The Book of Shemot/Exodus sees Israel transformed from a natural family into a covenantal nation. Personally, I think that this transformation is most interestingly expressed through thematic reversals. Here are just a few examples:
In Parshat Vaera, God tells Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Israelites. Pharaoh refuses and God unleashes plagues on the Egyptians. By the time we read this Torah portion we know that Moses is undoubtedly the main man as far as prophecy is concerned... He is the one of whom God says “With him do I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord doth he behold” (Numbers xii: 8).
We sometimes overlook the fact that a Parashah does not always begin at the beginning of a new Chapter, which is strange. Va’era begins in verse 2 of Chapter 6 of Shemot. So what is the opening verse trying to tell us?
“And God (Elo-him) spoke to Moshe and said to him ‘I am God (HaShem)”
Verse 3 goes on to say “ … and I appeared (Va’era) to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov as ‘E-l Shaddai’ but I didn’t make My name (HaShem) known to them.”
This week’s sedra raises an important question: If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, was Pharaoh acting independently in refusing to let the Israelites go? Before Moses even goes to Pharaoh, God announces His intention: "But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt… I will lay My hand upon Egypt and deliver My people, the Israelites, from the land of Egypt with extraordinary chastisements.”
The Sidra begins with a declaration by the Almighty to Moses that he had revealed Himself to the Patriarchs by the name El Shaddai, but not by the name of YKWK (K Stands for H). This statement is problematic and two questions arise from it. The first one is: What is the difference between the two divine names and what separate characteristics of the Almighty do they signify? The second question is: What is the meaning of the name El Shaddai?
AND HE APPEARED
In parshat Va’era, God tells Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh refuses to free the Israelite slaves and God unleashes plagues on the Egyptians. Pharaoh then promises to free the Israelites and asks Moses to stop each plague, but each time, Pharaoh changes his mind. The portion ends with the seventh plague of hail stopping, and Pharaoh going back on his word once again.
All the Jewish commentators regard the first passage of this Sidra as a direct continuation of the previous Sidra of SH’MOT. It contains Hashem’s reply to Moshe’s angry complaint that He had not saved the Israelites and had, in fact, made their suffering even harder to bear. Moshe’s exact words were: “Why have you been bad to this people, why did you send me?” Some of our ancient rabbis think that Moses’ complaint was inappropriate and arrogant. But, in Moshe’s defence, other commentators take the view that Moshe’s anger stemmed from his compassion for his people.
As we read the plagues and the familiar story of the Exodus, now is the time to reflect on what it means to you personally. Not at the Seder – that is the time to recreate it for others. But here and now, at this quiet time of year, just before Rosh Chodesh Shevat when we start to feel we are at a turning point in the year – now is the perfect time to look at the way in which our nation was “redeemed.” And to try to understand what that even means!
According to Rabbinic tradition, the very first commandment given to the children of Israel after their deliverance from Egypt was to sanctify the new moon (Exodus 12:1-2), thereby causing the fledgling nation to break away from the solar tradition of Egyptian worship and to look to the moon for a new means of reckoning time and seasons. “This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months: it shall be the first of the months of the year for you”.
My question is: Why does the new Sidra not begin with a new chapter, but at chapter 6 verse 2? The answer lies in the fact that the chapter division was introduced into the Bible by Stephen Langton, an archbishop of Canterbury in 1227, whereas our Rabbis divided the Torah into Sedarim much earlier. The divisions do not always match. During the Middle Ages, some eminent rabbis were put under pressure by Christian leaders to hold disputations with them. Because of convenience, the chapter divisions crept into our Chumashim as well.