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Overview of Parshat Vaeira

by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky

Chumash Shemot

  

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Parashat Vaeira encompasses the first seven of the ten plagues, the cataclysms G-d utilized to demonstrate to the Jews, the Egyptians, and the whole world that He is the sole master over creation and all its forces. In this context, the term Vaeira (“And I appeared”) is quite applicable to the content of the parashah: G-d “comes out of hiding,” as it were, and manifests His supernatural, miraculous power before all humanity.

However, let us recall that the opening words of this parashah are part of G-d’s answer to Moses’ incriminating question at the end of the previous parashah: “O G-d, why have You mistreated this people?” Although we have seen that, in the larger perspective, Moses did not question G-d’s justice with these words, their contextual meaning is that he did. In this context, the parashah’s opening words are G-d’s rebuke to Moses; G-d takes Moses to task for questioning His justice. This is certainly interesting, but it must also be relevant; the Torah would not have recorded an incident that apparently reflects so disparagingly on Moses unless there was some lesson for us in it.

That lesson emerges when we consider the background of Moses’ question. Moses was raised in the home of Amram, the most illustrious Jew in his generation, the eldest son of the eldest son of Levi, whose tribe selflessly devoted itself to preserving the teachings and traditions the nation received from the patriarchs. Thus, Moses was certainly well-schooled in his youth regarding the patriarchs and matriarchs and their devoted, unquestioning faith in G-d, which they retained even when that faith had been severely tested.

The opening words of this parashah are part of G-d's answer to Moses' incriminating question at the end of the previous parashah: 'O G-d, why have You mistreated this people?'
But he also knew that G-d is supposed to be kind and merciful, that the Jews are His chosen people, and that their unbearable suffering had exceeded any rational justification. He therefore candidly cried out, screamed, and pleaded: “O G-d, why have You mistreated this people?!”

The fact that G-d immortalized this outcry by recording it in the Torah implies that Moses’ mistake was not complaining against G-d per se, but rather something else.

G-d tells Moses what that missing “something else” was by beginning His rebuke with the words: “I am G-d, and I appeared,” or literally, “and I was seen.” Of course, it is impossible to see G-d, for G-d has no physical form that can be captured by our sense of sight. But by couching His revelation in these terms, G-d is saying that it is possible to be as certain of His reality as we are certain about what we have seen with our own eyes.

Seeing something makes a deep impression on us; we trust the truth of what we see implicitly. For this reason, someone who witnesses an incident that is later brought to court cannot serve as a judge for that case. His memory of what he saw renders him impervious to the arguments of the litigants, which cannot sway his version of the events.1 (In contrast, when we simply hear about something from someone else, a third party can contest the veracity of what we heard and even succeed in convincing us otherwise.)

Thus, G-d told Moses: “Of course you believe in Me. You have absorbed the teachings of your family and do not doubt Me. But you must nurture your faith further, until it becomes so concrete that you virtually see Me in creation—that your are so sure of My reality that nothing can sway your conviction of it. Then, you will not be troubled by the contradiction between your faith and what your intellect tells you.”

Footnotes

  • 1. Rosh HaShanah 26a.

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Shabbat » Reading of the Torah » Torah Reading

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