Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Parshat VaEra

Discovering God

When Moshe first ordered Pharaoh: “So says the Lord (Hashem) God of Israel, Let My people go...” (Shemot 5:1-2), Pharaoh gave three responses:

  • “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice…” – essentially Hashem had never proven Himself in the pantheon of gods and so didn’t need to be obeyed.
  • “I do not know the Lord” – essentially Hashem is not involved with humanity, He does not have a relationship with any people on earth
  • “neither will I let Israel out" – finally, Pharaoh declares that he alone is the supreme authority and that no god can order him to free Israel

Pharaoh needs a lesson in theology, so God sends him three series of plagues; each series is a response to a different point that Pharaoh made.

Series 1 begins with a declaration: “So that you will know that I am the Lord” (ibid 7:17). And so God pollutes Egypt’s main water source, the frogs leave the water and when they die, lice attack the Egyptians. Pharaoh’s magicians cannot replicate the third plague and so concede defeat declaring: “It is the finger of God” (ibid 8:15). Pharaoh’s first question has been answered as his own magicians acknowledge God. Round 1 to God.

Series 2 begins with the declaration: “So that you know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth” (ibid 18), i.e. that God exists on earth and has a relationship with humanity. God does this by bringing three plagues that “separate on that day the land of Goshen, upon which My people stand” (ibid), i.e. Israel does not suffer from these three plagues. Pharaoh even checks that that has been the case: “Pharaoh sent, and behold, not even one of the livestock of Israel died” (ibid 9:7). Pharaoh’s servants again concede defeat after the third plague as they “could not stand before Moshe because of the boils” (ibid 11). Pharaoh’s second question has been answered; God is involved in humanity’s fortunes. Round 2 to God.

Series 3 begins with the declaration: “So that you know that there is none like Me in the entire earth” (ibid 14), i.e. that God, not Pharaoh, is the supreme authority. God does this by bringing three plagues “the likes of which has never been in Egypt from the day of its being founded until now” (ibid 19). Pharaoh’s servants acknowledge defeat after the warning about the second plague, locusts, when they tell Pharaoh: “Don't you yet know that Egypt is lost?” (ibid 10:7). Pharaoh himself acknowledges partial defeat when he promises for the first time that he will allow Israel’s males to leave Egypt (ibid 10). However, Pharaoh is too stubborn to acknowledge total defeat and so while God does win Round 3 on points, only a knockout will cause Pharaoh to fully concede and recognize the Lord.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat VaEra, entitled: "Knowing God" appears at


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