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Va'eira 5775

by Rabbi Yaakov Grunewald

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?

The mediaeval Spanish statesman, scholar and poet Shmuel Hanagid explains that the name Shaddai comes from the Hebrew root SDD which means ‘to be strong’.  The famous commentator on the Torah,  AVRAHAM IBN EZRA, approves of this explanation.  The commentator known as the KLI YAKAR develops the rabbinic explanation which links the name with the word DAI, in the sense that we find it in the well-known song Dai Dayenu. Therefore, the name describes God’s capacity to create miraculous boundaries in this world. The KLI YAKAR explains that, in this instance, the name refers to the divine quality of compassion in that the Almighty sets limits to our suffering. The Patriarchs suffered very great hardships. However, God intervened and put an end to their suffering. In other words, God revealed Himself to them, as a compassionate father.

Several modern commentators offer a different explanation. They say that God appeared to the Patriarchs by the name SHADDAI.   SHADDAI refers to the Almighty as the God of nature, creation and fertility. The patriarchs knew Him in this capacity. However, God did not reveal himself to the patriarchs as the God of history, who controls world events and who is fully capable of fulfilling the terms of His covenant and redeeming His people.   In this revelation, God declared to Moses that it would happen now. He reassured  Moshe Rabbenu  that despite his grave disappointment, after meeting with Pharaoh for the first time;,  he would eventually succeed in his mission to liberate the Israelites from slavery and he would lead them to the land of Canaan. 

A large section of the Sidra is devoted to the chronicle of the ten plaques.

Many of our commentators have pointed out that the first nine plagues may be divided into three distinct groups consisting of three plagues each. In other words, the plagues came in three separate cycles. Before the first plague of each cycle, God commanded Moses to appear before Pharaoh in public on the banks of the Nile, in order to humiliate him.   Before the first two plagues of each cycle Moses issued a warning. Before the third plague there was no warning whatsoever. Each of these plagues came suddenly, as a surprise.  In the first cycle the plagues were blood, frogs and lice.  The second cycle consisted of an attack by a variety of wild animals, all coming at once and causing great confusion and panic. The second plague of the cycle was pestilence and the third plague of this cycle was boils.  The third cycle consisted of hail, locusts and darkness.

The plagues can also be divided into five pairs.  The blood and the frogs affected the waters of Egypt.   The lice and wild animals caused considerable  disruption to normal life.  The pestilence and boils afflicted the bodies of animals and human beings.   The hail and locusts destroyed the crops throughout the land.  The darkness lasted for three days. This was followed by the terrible darkness of death at the darkest moment of the night.

Pharaoh’s response to Moses’ demands came gradually. The first plague made no impact on him whatsoever.  He took no notice. After the second plague Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron to pray on his behalf and in return he promised to let the people go and sacrifice to their God. When the plagues stopped, his heart hardened again and you refused to let them go. After the third plague there was a response by Pharaoh’s magicians. They warned Pharaoh that this was just the beginning of a terrible assault on Egypt.  Pharaoh ignored them.
After the fourth plague, Pharaoh relented slightly and allowed the Israelites to sacrifice to God in Egypt itself. But Moses rejected this offer. Pharaoh made another offer and said that he would allow them to go to the desert. He also asked them to pray for him. Moses agreed to this, but when the plagues stopped Pharaoh again became obstinate again and changed his mind.

The fifth plague did not particularly impress Pharaoh presumably because it only affected his livestock. The only thing that impressed him was the fact that the Israelites had been spared. Nevertheless, he refused to change his policy. After the sixth plague, Pharaoh remained firm in his refusal to yield.

After the seventh plague, which was hail, Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron to pray on his behalf. He declared that God was righteous and that he and his people were wicked. He was beginning to repent. However, when the storm stopped, he became obstinate again. After the eighth plague which was locusts, Pharaoh was persuaded by his servants to enter into negotiations with Moses and Aaron. At the end of these discussions, Pharaoh promised to allow the men to go. Moses refused to accept this plan. He demanded freedom for everyone. After the ninth plague of darkness, Pharaoh softened and agreed to let the women and children to go as well, but stipulated that they would have to go without any livestock.  Moses refused to accept this condition. The negotiations broke down and Moses left the palace. Pharaoh warned Moses not come to see him again. Moses agreed.

The final capitulation came after the killing of the first born. It was an ironic end. Moses did not come to see Pharaoh but Pharaoh got up in the middle of the night to see Moses. He ordered the Israelites to get out of Egypt immediately. There was  terrible panic and confusion. But the Israelites waited until the morning. The Torah says in chapter 14 v 8 that the Children of Israel left Egypt triumphantly, with “RAISED ARMS”, “B’YAD RAMAH”. This means that they left "with courage and confidence in broad daylight, openly, without any need for secrecy.

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