this Hebrew word is vague: it is elsewhere translated as serpent, crocodile, whale, jackal, dragon, and other monsters. In this instance, the translation "snake" seems unlikely because of the time required for one snake to eat two others. Also, the plague traditionally said to be about insects is only about "swarms" (arov); the Hebrew does not specify what is swarming.

Aharon uses the staff to begin the earliest plagues (blood, frogs, lice). God has neither Moshe or Aharon initiate the plagues of insects or livestock disease. Then Moshe throws the ashes to begin the plague of sores, uses the staff to start the plagues of hail and locusts, and holds out an empty hand to begin the plague of darkness. Adonai alone does the slaying of the firstborn.

Certain plagues do not affect the Israelits: blood (implied in verse 24; the Israelites live far from the river), insects (8:12(23)), livestock disease (9:4), hail (9:26), darkness (10:23), and slaying of the firstborn.

Perhaps the plague of frogs did not affect the Israelites, who lived farther from the river. Or perhaps they were also affect by the frogs, to foreshadow another time they did not trust God and had to deal with stinking heaps (Numbers 11:32).

And perhaps the plague of livestock disease did indirectly affect this Israelites. We read that that plauge killed all the Egyptian livestock, and then we read that during the plague of hail some Egyptians had livestock. Either the Hebrew word kol should instead be translated "almost all" (which is uncommon but legitamate) or some Egyptians bought or stole Israelite livestock in between the plages.

From the Egyptian's perspective, the plagues came in groups with increasing knowledge of Adonai. Compare the reactions of Pharaoh and his magicians.

Pharaoh, and perhaps Moshe and Aharon, see the plagues as part of a battle of wills between Pharaoh and Adonai. But Adonai and the Egyptian magicians correctly see the plagues as the true God passing judgment against the false Egyptian dieties (verse 12:12) while revealing truths about himself. If Adonai had wanted to focus on teaching the Egyptians who he was (7:5) without passing judgment on the Egyptian dieties then after the plague of sores he would have begun to soften Pharaoh's heart, to encourage the seedling of repentance (9:27) instead of squelch it.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

The Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos explains that the Torah makes a point of using the expression "Get up early and stand before Pharaoh" with the plagues initiating the second, third, and fourth group in the above bulleted divisions. He divides the plauges into three groups based upon this phrase.

This Torah portion begins with God explaining to Moshe that a new level of relating with God has arrived. The words are an idiom, not literally true (the patriarchs did use the divine name, in isolation, as early as Genesis 12:8, see also Genesis 15:17 and 28:13). But the patriarchs related to God in the ways the name "El Shaddai" (God Almighty) speaks of God, whereas Moshe will relate to God more personally. The Ramban adds that the patriarchs saw miraculous blessing and protection, but nothing that would be concrete proof of God's involvement to an observer. Moshe, in contrast, experiences multiple convincing miracles. reference

The Ba'al ha'Turim suggests that, as slaves (either for all their time as slaves or since the worsening of conditions in chapter 5) the Israelites were not allowed to bathe, and became lice infected. Thus God did not exempt the Israelites from this plague—they were already subjected to its effects. reference

Rav Epstein notes the rain that accompanied the hail. Rain was foreign to Egypt. Pharaoh understood its potential help for farming, and specifically asked Moshe to stop the hail without mentioning stopping the rain. Then Pharaoh, who had begun to feel repentant, saw that the rain also stopped and hardened his heart. reference

Note that the frogs miraculously multiplied, and then died. The swarming animals, however, came from elsewhere and returned to where they belonged. Zvi Akiva Fleisher notes that carcasses of healthy animals would be been beneficial, so God did not provide them. reference

Moshe only "cries out" to Adonai three times, and only once during the plagues (Exodus 8:12 and 17:4, Numbers 12:13). Rabbis have debated why Moshe cried out to Adonai to end the frogs, and have hypothesized everything from noisy frogs making normal prayer impossible to Moshe's distress at this plague, which was the first to affect him personally.

Only after the plague of hail does Moshe need to leave the city to pray for the plague to end (verse 9:29). The Tz'enah Ur'enah credits Moshe with a subtle if significant trust in God: outdoors there was no protection from the hail, so Moshe was flaunting how the hail was not dangerous to him.

The Ramban explains that Pharaoh, upon hearing Moshe offer to end the plague of frogs at any time, tried to second guess Moshe. Pharaoh thought Moshe knew the plague of frogs was about to end, and so purposefully requested the plague not end until the next day. Pharaoh was so stubborn he was willing to endure the plague an extra day, on the chance he would prove himself right.

The Tz'enah Ur'enah notes that throwing a handful of ash "up high" is impossible; even the method of starting the plague of sores was miraculous.