Editor's note: The Weekly HuffTorah Portion is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Vaera with interlinear Hebrew/English.
"I am Mercy," God says to Moses. "I revealed myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Judgment, but hid this, my true name, from them. I established my covenenat with them regarding Canaan. I heard the cries of the Children of Israel, and I remember that covenant. So say to them, 'I am God and I will redeem you from this slavery with an outstretched arm and miracles and judgment. I will take you as a people. I will be your God. I will bring you to your land. I am God.' Say this to them for me."
Moses tells the Children of Israel all of this. Gasping for breath, breaking their backs, the people do not hear him.
"OK, so the people can't hear you," God says. "Speak to Pharaoh. Tell him to send the my children out from his land."
"If they don't listen to me, why will Pharaoh? My lips are sealed."
God speaks to Moses and Aaron, commanding them to speak with Pharaoh and take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses and Aaron are from the families of Reuben, Simeon and Levi.
God speaks to Aaron and Moses, telling them to take the Children out of Israel according to their tribes. Moses and Aaron work as one person to fulfill God's charge.
God tells Moses, "I am God. Tell Pharaoh eveyrhing I have told you."
Moses: "Like I said, God, I have sealed lips. Why should Pharaoh listen?"
God: "I have made you a master over Pharaoh. Aaron will be your interpreter. Tell Pharaoh all of my commands. Aaron will explain that Pharaoh should send my children out. But I will harden Pharaoh's heart so that I may truly perform great miracles in Egypt. Pharaoh will not listen. And I will perform more miracles. Then, they will know. And I will take my children out."
Moses and Aaron listen and follow through. Moses is 80 and Aaron is 83 when they speak to Pharaoh with God's voice ringing in their ears: "Pharaoh will tell you to prove your words with a miracle. Take your staff and cast it before him. It will become a snake."
Pharaoh isn't impressed. His own sorcerers repeat the "miracle" tenfold. Aaron's staff swallows the Egyptian snakes, but Pharaoh's heart is hardened. He does not listen.
"His heart is heavy, I know," God says to Moses. "In the morning, when Pharaoh goes to the Nile, you will stand before him on the opposite bank. Take your staff and say to him, 'God, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say this: Let My People Go! You have not listened, but now you will know. I will strike the Nile and it will turn to blood and everything in it will die and reek. Your people will suffer.' Say this to Pharaoh and then tell Aaron to lift his staff above the waters, and they will turn to blood throughout Egypt."
Moses and Aaron do this. The Egyptian sorcerers come to the Nile. They too turn it to blood. And Pharaoh's heart is hardened. He does not listen. He wanders to his bloody home.
A week passes. God says to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh. Tell him to let my people go. Tell him that I will send a swarm of frogs to Egypt if he refuses. Billions of reckless frogs. They will invade your homes. They will invade your bodies. Tell Pharaoh this. Then, tell Aaron to raise his staff over the waters of Egypt. Frogs will come."
Aaron does this. The Egyptian sorcerers come and do the same thing. Frogs cover the land.
Pharaoh summons the brothers, saying, "Plead with your God to remove the frogs. I will send your people out of Egypt if he does this."
Moses: "When should I talk to God? And when should the frogs be removed?"
Pharaoh: "Plead now that they should be removed tomorrow!"
Moses speaks with God, and frogs all die and rot where they lay. And now the land really stinks. But Pharaoh's heart hardens again. He does not listen.
God says to Moses, "Tell Aaron to stretch his staff over the land of Egypt. Tell him to strike the land. It will become lice."
Aaron does this, and lice fills the land. The Egyptian sorcerers come and try to do this. They fail. They say to Pharaoh, "The finger of God!" But Pharaoh's heart is hardened. He does not listen.
God says to Moses, "Stand before Pharaoh when he goes to the water. Tell him what I will do. Tell him I will send snakes and scorpions and vicious beasts. Tell him I will fill the land. Tell him that I will set the Children of Israel apart and they will be unaffected. Tell him this will happen tomorrow."
God does this. The beasts destroy the land.
Pharaoh summons the messengers of God and says, "Go sacrifice to your God, but remain here in Egypt."
"We can't do that, Pharaoh," Moses says. "We will sacrifice an animal that you call divine. Your people will kill us for this. Let us leave the land for three days to worship."
"OK," Pharaoh says, "I will send you out if you don't go too far. Plead with God for me."
"I will. The wild animals will depart. But you should not continue to ridicule us." And Moses speaks to God, and God removes the beasts. But Pharaoh's heart is hardened, and he does not send the Children of Israel away.
God says to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh. Tell him to let my people go. Tell him I will send an epidemic to his livestock. Tell him the cattle of my people will be spared. Tell him this will happen tomorrow."
God does this. Pharaoh sees the destruction. His heart is hardened.
God says to Moses and Aaron, "Take handfuls of soot and throw it in the air before Pharaoh. It will become dust upon the earth. It will become boils upon man and beast throughout Egypt."
Moses and Aaron do this. Boils break out in the land. The sorcerers too are afflicted. But Pharaoh's heart is hardened.
God says to Moses, "Rise early. Stand before Pharaoh. Tell him to let my people go. Tell him I am sending a plague that by itself matches all the plagues before it. This will show him there is none like me. Tell him I could have killed all of Egypt with disease. Tell him I did not do this so that he would know who I am. Tell him I will rain hail upon Egypt. Tell him it will be unlike any hail Egypt has ever seen. Tell him that anything left in the field will die."
Whoever fears God, goes inside. Those who don't, don't.
God says to Moses, "Stretch out your hand, and hail will fall upon the earth."
Moses does this. Thunder and hail and fire come down upon the earth. The fire is inside the hail. Every tree, every animal, every thing outside is utterly broken. Only the land of the Children of Israel is spared.
Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron, and says to them, "I have sinned. God is righteous. My people are wicked. I am wicked. Plead with God to end this thunder, to cease this hail. I will send you away."
Moses: "I will spread my hands to God and all of this will stop. And you will know that Egypt belongs to God."
Moses does this. The fire-filled hail stops falling. Pharaoh sees this, but his heart is hardened. He does not let the Children of Israel go.
Questions for Reflection
Why does Aaron sometimes perform the miracles for God while Moses is silent and visa versa?
Why does Pharaoh want the frogs to be removed tomorrow rather than today?
Why can the Egyptian sorcerers replicate only the first few plagues?
Why is Pharaoh informed beforehand about only some of the plagues?
Why does God continue to harden Pharaoh's heart, even when seems to repent?
Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:
- Haftorah Vaera Summary (MJL)
- WATCH: The Animated Parshat Vaera (G-DCAST)
- Commentary: The Earth Is the Lord's (Canfei Nesharim)
- Commentary: Rashi on Parshat Vaera (Chabad)
- LISTEN: Land as a Spiritual Entity (AJWS)
- Commentary: Pharaoh Phone Home (Sixth St. Synagogue)
- Commentary: The Possibility of a Miracle (IYYUN)