Va’era – “And I Appeared”

This week’s Torah Portion is titled Va’era, which translates as “And I Appeared” and covers Exodus 6:2-9:35. God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai (God Almighty), but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHVH. I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. I have now heard the moaning of the Israelis because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.

God instructs Moses to tell the children of Israel that He will soon take them out of Egypt. In the words of the Torah: Say, therefore, to the Israeli people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord.”

Here, the Lord gives Moses seven promises for the Hebrew people. In fact, the four cups of wine that are consumed during a traditional Passover seder are meant to symbolize these seven promises. Wine is the symbol of joy and thus reflects these promises which describe the joyous exodus from Egypt.

Moving forward, Moses had now entered the land of Egypt and experienced his first meeting with the Pharaoh that didn’t not know Joseph. Let me remind you, the Lord had already told Moses that He would cause Pharaoh’s heart to harden. The exodus and plan of redemption would be demonstrated and executed by the all sufficient El Shaddai, “The Great I Am.”

In verse 17, our narrative is interrupted with a partial genealogical account. The purpose of this was to establish that Moses and Aaron came from the direct line of Abraham as well as fulfill the divine promise the Lord gave to Abraham regarding his descendants recorded in Genesis chapter 15. Four hundred years of slavery and eventual redemption.

This also establishes the time frame of Israel’s deliverance. The genealogical record formally identifies that Moses and Aaron are of that generation, being the great grandsons of Jacob’s son Levi.

Leading into chapter 7, we are taken back to the story, with Moses again appealing to the Lord, saying, “See, I am of impeded speech; how then should Pharaoh heed me!” The Lord assures Moses of his authority and power as spokesperson for God. The Lord tells Moses that He placed him in the role as God to Pharaoh with his brother Aaron as his prophet. Moses was to repeat all that the Lord commanded him, and Aaron would deliver the message to Pharaoh.

With Moses now given his divine appointment, the Lord lets him in on the plan. The Lord tells Moses that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened and indeed Pharaoh would not heed Moses. The Lord explains the purpose for this in verses 3 through 5:

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not heed you, I will lay My hand upon Egypt and deliver My ranks, My people the Israelis, from the land of Egypt with extraordinary chastisements. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand over Egypt and bring out the Israelis from their midst.”

The Lord clarifies the Israelis as “My ranks, My people” to emphasize that they indeed belong to Him and not Pharaoh.

Starting at verse 8 and continuing for the remainder of this parasha, we see the Lord giving Moses and Aaron step by step instructions. When they made their demands on Pharaoh, the subsequent course of actions resulted. We know these consequences to Pharaoh’s hardened heart as the “plagues of Egypt.”

Initially the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron to produce a marvel in the sight of Pharaoh in the form of Aaron’s rod being thrown down and turning into a snake. When this miracle happened, Pharaoh summoned his sorcerers and magicians and through their spells, each of their rods were turned into snakes also.

Demonstrating the superior power of the God of Israel Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods, and yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not release the Jewish people, just as the Lord had said.

Now, we see a stronger warning from the Lord to Pharaoh as he instructs Moses to tell him in verses 16 through 18:

And say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let My people go that they may worship Me in the wilderness.” But you have paid no heed until now. Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” See, I shall strike the water in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood; and the fish in the Nile will die. The Nile will stink so that the Egyptians will find it impossible to drink the water of the Nile.’

Thus, we are introduced to the first plague in a series of ten that would befall Egypt as a result of Pharaoh’s hardened heart. Just as the Lord declared, when the king’s heart was hardened, and a plague resulted, the Egyptians would then know that Elohim (God) is the Lord and not the false, pagan, “lower-case g” gods of Egypt.

From verse 14 of chapter seven, through the rest of the parasha, which continues through the end of chapter nine, we read about the first seven of ten plagues. These plagues were not chosen by the Lord randomly. Each plague was carefully chosen to demonstrate God’s power over His creation and His superiority over the false god represented by each plague. These plagues were obviously not natural occurrences and the growing intensity of each plague moved it beyond natural phenomena, to something of a supernatural nature.

The first 7 plagues were:

Plague of Blood – The water turned to blood causing the fish to die and fill the land with an awful odor.

Plague of Frogs – Aaron raised his staff again over the streams and rivers causing frogs to come out of the river.

Plague of Lice –Aaron struck the dust with his staff. This caused the plague of lice.

Plague of Flies – Only affecting the land of the Egyptians and not the land of Goshen where the Israelis lived.

Plague of Pestilence – This plague only affected the Egyptian’s cattle, horses, asses, and camels.

Plague of Boils – This was a skin disease that was brought about when Moses and Aaron spread the ashes from a furnace into the air.

Plague of Hail – Moses stretched his hands toward the sky and brought on hail. The hail was unlike any they had experienced before. The hail was mixed with fire. It struck all who were out in the open, both man and beast, destroying the crops, and shattering the trees; except for the land of Goshen where the Jewish people lived.

May I reiterate, the purpose of these plagues was to dispel the legitimacy of the Egyptian demi-gods. Curiously, the plagues of blood, and the plague of frogs were imitated by Pharaoh’s magicians through some sort of satanic arts. However, the plague of lice, which was created by God through dust, proved to be beyond their capabilities and they had to admit defeat, “This is the finger of God” they concluded. And, they were right.

What should we take away from this portion of the Torah? Not to be like Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not to harden your heart. Nothing good comes from a heart that is hard toward God. To be responsive to your Creator when He is trying to tell you something.

We come into this world with hearts that are hard and unresponsive to God. We must soften our hearts so that at the core of who we are, we are soft and yielding and responsive to God.

How do we soften our hearts?

By recognizing that the Lord, He is God; by understanding that we are mere creatures, and are obligated to humble ourselves and obey the great Creator.

By committing ourselves to do what the Word of God says.

By repenting when we realize our hearts have been hard.

Is your heart hard, or tender?

Let’s pause for a minute, and ask the Lord: Lord, is my heart hard? Show me in what areas of my life I have been like Pharaoh, and need to humble myself. Lord, help me to soften my hard heart, so I can be blessed and you won’t need to send judgments to humble me. Amen