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Va'eira, Va'era, or Vaera (וארא — Hebrew for “and I appeared” the first word that God speaks in the parshah, in Exodus 6:3) is the fourteenth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the second in the Book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 6:2–9:35. Jews in the Diaspora read it the fourteenth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in January.

Summary

God spoke to Moses, identified Himself as the God of the Patriarchs, and acknowledged hearing the moaning of the Israelites. ( Ex. 6:2–4.) God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites that God would free them, make them God’s people, and bring them to the Promised Land. ( Ex. 6:6–8.) But the Israelites would not listen. ( Ex. 6:9.) God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, but Moses complained that Pharaoh would not heed him, a man of impeded speech. ( Ex. 6:10–12.)

The text interjects a partial genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, and finally Levi, including Moses and his family. ( Ex. 6:14–25.)

God placed Aaron in the role of Moses’ prophet, to speak to Pharaoh. ( Ex. 7:1–2.) God intended to harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that God might show signs and marvels. ( Ex. 7:3.) God told how Aaron could cast down his rod and it would turn into a snake, and Aaron did so before Pharaoh. ( Ex. 7:9–10.) Pharaoh caused his magicians to do the same, but Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods. ( Ex. 7:11–12.) Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. ( Ex. 7:13.)

The plagues of Egypt

God began visiting ten plagues on Egypt. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh at his morning bath, demand of him to let the Israelites go to worship in the wilderness, and have Aaron strike the Nile with his rod and turn it into blood. ( Ex. 7:14–18.) Moses and Aaron did so, and the fish died and the Nile stank. ( Ex. 7:20–21.) But when the Egyptian magicians did the same, Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. ( Ex. 7:22–23.)Seven days later, God told Moses to have Aaron hold his arm with the rod over the river and bring up frogs, and they did so. ( Ex. 7:25–8:2.) The magicians did the same. ( Ex. 8:3.) Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron to plead with God to remove the frogs; Moses did so, but Pharaoh became stubborn. ( Ex. 8:4–11.)

God told Moses to have Aaron strike the dust with his rod, to turn it to lice throughout the land, and they did so. ( Ex. 8:12–13.) The magicians tried to do the same, but they could not. ( Ex. 8:14.) The magicians told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart stiffened. ( Ex. 8:15.)
God loosed swarms of insects against the Egyptians, but not Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. ( Ex. 8:16–20.) Pharaoh told Moses and Aaron to go sacrifice to God within Egypt, but Moses insisted on going three days into the wilderness. ( Ex. 8:21–23.) Pharaoh agreed, in exchange for Moses’ prayer to lift the plague. ( Ex. 8:24.) But when God removed the insects, Pharaoh became stubborn again. ( Ex. 8:27–28,)

God struck the Egyptian’s livestock with a pestilence, sparing the Israelites’ livestock. ( Ex. 9:1–6.) But Pharaoh remained stubborn. ( Ex. 9:7.)

God told Moses to take handfuls of soot from the kiln and throw it toward the sky, so that it would become a fine dust, causing boils on man and beast throughout Egypt, and he did so. ( Ex. 9:8–10.) But God stiffened Pharaoh’s heart. ( Ex. 9:12.)

God told Moses to threaten Pharaoh with hail. ( Ex. 9:13–19.) Those who feared God’s word brought their slaves and livestock indoors. ( Ex. 9:20.) God sent thunder and hail, which struck down all exposed in Egypt, but did not strike Goshen. ( Ex. 9:23–26.) Pharaoh confessed his wrong, agreed to let the Israelites go, and asked Moses and Aaron to pray to end the hail. ( Ex. 9:27–28.) Moses did so, but Pharaoh reverted to his guilty ways. ( Ex. 9:33–34.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Exodus chapter 6

Rabbi Simai found evidence for the resurrection of the dead in the words, “And I also have established my covenant with them (the Patriarchs) to give them the land of Canaan,” in Rabbi Simai noted that does not say “to give you” but “to give them,” implying that God would give the land to the Patriarchs personally, and thus that God would resurrect them so as to fulfill the promise. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b.)

