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Torah Sparks

VAERA
January 12, 2002 - 5762

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

Annual Cycle: Exodus 6:2 - 9:35 (Hertz, p. 232; Etz Hayim, p. 351)
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 6:2 - 7:7 (Hertz, p. 232; Etz Hayim, p. 351)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21 (Hertz, p. 244; Etz Hayim, p. 369)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(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 Nileinto 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.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Human Rights and Rebellion"

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Go in, speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt,that he let the children of Israel go out of his land." (Exodus 6:11)

  1. "They are MY servants" (Lev. 25:55) - "Not servants' servants" (Bava Metzia 10a)
  2. Repeatedly, Hebrew Prophets would rebuke ruling kings when they overly abused their powers and committed gross injustices. Several instances of this may be seen when Nathan rebukes David (II Samuel 12:1- 15), Elijah castigates Ahab (I Kings 21:17 - 24) and when Amos defies Amaziah the priest of Beth-El and Jeroboam, king of Israel. (Amos 7:10-17) - (Author)
  3. Since we, long ago, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God, who alone is the true and just Lord of humankind, the time has now come that obliges us to make that resolution true to practice....We were the very first that revolted from them, and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom, which has not been the case of others..." (The final address of Jewish revolt leader Eleazar ben Yair as reported by Josephus Flavius, The Jewish War, bk. 7, ch. 8)
  4. Mattathias replied in a ringing voice: "Though all the nations within the king's dominions obey him and forsake their ancestral worship, though they have chosen to submit to his commands, yet I and my sons and brothers will follow the covenant of our ancestors... We will not obey the command of the king... " (I Maccabees, 2:1, 15 - 28)
  5. Even as there are times when a Jew is obligated to willingly give up his life for oav ause - the "sanctification of God's Name" - so too there is a time when it is incumbent upon a Jew not only to preserve his life, but to rise up and fight with every means at his command against the dangers of tyranny. (Meyer Blumenfeld, "Sanctifying God's Name Through Rebellion" sermon, RCA Manual, 1959, p. 183)
  6. Long live the fraternity of blood and weapons in a fighting Poland! Long live Freedom! Death to the hangman and the killers! We must continue our mutual struggle against the occupier until the very end! (Manifesto of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, April 23, 1943)
  7. I am happy that I helped my people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honest, brave, and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of the Jews of the U.S.S.R. I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people (Anatoly Shcharansky, before being sentenced by a Moscow court, July 14, 1978)
  8. To speak in the accents and with the passion of the biblical Prophets is hardly to invent a new theology. It seems to me that if indeed we are neither prophets nor the children of prophets, we are the descendants of those who preferred the desert to slavery, who understood that God wants all peoples to be free, and who brought the message of ethical monotheism to the world... There is simply no way of permitting the abuse of human rights in the name of, or with the approval of, Judaism. Nor is there any way in reading the texts that perm it us to look the other way and thus be guilty of sins of omission or acquiescence. (Rabbi Marshall Meyer, human rights activist, founder of the Seminario Rabinico Latinamericano in Argentina. Talk at Hebrew University, January 21, 1992)
  9. Oh, what a joy simply to dream that one day a President of the United States will put his arm around that good man, the Dalai Lama, smile pleasantly into the camera and say, "Well, the Chinese Communist can just stick it in their ears" (A.M. Rosenthal,The New York Times, March 14, 1990)

"Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Our Theme

The United States has in recent years maintained a very strong foreign policy of protecting the human rights of individuals who live under oppressive regimes. Sanctions have been leveled by the U.S.against a number of countries which have consistently violated such rights. Certainly, as Jews, such a stance is very much in keeping with our tradition as seen in the pertinent quotations above and in particular, in accordance with the entire thrust of the Exodus "liberation-from-slavery" saga.

Nonetheless, some maintain that it is not in our national interest to do so. Howstrong should our stance be in this matter vis-a-vis authoritarian overnments such as China, etc?

Also, while we are on the subject, we might want to examine the human rights cord, past and present, of both Israeland its Arab neighbors. What has been said regarding this matter? How accurate is what's being said?

Finally, in this post-September 11th era, do you think that the United States government is justified in its recent requests for certain emergency anti-terrorism powers or might they be regarded as potential civil liberties violations and a cause for concern?


 
 
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