This weekly Torah reading portion or parshat hashavua is called “Va’eraוארא'” (God “appeared” to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) in the Book of Shemotשמות/Exodus 6:2-9:35. Quite a big show and a one time sorcerer program! There are intermingled affairs and situations: the portion starts as God says to Moses that He is the God Who appeared, revealed, declared His project to a specific three generation tribe whose bones rest in peace at Machpelah cave in the Land of Canaan. According to Talmud Arakhin 15a/b and Mishnah Avot 5:4, this fabulous human history developed over three times ten generations, till the splitting of the Waters at the Red Sea. Then, ten plagues echo these decades as a phenomenal miracle against the Egyptians.
Thus, it should be noted that if plagues are the syndrome, God is the main decider. The context shows how the enslaved Jews were moaning to be delivered from their bondage. The whole portion is a sort of teaching that will finally peak with the first sacrifice of the lamb and “seder Pesach – Passover Service”.
Again, as for last week portion, Names are important in this event of apparent virtuoso wizard championship. God says to Moses: “Ani HaShemאני ה’ יי = I am the living Lord” but I revealed Myself to your forefathers as El Shaddai” (Ex. 6:2). It is more a Bereishit/Genesis Name which incidentally is mainly present in the TaNaKh or the Aramaic translations (Targum Onkelos) to identify God when mankind is confronting wickedness. Job and his friends only refer to Shaddai. Is He the God Who protects from the “devils/evils – shed/imשדים” (Talmud Yoma 75a: “as the demon changes into many color appearances, so did the manna into various tastes”)? The reference to Manna is important because it implies a connection with salvation by providing food as after the exodus from Egypt. Or, for instance, “Shadשד = female breast” that is essential for the child as the Manna” (Tosefta Sota 4,3). “she-ddai loש=די לו” would suggest that “Stop, enough for God!”; or it suffices. Hebrew “Dai (she-dai)דישדי = stop, over, finished” indeed means “it suffices, it is enough”. Penetrating the process of delivery from bondage, we discover that some things suffice or be considered by God as enough. The Haggadah of Pesach – the Account of the Delivery during the Passover night – has a song linked to each plague and the response is “Dayenuדינו – it would have been sufficient for us” if only one plague had convinced Pharaoh and his assistants.
Yes, God’s Name “El Shaddaאך שדיi” predetermines that God has a long-term project that goes far beyond the short-sighted views of all the actors. Moses can hardly speak and his brother Aaron exercises a prophetic role parallel to the Egyptian sorcerers’ job; this maybe considered as anticipating Aaron’s need for the spiritual Divinely inspired insights revealed to Moses in order to avoid falling into idolatry (Golden Calf).
It can be compared to Job’s test directly decided by an agreement passed between God (Elohim – El Shaddaiה’ אלהים אל שדי) and Satan – the Adversary (the obstructive oneשטן). Job is not locked up in slavery. A wealthy, prosperous and contented man, he suddenly becomes the subject of a deal between God and Satan. Indeed, a Gentlemen’s transaction concerning his soul and human balance, taken without any preliminary contractual discussion with the people concerned. No way! Job would never dare organize a marching-in demonstration in a pre-Jerusalem suburb. He did not know that the top of Super-deities had a pact, with a provision required by God, “Satan should not touch the integrity of Job’s soul = make him mad”(“raq alav al-tishlach yadchaרק אליו אל תשלח ידך – don’t lay your hand upon him” – Job 1:12) Nor would the enslaved tfuh-tfuh moaning Jews give a hand to Moses and his brother Aaron. Slavery is naturally human and power divine, at least secularly gorgeous. It seemingly provides human beings with a blessing not to think, nor to babble as children do in the presence of superpowers. This child-like if not churlish simpleton behavior is even more pregnant in the sphere of spirituality: when heads lose faith and swirl in some foggy nonsense that fakes devotion. The faithful will continue to pay respect to such puppets. Indeed, spiritual conflicts are comparable to match or lighter sparks that chuck out, just out! and oust people into more bondage.
Again, this portion obliges us to remember what Talmud Pessahim 10,4 insistently raps on our conscience: “Arami oved avארמי אבד אביi – my father was a fugitive Aramean… the Lord freed us from the Land of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, awesome power, by signs and portents (uv’otot uvmoftimובאתות ובמפתים – Deut. 26:5-9)”. These verses are read each year by the Jews at Rosh HaShanah; each day we are summoned to understand we are on a way. Parshat Va’era’ is the only one that so strongly insists on the miracles and signs that God showed. Scientists might be doubtful. A mythological account that does not match with any reviewed historic calendar? And these two pitiful chaps – Moses and Aaron – whose yikhesיחוס (pedigree) lineage tries to explain they are normal brothers (Ex. 6:14). Geography does not justify some plagues though the desert quails do fall at a certain time, in a certain area each year… but what Red Sea: a sort of narrow channel?
