Shabbat Table Talk
Parashah Va'era - Erev Shabbat 12th January 2018
Torah portion: Ex. 6:2-9:35 Haftarah: Ezek. 28:25-29:21
Our parashah Va-era takes its name from history of ancestors of Israel to whom G-d “appeared” with the name El-Shaddai and now to Moses He reveals the ineffable name YHWH. The central thrust is the meaning of the revelation of the new name of G-d “I AM YHWH” (6, 3). YHWH never appears in any physical form here, rather the sign-acts He will establish in the land of Pharaoh in favor of His people trailing under the tyranny of the King of Egypt will lead to the recognition of Him as I AM YHWH. The finality thrust of the narrative block of Sh’mot 6-14, lies in acknowledging YHWH as the G-d.
The parashah contains seven of the ten prodigious sign-acts of liberation narrated in Sh’mot in connection with Israel’s marching into freedom namely, the plagues of Nile turning to blood, Frogs covering the land and even the chamber of Pharaoh, Gnats on humans and animals, plague of flies, killing of the livestock, boils, and the hail. The sign-acts which Moses and Aaron are commanded to perform before Pharaoh, his household, and the land of Egypt will lead ultimately to acknowledge G-d as the ultimate player in the story of the emancipation.
The root y.d.‘. (= to know) is a keyword in this parashah and in the Sh’mot in general. G-d, the Israelites, and Pharaoh and Egypt surface as the subject of the verb y.d.‘.
It refers to G-d’s taking notice of the children of Israel and their afflictions (2, 25; 3, 7). It is more than an informative knowledge; it is more about personal involvement of the G-d of the covenant with His people whom He calls as the first born (4, 22). In both these instances it is associated to the verb r.’.h. (“to appear” is the meaning of the term r.’.h. in reflexive niphal)).
The same association of verbs in 6, 3 at the beginning of our parashah where the rabbinic tradition sees the crucial shift of divine name from Elohim to YHWH while speaking to Moses (Etz Hayim). The paramount importance of the Shem Mephorat (Rabbi A.J. Heschel) lies in recognizing G-d of Mercy as G-d who works liberation. This will be the all-season gospel of the G-d of the Bible that G-d is present in every story of human liberation.
Israel will recognize the power of the Divine Name, will know YHHW as their G-d when YHWH will put an end to tyranny and bondage of Pharaoh over them (6, 7; 10, 2). The sign-acts for their size and strength are naturally wont to affect the people indiscriminately. However, we hear that YHWH makes a distinction between the Israelites and the Egyptians. This is explicitly clear in the case of the plagues of Flies (8, 20-32), Death of livestock (9, 1-7), Hail, thunder and fire (9, 13-35), Darkness for three days (10, 1-20), and the killing of firstborns (11, 1-10). Israel celebrated their victory with the same theme of the ‘song of the sea’: “The LORD is my strength and might; He has become my deliverance. This s my God and I will enshrine Him; the God of my father, and I will exalt Him.” (cf.15, 2- Etz Hayim).
The distinction is between the oppressor and the oppressed. Using this as a paradigm the prophets of Israel will admonish Israel that they run the same risk if they or their leaders ever simulate Pharaoh. Thus Amos equates the story of Exodus of Israel with that of other people (Amos 9, 7) as a warming that G-d shows no partiality when it comes to the question of oppression.
Pharaoh and Egypt seeing the sign-acts will acknowledge YHWH as G-d. Pharaoh and his people consistently refuse to the acknowledge YHWH as G-d. His refusal to know YHWH (“I do not know YHWH,” cf. 5, 2) is meted out with the statement of the purpose of sign-acts, namely to lead Pharaoh into acknowledging G-d YHWH (I AM YHWH). The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is caused by his own adamancy (8, 15.32; 9, 34) but it is at the same time, overwhelmingly an act of G-d’s own making (cf. 4, 21; 7, 3; 10, 1.20.27; 11, 10; 14, 4.17). The purpose of latter is to allow time to multiply (7, 3) and make a full-blown display (10, 1) of His sign-acts so that both Egyptians and Israelites will know YHWH as the true Lord of history (cf. 10, 2).
The haftara taken from Ezekiel correlates the parashah to the Prophet’s condemnation of Tyre and Egypt from another time, during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. Both were great powers of the time and known for their affluence and military prowess. However, the affluence led to the primordial sin of presumption and hybris- “I am El”, said the ruler of Tyre (Ezek 28, 3); “Nile is my own; I made it”, said the king of Egypt (Ezek 29, 3.9). YHWH will ruin both Egypt and Tyre until the time they will repent and will be restored.
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Fr. James Raphael Anaparambil, Bat Kol Alumnus 2009
Coadjutor Bishop-Designate, Diocese of Alleppey, Kerala, India
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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