Shabbat shalom, this week’s parasha is Vaera, which means “and I appeared.” It covers Exodus 6:2 – 9:35. God speaks to Moses at the burning bush, telling Moses who He is and that He has heard the groaning of the people of Israel. The Lord will deliver them out of slavery and show great acts of judgement against the Egyptians. God will deliver the Israelis to the land that He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, when Moses tells the Israelis this, they do not listen. Years of harsh slavery have taken a toll on their belief in the True God.
The Lord tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let Israel leave Egypt. Although Moses objects, God gives Moses and Aaron commands to communicate. God also tells Moses that He will make him seem like God to Pharaoh and Aaron will be like his prophet. Moses will tell Aaron everything that God commands Moses. However, Pharaoh’s heart will be made hard so God can multiply his signs and wonders in Egypt.
Even then, Pharaoh will refuse to listen to Moses. Judgement is coming for Pharaoh and Egypt for the atrocities that they have committed against the Jewish people.
In the first encounter, Pharaoh asks for a miracle. Moses tells Aaron to throw down his staff and it becomes a serpent! Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers can do the same and their staffs become serpents. Yet, Aaron’s staff swallows up the other staffs; a demonstration that the God of Israel is much more powerful than Egypt’s gods. However, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened and he refuses to listen.
Then God tells Moses to go to the river in the morning when Pharaoh is there and strike the water with his staff. Suddenly the whole river turns to blood. This is actual blood that kills the fish in the river. All the water sources in Egypt also turn to blood. Yet the magicians of Egypt can do the same and Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened.
Through the Lord, Moses again tells Pharaoh to let the people go, so they can worship Him. If Pharaoh refuses, a plague of frogs will come across the entire land. Yet again, the magicians can make frogs come up out of the land. However, this time Pharaoh pleads with Moses and Aaron to have the Lord take the frogs away. If the Lord does this, then Pharaoh will let the people go and offer sacrifices to the Lord. Moses responds in Chapter 8 verse 9, “You set the time! When you want me to pray for you, your officials, and your people. Then you and your houses will be rid of the frogs. They will remain in the Nile River.” Pharaoh responds with do it tomorrow. So, Moses does and replies with “Then it will be done, so you know that there is no one like the Lord our God.”
When Moses cries out to God, all the frogs in the houses, courtyards, and fields die. There were so many that the Egyptians piled them into great heaps. What a stench that would have been! Yet Pharaoh remains stubborn and refuses to listen.
Next is the plague of gnats. All the dust in Egypt turns into gnats covering the Egyptians and their animals. This time when the magicians try to do the same, they fail. The magicians tell Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” However, Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened.
After this, God sends swarms of flies on Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. This time, God will spare the region of Goshen where the Israelis live. A distinction is made between God’s people and Pharaoh’s, that the Lord is present with His people, even in the center of Egypt. In verse 24, we read: “The whole land of Egypt was thrown into chaos by the flies.”
Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron and tells them to offer their sacrifices but they must do it in Egypt. Moses tells Pharaoh that would not be right. The Egyptians detest sacrifices that are offered to the Lord. If they offer sacrifices to the Lord, the Egyptians will stone them.
So, Pharaoh agrees to let the people go and Moses warns Pharaoh to not lie and again refuse to let them go. But as soon as all the flies are gone, Pharaoh hardens his own heart and refuses.
As a result, we have the next plague, which is the death of the livestock. Again, God makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel’s livestock. But this did not change Pharaoh’s heart.
The next plague is boils on the people and animals, but instead of Pharaoh hardening his heart, in verse 12 of chapter 9, we see that God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh did not let the people go.
In verses 14-19, the Lord says to Moses to say the following, “If you don’t let my people go, I will send more plagues on you and your officials and your people. Then you will know that there is no one like me in all the earth. By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth.
But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth. But you still lord it over my people and refuse to let them go. So tomorrow at this time I will send a hailstorm more devastating than any in all the history of Egypt. Quick! Order your livestock and servants to come in from the fields to find shelter. Any person or animal left outside will die when the hail falls.” It is done just as the Lord says. Pharaoh’s heart remains hardened.
This parasha brings to light the power of God! We see what it looks like when someone follows God’s orders. Put yourself in Moses and Aaron’s shoes. Time and time again we see them doing what the Lord commands them to do. At first, Moses made an excuse that he was a clumsy speaker, but God had other plans. He sent Moses Aaron to speak to Pharaoh and his officials and Aaron did just what Moses told him to do. When God tells us what to do, we should do it.
What does He tell us to do today? We recite it every Shabbat, as we read in Mark 12:29-31, “The most important commandment is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
If we love God, then we will give our time to Him. We will share who Jesus is every chance we get. We will talk to and pray to Him. And, we will help our brothers and sisters with whatever needs they have. Just like Moses and Aaron, we too must listen and obey what God tells us to do.