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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT VA-ERA
January 4, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 6:2-9:35 (Hertz, p. 232)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 7:8 - 8:15 (Hertz, p. 236)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9 - 15 (Rosh Hodesh Shevat) (Hertz, p. 695)
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1 - 24 (Hertz, p. 944)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(6:2-9) God reminds Moses of the Covenant He made with the patriarchs, and announces to him the coming redemption of the Israelites from slavery. Moses tells the Israelites, but they are too fearful to listen to him. (6:10-13) Moses is disheartened, and reluctant to go before Pharaoh.

(6:14-27) The genealogy of the tribe of Levi.

(6:28-30) Moses continues to doubt his ability to carry out his task, saying: I am of impeded speech.

(7:1-7) God encourages Moses and Aaron by giving him a glimpse of the successful future of their mission.

(7:8-13) Moses and Aaron demonstrate their miraculous sign before Pharaoh: the staff transformed into a serpent. Pharaoh's magicians duplicate this feat, but then Aaron's "snake" swallows up theirs.

(7:14-25) The ten plagues begin. The first is the turning of the River Nile into blood.

(7:26-8:11) The second plague: frogs.

(8:12-15) The third plague: lice.

(8:16-28) The fourth plague: beasts.

Discussion Theme: Gratitude

"Thus says the Lord, 'By this you shall know that I am the Lord.' See, I shall strike the water in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood... And the Lord said to Moses, 'Say to Aaron: Take your rod and hold out your arm over the waters of Egypt... that they may turn to blood....And the Lord said to Moses, 'Say to Aaron: Hold out your arm with the rod over the rivers'... Aaron held out his arm over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt... Then the Lord said to Moses, '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." (Exodus 7:17, 19, 8:1, 2, 8:12)

  1. Rabbi Tanchum said: Why didn't Moses smite the water, but Aaron did in his stead? The Holy Blessed One said to Moses: the waters that protected you when you were thrown into the Nile, it would be wrong for you, Moses, to strike them. They will be smitten not by you but by Aaron. (Exodus Rabbah 9:10)
  2. Rabbi Tanchum said: Said the Holy Blessed One to Moses: The dust that protected you after you killed the Egyptian, it would not be right for it to be smitten by you. Therefore, these first three plagues were brought on by Aaron. (Exodus Rabbah 10:7)
  3. "We proclaim that You are Adonai our God and God of our ancestors throughout all time. You are the Rock of our lives, the Shield of our salvation in every generation. We thank You and praise You for our lives that are in Your hand, for our souls that are in Your charge, for Your miracles that daily attend us, and for Your wonders and gifts that accompany us evening, morning, and noon. You are good, Your mercy everlasting; You are compassionate, Your kindness never-ending. We have always placed our hope in You... Praised are You Adonai, the essence of goodness, worthy of gratitude." (Modim Anachnu Lach, Daily Prayerbook)
  4. Ben Zoma used to say: What does a good guest say? 'How much trouble has my host gone to for me. How much meat he set before me. How much wine he brought me. How many cakes he served me. And all this trouble he has gone to for my sake!' But what does a bad guest say? 'What kind of effort did the host make for me? I have eaten only one slice of bread. I have eaten only one piece of meat, and I have drunk only one cup of wine! Whatever trouble the host went to was done only for the sake of his wife and children. (Talmud Bavli Berachot 58a)
  5. One who learns from another individual a single chapter, a single law, a single verse, a single expression, or even a single letter, should accord him respect. (Avot 6:3)
  6. I did not make the air I breathe/Nor the sun that warms me... I did not endow the muscles/Of hand and brain/With the strength/To plough and plant and harvest... I know/I am not/A self-made man." (Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser)
  7. Most societies value the expression of appreciation and recognize its ability to smooth the rough edges of interpersonal relations. For this reason, we make a point of teaching our children to express thanks from a very early age. We strive to instill gratitude as a habit, even if at times we know the feeling behind the gesture may be lacking. We sense intuitively that a society which devalues or denigrates the concept of gratitude-that defines relationships by functionality alone-cannot, and probably ought not to, thrive... The structure of giving thanks on a regular basis, even in hard times, encourages us to focus on the positive side of life. It does not mean that we forget the dark side, just that we keep a true perspective, giving the positive side its due... In the end, feeling and expressing gratitude is good for us. The Almighty does not 'need' our thanksgiving. It is we who benefit from feeling and expressing it." (Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz)
  8. We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity... But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own." (Abraham Lincoln)

Sparks for Reflection:

The point of the midrash on our parashah is that if Moses was to express gratitude to inanimate objects, then certainly we should be grateful to all those people who are responsible for who are what we are. As Rabbi Steinsaltz notes, expressing gratitude is not only the essence of menschlichkeit, it is also the essence of happiness. How do we cultivate that sense of awe and gratitude in a world where it so easy to complain and be cynical? Why is it that so many of us have what Rabbi Joseph Telushkin once called "emotional constipation," an inability to express love and gratitude, to thank those dear to us for specific favors and acts of kindness?


 
 
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