On the other hand, plagues are “makkotמכות” in Hebrew. The battlefield shows how feeble humans, but true faithful in the living God, can face wizards who may fool them down till the pagan Pharaoh and his staff are reduced to less than any lest – lesser than nil, nothing, which is the meaning of “makkah” (“makkeמכה” in Yiddish, when nil can quietly drive to grinning). “Makkotמכות” only affect idolaters that mock and challenge God. Strange how whatever news, situations, conflicts concerned, everyone is “strong” at the moment. Some people, somehow, somewhere might admit they have problems. Still, everybody is strong. When we read this portion of the week, we are on the verge to feel we are done with a series of factors: darkness and light, blood, locusts, hail. Wonders and plagues surpass any social strength. Thus, it is a question: why do faithful target power and strength? “The Lord has prepared the healing of the wound (“refuah lemakkah”; Tractate Megillah 13b).
Thus, the last “makkahמכה – plague” is the death of all the firstborns in the Land of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s son. This prolongs the first portion of Shemot-Exodus read last week and the murder of all Jewish boys in Egypt: Moshe is saved by miracle. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and Herod proceeded to the killing of all the children. In this apparently mythological recount, there is one thing we have experienced as human beings: recurrent slaughtering of the firstborns and babies in order to cancel life. It should be noted that in the murder of Jewish boys (Moshe and Jesus), the memory tracks back as to a specific character,”a fugitive Aramean” who destroyed the idols and cut off from his pagan parentage… not until his great-grandson Benyamin, the first child to be born in the Land of Canaan.
We assist, at the present, to the alarming and abominable consequence of systematic mass murders of female babies, manifold killings in China and India, that leave millions of males without normal partnership and opportunity to found a family. Female babies mass slaughtering at birth has been a continuous rule in some cultures, as the Inuits (Eskimo’s in Nunavut, Canada or Greenland, Yukon, Siberia). Some other trendy or rather experimental groups would prefer male and/or female “sterilization” that affected some wealthy or Third World nations. Either hedonistically and self-centered as in Germany and Scandinavia, or unable to feed and educate in restricted room (Japan). Curiously, a Jewish midrash states that by the time of Exodus, Jewish women began to beget children “like hens” at an overrated unheard-of level (Exodus Rabba 6,3; though the daily birthing was maybe overestimated).
The death of Pharaoh’s son and of all Egyptian firstborns suddenly twitched the ruler, gave him an uncontrollable jerk and real fear of the Living One God. This is also a question: are rulers so perverse and mulish that only death may convince them that life is a treasure of incredible value? We are, at the present, after the time of Passover liberation. Our main contemporary concern seems to be a sort of idolization of any clerics. Moshe did not enter the Land of Canaan because he was responsible for his people that dared deifying the Golden Calf. Quiz of the week parsha: who are they our modernistic Aaron and interfaith metal idol cooks?
One thing is awe-inspiring: when the children of Israel will sing the song of liberation, they will sing it in a low voice, which we continue to do. Jews were freed from bondage at the cost of a nation-wide death of firstborns. This should always prevent us from despising any foreigner, especially at the present as we live in Eretz Israel.
On January 18-19, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, the other Oriental Churches of the Holy Land and in particular the Armenian Church celebrate at the Jordan River (Israeli and Jordanian sides) the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. The splitting and passing of the Red Sea are considered as a sign of this cleansing and delivery process. The Jews only became free when they definitely left Egypt. Jesus was not baptized by any Church or denomination at the Jordan River. He came to undergo some sort of “mikvehמקוה – bath of persons or instruments” proposed by John in the desert. “Our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of they were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” says Paul of Tarsus (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). The Christian Orthodox tradition proposes another reflection: when Jesus went down the waters and rose immediately, he sanctified the entire creation (Mark 1:10).
Again, is this week portion the account of the gigantic crash between mythical deities? Or, on the contrary, it shows how El Shaddai calls the living to bring forth holiness and freedom.
av Aleksander [Winogradsky Frenke]l
January 13/1, 2010 – 27 deTevet 5770 – כ”ז דטבת תש”ע