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Torah Sparks

VAERA
January 27, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 6:2-9:35; Hertz Chumash, page 232
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 8:16-9:35, page 240
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21, page 244

(6:2-9) God reminds Moses of the Covenant He made with the patriarchs, and announces to him the coming redemption of the Israelites from slavery. Moses tells the Israelites, but they are too fearful to listen to him.

(6:10-13) Moses is disheartened, and reluctant to go before Pharaoh.

(6:14-27) The genealogy of the tribe of Levi.

(6:28-30) Moses continues to doubt his ability to carry out his task, saying: “I am of impeded speech”.

(7:1-7) God encourages Moses and Aaron by giving him a glimpse of the successful future of their mission.

(7:8-13) Moses and Aaron demonstrate their miraculous sign before Pharaoh: the staff transformed into a serpent. Pharaoh’s magicians duplicate this feat, but then Aaron’s “snake” swallows up theirs.

(7:14-25) The Ten Plagues begin. The first turned the Nile into blood.

(7:26-8:11) The second plague: frogs.

(8:12-15) The third plague: lice.

(8:16-28) The fourth plague: beasts (Rashi).

(9:1-7) The fifth plague: domestic animals’ disease.

(9:8-16) The sixth plague: boils.

(9:17-35) The seventh plague: Hail.

Theme 1: Judaism’s View of Marital Sexual Relations

This time tomorrow I will rain down a very heavy hail, such as has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. Therefore, order your livestock and everything you have in the open brought under shelter; every man and beast that is found outside, not having been brought indoors, shall perish when the hail comes down upon them! (Exodus 9:18-19)

  1. The plague of hail, why did it come upon the Egyptians? Because they had assigned Israelites to be planters of gardens, orchards, and of all kinds of trees, all these located in the outermost parts of the wilderness, so that the Israelites would not be able to go to their homes where they could couch with their wives and be fruitful and multiply, (as the Holy One had commanded them). Therefore the Holy One sent down hail which broke all the plants the Israelites had set out... (Eliyahu Rabbah p. 42 from “Tanna Debe Eliyyahu”, Braude and Kapstein translation, p. 99)
  2. In its proper setting, sex is a mitzvah. The marital sex obligation is defined by halachah in terms both of frequency and quality. The husband may not be “pious” at his wife’s expense and pursue ascetic inclinations to the neglect of the marital mitzvah. For example, when asceticism became popular among both Jewish and Christians in the Middle Ages, there was, according to Gershom Scholem, “one important difference, that nowhere among the Jewish ascetics did penitence extend to sexual abstemiousness in marital relations.” Moreover, the husband has the mitzvah of quality as well; he is to “give happiness to the woman he has married” (Deut. 24:5) in this matter of sex relations. The sex act itself is described in the classic Jewish sources as both good and holy. (David Feldman in “The Second Jewish Catalogue” Strassfeld and Strassfeld; p. 94)
  3. Sex is one important arena where this aspiration (holiness) must be manifest. Singling out one person as your marital partner through the Jewish betrothal ceremony is called, in Hebrew, kiddushin, the term indicates that each person is now uniquely the marital partner of the other and that their relationship should be one deserving of G-d’s blessing. Sex, as understood in the Jewish tradition, can distance one from G-d if one violates some of Judaism’s norms relevant to it, but sex can also bring human lives closer to G-d as one fulfills the divine purposes of companionship and procreation... Thus, sex, in the Jewish tradition, can be a vehicle not only for pleasure, celebration, and wholeness, but also for holiness. (Elliot Dorff; This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations; A paper of the Commission on Human Sexuality: The Rabbinical Assembly; p.13)

Discussion Sparks:

The Midrash wishes to makes a strong point when it mentions a forced separation of husbands and wives was enforced during the Egyptian slavery. Why would Egypt want to keep the slaves apart? What attitude does this enactment reflect? What does the Midrash above tell us about Judaism’s understanding of the role of sex in a person’s life? Where is marital sexual relations on the list of important values in Judaism? Let’s analyze modern society’s view of the role of sex in comparison with the traditional Jewish position? Is it a time for a change in this matter? What do you project it will be like in for the 22nd century?

Discussion Theme 2: Kindness and the Scorched Earth Battle Plan

Now the flax and barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud; but the wheat and the emmer were not hurt, for they ripen late (Exodus 9:31-32)

  1. Why does Pharaoh say “The Lord is righteous” (Ex. 9:27) at the time of the hail? Because before this plague he was warned to shelter the livestock and the people. (Hayyim Halpern; Torah Dialogues; Jewish Bible Association; p.52-53)
  2. It therefore seems that the miracle done here was simply bringing a plague that would not destroy unripe crops, although the Egyptians deserved to have all their crops destroyed. Instead, Hashem destroyed only the flax and the barley, while sparing the wheat and spelt, itself a great wonder... At first sight, it is difficult to understand why Hashem performed these miracles to allow the Egyptians to survive, From here, however, we can see a fundamental principle in Hashem’s conduct of the world: he inflicts punishment only because of the benefit that will come out of it. This is why Rashi gives a reason fro each of the plagues, since only by knowing the reason for their punishment would the Egyptians know why they had to repent. Thus the wheat and spelt were spared, even though that required a miracle, since an equal benefit could be realized from the plague without destroying them. (Moshe Feinstein; Darash Moshe; p. 103-104)

Discussion Sparks:

Humans plan the complete destruction of an enemy, but G-d seems to have a different strategy. Why do the plagues seem to have a purpose and a reason? What is it that G-d wants from the Egyptians and what does He want to teach the People of Israel? How does this plague help Pharaoh understand the G-d of Israel and us to understand G-d?

Why do you think the plagues do not stop here? Why are the next plagues part of the next parashah? (Hint: Follow the changes in Pharaoh’s reactions).


 
 
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