Friday, January 20, 2012

Parshat Va'era - פרשת וארא

"לָכֵן אֱמר לִבְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל: אֲנִי יְהוָה, וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלת מִצְרַיִם, וְהִצַּלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מֵעֲבדָתָם, וְגָאַלְתִּי אֶתְכֶם בִּזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה וּבִשְׁפָטִים גְּדלִים. וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם, וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלהִים; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, הַמּוֹצִיא אֶתְכֶם מִתַּחַת סִבְלוֹת מִצְרָיִם. - Therefore say to the children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will deliver you from their servitude, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt."
(Exodus 6: 6-7)

The first part of this week's D'var Torah is taken from the Ma'ayanei HaTorah, which cites Chidushei HaRim. It is written there that the ten plagues we read about during the course of this week's and next week's parsha readings are linked to the utterances with which the world was created (Pirkei Avot 5:1). There were ten of those, too, but the link goes a lot deeper than just that.

As the Chidushei HaRim explains, the ten utterances which caused the creation of the world acted to codify the laws of nature. As a result, it became impossible to observe the supernatural wonder of nature. In Jewish mystical thought, there is a concept of constriction - that God had to somehow constrain His eternal and omnipotent Self in a way conducive to forging the world as we know it. God effectively hid Himself through His acts of creation.

In a similar fashion, the ten plagues that are unleashed upon the unwitting Egyptians were directly related to each of these utterances. Step by step, they served to peel back the layers and reveal Hashem's presence in the world to one and all, that there is a creator and there does exist such a thing as an administrator of the universe who can change the rules of nature as He so wishes. Moreover, these ten plagues paved the path for the Jews to leave Egypt in a blaze of glory and made possible the ultimate revelation later on at Sinai. The ten plagues were not merely punishments for the Egyptians' oppression of the Jews; they also served to make a very strong statement about the nature of this world.

The relevance of the insight above is made apparent by something I read a few p'sukim later in verse 9: " וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה כֵּן, אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה. - And so Moshe spoke to the children of Israel; but they did not hearken Moshe because of shortness of wind and for hard bondage." The verse seems simple enough, but the Meshech Chochmah explains that Moshe chose his words very carefully. His people were under extreme stress and were unable to listen to him. Had he told anyone that "Everything's going to be alright - God is going to save us all in the close future", he would have likely been completely ignored. Anyone who is experiencing such severe trouble simply cannot pay attention to the future; they are instead preoccupied with the present. As such, Hashem instructed Moshe to speak in the present tense and let them know that their redemption was imminent.

Returning to the first part of this D'var Torah, we may now understand just how vital it was for Hashem to perform these miracles. It wasn't just for the Egyptians. It was for the generation of Jews who never knew their forefathers and fore-mothers. They had never witnessed the miracles that Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov had. They barely knew what it meant to be Jewish. As such, the ten plagues allowed them to be liberated from the oppression of being limited and bound to nature. When they saw Hashem's hand behind nature, they were able to set out on the road that took them out of Egypt and home to Israel.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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