Parashat Vaera

The Earth is the Lord's

Modern-day plagues are occurring with greatly increasing frequency around the world.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

Divine chastisement, brought in the form of affliction and suffering, can be an effective, if undesirable, instrument for individual and social learning. The ten plagues that God visits on the Egyptians and their Pharaoh in this week's portion Vaera (as well as in next week's portion Bo) publicly demonstrate God's power to both Egypt and Israel.

canfei nesharimIn the warnings and reproofs accompanying the plagues, God and Moses use ten variations of the phrase "to know the Lord." After Pharaoh beseeches Moses to end the seventh plague of hail, Moses tells him it will stop once he (Moses) leaves the city and spreads out his hands to God.

Moses admonishes Pharaoh: "That you may know that the earth belongs to the Lord (Exodus 9:29)." This phrase, expressing the dominion of God and the limits to humans' power and control over the earth, has relevance for and resonance with modern man's place in the world and humanity's role in the current environmental predicament.

The Plague of Hail

The plague of hail was qualitatively much harsher than the ones preceding it, and God's forewarning was correspondingly the longest and most severe until then. In this warning, however, was a strong measure of Divine compassion for the Egyptians. God urges them to bring in their servants and animals from the field to spare them from destruction. The God-fearing among the Egyptians heeded and lived, while the heedless perished (Exodus 9:19-21). 

It was this Divine compassion that moved Pharaoh to repent, albeit temporarily, for the first time following a plague. Pharaoh summons Moses and declares: "This time I have sinned; The Lord is the Righteous One; and I and my people are the villains (Exodus 9:27)." Here Moses describes how he will leave the city and spread out his hands to heaven, upon which God will stop the hail "that you may know that the earth belongs to the Lord."

The instant cessation of the unprecedented torrential hail and thunder displays the supernatural, miraculous quality of God's control over meteorological phenomena. The Daat Mikra commentary (Israel, 20th century) explains "'That you may know': Your request will be granted, and the plague removed, not because you can be trusted to fulfill your promise to let the people go, but rather so that it will be proved to you and you will know that the earth is under God's control, and He can do what He wants with it--at His word it hails, and at His word it ceases."

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Dr. David L. Goldblatt

David L. Goldblatt received degrees from Brown University and Yale University and a doctorate in environmental science from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). He is currently a research consultant in energy and the environment for industry, ETH, and other universities, and he co-directs the translation and editing firm editranslate.com. Dr. Goldblatt lives in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife and four children.