The MIGHTY vs the mighty
Parshat Va’Era opens with a quick flashback to just before and immediately after Moshe first spoke to the Israelites and the Pharaoh in Chapter 5.
First we are let in on the personal conversation between Adonai and Moshe (Chapter 6:2-8). Moshe does as HaShem commanded and the words of Adonai were delivered to both parties — the Israelites and the Pharaoh. In both cases they fell on deaf ears — the Israelites because they have been so numbed, dumbed-down and demoralized due to the extreme hardship of slave labor imposed on them; and Pharaoh because of his insolent and arrogant attitude.
In the earlier private conversation between HaShem and Moshe, he had complained to Him that because of his speech impediment he wasn’t fit for the task. Some in our tradition read this as a rebuke from HaShem because of Moshe’s complaining. They infer tone in the words used by HaShem. I have a different read on this.[* SEE Below]
The next several verses reveal the genealogy of a few of the tribes, Reuben and Simeon - due to their descendants rebellious role later in the telling - and most particularly the tribe of Levi, the tribe from which Moshe and his older brother Aharon came from. The Torah is adamant that these two men are indeed from the future priestly tribe, speak for HaShem and have been chosen to specifically lead the Israelite people out of the bondage from the land of Egypt.
*Once HaShem’s task for Moshe has been relayed to him, Moshe again states that he doesn’t think he is the man for the job. He reminds HaShem of his speech impediment, so how could he possibly speak for the perfect Creator of the universe? This was not done by Moshe because he was trying to get out of following HaShem’s call on his life; but, because, as we will learn from HaShem Himself later on, Moshe was the most humble man to have ever been born. Those forty years of exile from his royal position in the House of Pharaoh in Egypt, as well as the separation from his real and adopted family — living as a lowly shepherd in Midian — had been used by HaShem to make him the most humble and perfected servant and leader for the purpose of freeing and leading the Israelites and the giving of the Torah of Adonai to them and all of us. He was now ready and HaShem wasn’t going to let something as minor as a stuttering problem prevent Him from the deliverance of His people. So, he assigns Moshe’s big brother Aharon to stand by his side. Moshe would be the voice of Adonai and Aharon would relate that voice as his prophet speaking the words uttered to Moshe from HaShem.
There is only one real reason HaShem resorted to using marvels before Pharaoh and his court: the Egyptians were fixated on these kinds of productions as proof for one’s authority. That is why all the Pharaoh’s surrounded themselves with wizards, magicians and sorcerers to show forth his power over the elements realizing his right to rule. Therefore, when in Rome…
HaShem displayed for Pharaoh and all those with him the power and authority He had given to His spokesperson Moshe. And, the stage show began — rods turned to snakes, Nile turned to blood, swarms of frogs everywhere. However, every marvel done by HaShem through Moshe was duplicated by Pharaoh’s magic men. Yet, the one thing they could not do was stop what was begun. With Egypt now overrun with frogs Pharaoh sends for Moshe to remove them from his kingdom. Moshe says he would do it but only if Pharaoh lets the Israelite people go. Pharaoh agrees and at the time of the king’s choosing, Moshe calls out to HaShem and all the frogs die off leaving a horrendous stench throughout the land of Egypt. However, Pharaoh goes back on his word and refuses to let Moshe lead his people out of the kingdom.
For refusing to let His people go HaShem strikes the kingdom with a lice infestation and this marvel the Pharaoh’s sorcerers were not able to duplicate causing them to admit to their king that this was truly the “finger of G-d!” Yet, even with their confession Pharaoh’s arrogance would not allow himself to see the truth of it and he hardened his determination even more to keep the Israelites as slaves of Egypt.
Moshe returns to Pharaoh demanding he let the Israelites go and worship Adonai. Again, the king refuses so HaShem sends swarms of insects of different types against the House of Pharaoh and all the peoples of Egypt; all but Goshen, where the Israelites lived. They were spared — again to show Pharaoh and his subjects that Adonai favored His people Israel.
”I Adonai am in the midst of the land. And I make a distinction between My people and your people.” Exodus 8:19
The insects came, as promised and literally destroyed most of the crops and ruined the land throughout Egypt but Goshen, as promised was spared.
Pharaoh calls for Moshe and somewhat relents giving Moshe permission to worship and sacrifice to his G-d but only within the boundaries of Egypt. Moshe says to him — no can do. We must be allowed to go three days away beyond your borders… Pharaoh agrees and asks Moshe to pray for him and ask HaShem to remove the insect infestation. Moshe says he will but warns Pharaoh not to be deceptive and go back on his word.
Once HaShem removed the swarm of insects Pharaoh did exactly what he was warned not to do — went back on his word and refused to allow the Israelites to leave. The power of willful, stubborn arrogance to cause spiritual blindness is one of the world’s greatest mysteries and this particular Pharaoh was its poster child.
Before this betrayal all the marvels, as irritating and inconvenient as they were, did not yet strike at the very heart of the people of Egypt themselves. Their crops and land were hurt badly, but in that region they were use to those kinds of setbacks and the Nile would flood and refertilizes the land and crops could be resown anew. The next set of judgments of HaShem would now begin to inflict damage to the center of their economy and main protein food source — their livestock of every type. A great pestilence was loosed that infected and killed off most of their livestock. However, all the herds of Goshen were spared. Pharaoh only hardened in his resolve all the more.
Next, the Egyptian people themselves were struck down by an inflammatory skin disease causing severe itching from rashes leading to an outbreak of pustules and boils. This condition also afflicted what remained of the livestock and beasts they possessed that survived the previous plague. Even Pharaoh’s sorcerers and Pharaoh himself were afflicted, but this only served to harden Pharaoh’s stubbornness.
Moshe enters Pharaoh’s court once again this time bringing him a warning of a coming disaster of fiery hail storms hitting the land unless Pharaoh hears and abides by the word of HaShem to let his people go. Pharaoh, however, continues to ignore Moshe’s alarm.
”Throughout the land of Egypt the hail struck down all that were in the open both man and beast; the hail also struck down all the grasses of the field and shattered all the trees of the field. Only in the region of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.” Exodus 9:25-26
Once again Pharaoh calls for Moshe to stop the catastrophe and feigns how he will at last let HaShem’s people go. Moshe tells the king that he will call on Adonai to stop the hail, but says to him that this time he will not be fooled by the kings treachery.
”But I know that you and your courtiers do not yet fear Adonai.” Exodus 9:30
And, as suspected, once the hail stopped:
”So Pharaoh’s heart stiffened as he would not let the Israelites go, just as Adonai had foretold through Moshe.” Exodus 9:35
Pharaoh has yet to learn the length at which HaShem is willing to go to save and protect His people.
In next week’s parsha this powerful but arrogant leader of Egypt will come personally face-to-face with the wrath, vengeance, power and might of the true King of the Universe.