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.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Parsht VaEra

Moshe's Reluctance to Lead

In this week's parsha, Moshe tries to get out of the mission that God gave him.

E already saw that at the Burning Bush, Moshe gave God a number of reasons why he could not go to Egypt to deliver His Message. His excuses included:

  • Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh...?" (Shemot 3:11)
  • "They say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" (ibid 13)
  • "Behold they will not believe me" (4:1)
  • "I beseech You, O Lord. I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday" (ibid 10)

God did not get angry with Moshe over these questions, but instead, answered each and every point. However, when Moshe again tried to get out of the mission, God finally got angry with him:

"He (Moshe) said, "I beseech You, O Lord, send now [Your message] with whom You would send." And the Lord's wrath was kindled against Moshe, and He said, "Is there not Aharon your brother…And he will speak for you to the people, and it will be that he will be your speaker, and you will be his leader" (ibid 13-16).

God had no problem with Moshe questioning Him. On the contrary, he expects us to question Him and to not accept His orders blindly. Therefore, He does not get angry with Moshe in the beginning.

However, when Moshe stopped the questions and simply said that he did not want to do it, God got angry. We have the right to question, but we do not have the right to shirk our responsibilities.

Moshe is therefore, punished. By trying to do get out of the mission, God reduced Moshe's role and promoted Aharaon in his place. Aharon would now speak to the people on His behalf.

Last week's parsha ends with Pharaoh worsening Israel's conditions of slavery. Moshe felt that it was God's fault and said so to him, again questioning his role.

"O Lord! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people" (5:22-23).

Again, God does not get angry, for Moshe's claim is legitimate. He simply tells him, at the beginning of this week's parsha, that He will soon redeem Israel. He then tells Moshe to go again to Pharaoh and ask him to free Israel. Moshe responds:

"Behold, the children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of closed lips? (ibid 6:12)."

It's unclear if Moshe is making excuses again. We had just been told that Israel would not listen to Moshe "because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor (ibid 6:9).

Moshe might be saying that he thinks that the reason they did not listen to him is simply because he's not a good speaker and therefore, God should send someone else.

The passuk does not say whether God was angry or not with him, but what is clear is that God demotes him again. God tells him: "See! I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker. You shall speak all that I command you, and Aaron, your brother, shall speak to Pharaoh" (ibid 7:1-2).

Aharon will now be the one to speak to Pharaoh.

The Torah is trying to teach us that we do have a right to question as long as our questions are a search for the truth, rather than an excuse to refuse God's law.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaEra, entitled: "Hashem and the Avot" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaEra, entitled: ""Discovering God" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat VaEra, entitled: "Knowing God" appears at

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