Commentary on Parashat Vaera, Exodus 6:2 - 9:35
God spoke to Moses, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God but I did not make Myself known to them by My other name (which is neither pronounced nor translated). I established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan. I have heard the moaning of the Israelite slaves. I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through miracles. I will take you to be My people and I will be your God. You shall know that I am God who freed you from your labors in Egypt and gave you the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Moses Struggles With God’s Command
The Lord told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. But Moses retorted, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!”
The Lord replied to Moses, “I place you in the role of god to Pharaoh with your brother Aaron as your prophet. You shall repeat all that I command you and Aaron shall speak to the Pharaoh. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that I may multiply My signs and marvels in the land of Egypt. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord when I deliver the Israelites from their midst.”
Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83 when they made their demand on Pharaoh. The Lord told Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to ‘produce your miracles,’ then cast your rod before Pharaoh and it shall turn into a serpent.”
Moses and Aaron Perform Miracles
Moses and Aaron did as God commanded. Pharaoh summoned his magicians and they turned their rods into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods. Yet Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he did not heed them, just as the Lord predicted.
God then commanded Moses, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning when he is coming out of the Nile river. Tell him to let the Israelites go to worship Me in the wilderness. Tell him that I will show I am God by striking the river’s water with the rod, turning it into blood and killing all the fish. All the waters in Egypt, even in the vessels, shall turn to blood.”
Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded and the waters turned into blood and the fish died. But when Pharaoh’s magicians did the same with their spells, Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he refused to let the Israelites go.
Seven days later, God told Moses to say to Pharaoh that “if he refuses to let the people go, I will plague the country and his palace and the people’s homes with frogs.” And frogs appeared everywhere. But the magicians also brought frogs upon the land.
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron saying, “Plead with the Lord to remove the frogs and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.”
“I will do it so that you learn that there is none like the Lord our God,” Moses answered. Then Moses pleaded to God and God killed the frogs. The people piled the dead frogs in heaps and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he became stubborn and would not let the people go, just as God had predicted.
The Lord told Moses to say to Aaron, “Hold out your rod and strike the dust of the earth and it shall turn to lice throughout the land of Egypt.” They did so and vermin came upon man and beasts throughout Egypt. The magicians tried to produce lice with their spells, but they could not. “This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to the Pharaoh. But Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he would not heed them, just as God had predicted.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go again to Pharaoh and tell him that if he does not let the people go, I will let loose a swarm of insects. These insects shall swarm all over Egypt, but in the land of Goshen, where My people dwell, there shall be none. Thus shall Pharaoh know that I, the Lord, God, makes a distinction between My people and the Pharaoh’s people.” And God did so, and throughout Egypt the land was ruined by swarms of insects.
Let My People Go
Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron saying, “Go and sacrifice to God within the land.”
“It would not be right for us to do this,” Moses replied, “because what God commands us to sacrifice is sacred to the Egyptians. If we do so before their very eyes, they will stone us. So we must go a distance of three days in the wilderness to do these sacrifices.”
“If you will remove these insects,” agreed the Pharaoh, “I will let you go do your sacrifices in the wilderness, but do not go very far.”
“And,” Moses added, “do not let Pharaoh act deceitfully again and not let the people go.”
Moses asked the Lord to remove all the swarms of insects from the land and God did so. But Pharaoh became stubborn and would not let the people go.
God said to Moses, “Tell the Pharaoh that if he refuses to let My people go, then I will strike Egyptian livestock with a severe pestilence, but the Israelite livestock shall not be struck.” And the Lord did just that. But the Pharaoh still would not let the people go.
Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Each of you take handfuls of soot from the kiln and let Moses throw it toward the sky in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become a fine dust over all the land and cause boils on man and beast.” And it was done just like that. The magicians were unable to confront Moses because of their own boils. But God stiffened the heart of Pharaoh and he would not let the people go, just as God had foretold.
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Pharaoh that this time I shall send all My plagues upon him and his people in order that Pharaoh may know that there is none like Me in all the world. Tell him that I could have killed him by now, but I have spared him to show My power so that My fame may resound throughout the world. Tell him that this time tomorrow I shall rain down a heavy hail such has never been seen before and to bring the livestock inside shelter.”
Pharaoh’s Heart Hardens Once Again
The courtiers who feared God brought their livestock inside and those who did not fear God left them out in the open. Then thunder and hail and fire streamed down on the ground of Egypt. Anything in the open was struck down, as well as all the grasses and trees. Only in the region of Goshen where the Israelites stayed, there was no hail.
Pharaoh then sent for Aaron and Moses and said, “I am guilty this time. The Lord is in the right and my people are wrong. Plead with the Lord to end this thunder and hail and I will let you go.”
Moses replied, “As I go out of the city I shall spread out my hands to the Lord. Then the thunder and hail will cease and you will know that the earth is the Lord’s. But I know that you and your courtiers do not yet fear the Lord God.” And Moses did as he said but when Pharaoh saw the hail and thunder cease, he reverted to his guilty ways. Pharaoh’s heart stiffened and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had foretold through Moses.
Parashat Vaera Discussion Questions
1. What does it mean that God will take the Israelites as God’s people? Are not all people God’s people? Why or why not?
2. What does it mean the God placed Moses in the role of god to Pharaoh? What is the difference between God (upper case G) and a god (lower case g)? How can anyone be “a god” to someone? Is there anyone in your life who is “a god” to you?
3. How is Aaron a prophet? What is a prophet? Is there a difference between Moses as a prophet and Aaron as a prophet? If so, what?
4. The text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. How does God do this? Is it possible to separate God hardening Pharaoh’s heart from Pharaoh making this decision himself? If so, how?
5. Do you believe God could make such plagues? Can God still make such plagues? Do you think there are plagues today that God makes? If so, what are the plagues God is making today?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!