A Baraita deduced from that the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt ended on Rosh Hashanah. The Baraita noted that uses the word “burden” to describe the end of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, and uses the word “burden” to describe the end of Joseph’s imprisonment, and the Baraita deduced that the two events must therefore have occurred at the same time of year. The Baraita further deduced from the words, “Blow the horn on the new moon, on the covering day for our festival . . . He appointed it for Joseph for a testimony when he went forth,” in that Joseph went forth from the prison on Rosh Hashanah. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a–b.)

Rabbi Nehemiah cited the use of the words “will bring you out” in to demonstrate that using the word hamotzi in the blessing over bread would mean that God “will bring forth” bread from the land — not that God “has brought forth” bread from the land. Rabbi Nehemiah thus read to mean: “I am the Lord, the One Who will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” The Gemara reported that the Rabbis of a Baraita, however, read to mean: “When I shall bring you out, I will do for you something that will show you that I am the One Who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 38a.)

The Jerusalem Talmud cited the four promises of salvation in (1) “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,” (2) “I will deliver you from their bondage,” (3) “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm,” and (4) “I will take you to Me for a people,” as one reason why Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder. (Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:1.) And thus the Mishnah taught that “On the eve of Passover, . . . even the poorest man in Israel must not eat until he reclines; and they (the overseers of charity) should give him not less than four cups of wine.” ( Mishnah Pesachim 10:1; Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 99b; see also Exodus Rabbah 4:4.)

A Baraita taught that Rabbi Simai deduced from the similarity of the phrases “And I will take you to me for a people” and “And I will bring you in to the land” in that the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt occurred under circumstances similar to their entry into the Land of Israel. Rabbi Simai thus deduced that just as only two out of 600,000 (Caleb and Joshua) entered the Promised Land, so only two out of every 600,000 Israelites in Egypt participated in the Exodus, and the rest died in Egypt. Raba taught that it will also be so when the Messiah comes that only a small portion of Jews will find redemption, for says, “And she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the days when she came up out of the land of Egypt,” implying that circumstances upon the coming of the Messiah will be similar to those upon the Israelites’ entry into the Land of Israel. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 111a.)
The Gemara asked why the Tannaimmarker felt that the allocation of the Land of Israel “according to the names of the tribes of their fathers” in meant that the allocation was with reference to those who left Egypt; perhaps, the Gemara supposed, it might have meant the 12 tribes and that the Land was to be divided into 12 equal portions? The Gemara noted that in God told Moses to tell the Israelites who were about to leave Egypt, “And I will give it you for a heritage; I am the Lord,” and that meant that the Land was the inheritance from the fathers of those who left Egypt. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 117b.)

Rabbi Simeon noted that in nearly every instance, the Torah mentioned Moses before Aaron, but mentioned Aaron before Moses, teaching that the two were deemed equivalent. (Tosefta Keritot 4:15.) The Gemara taught that the use of the pronoun “he (hu)” in an introduction, as in the words “These are (hu) that Aaron and Moses” in signifies that they were the same in their righteousness from the beginning to the end. Similar uses appear in to teach Abraham’s enduring righteousness, in to teach David’s enduring humility, in to teach Esau’s enduring wickedness, in to teach Dathan and Abiram’s enduring wickedness, in to teach Ahaz’s enduring wickedness, and in to teach Ahasuerus’s enduring wickedness. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 11a.)

Exodus chapter 7

The Tosefta cited where the lesser Aaron spoke for the greater Moses, for the proposition that in synagogue reading, a minor may translate for an adult, but it is not honorable for an adult to translate for a minor. (Tosefta Megillah 3:21.)

Rabbi Aibu bar Nagri said in the name of Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba that the words “with their enchantments” in refer to sorcery without exogenous assistance, while the words “with their sorcery” in refer to magic through the agency of demons. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

Abitol the barber, citing Rab, said that the Pharaoh whom Moses addressed was a puny fellow, a cubit tall, with a beard as long as he was tall, embodying the words in that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and . . . sets up over it the lowest of men.” And Abitol the barber, citing Rab, deduced from the words “Pharaoh . . . goes out to the water” in that this Pharaoh was a magus who went to the water to perform sorcery. (Babylonian Talmud Moed Katan 18a.)

A midrash cited as one proof for the proposition that God does all things together: God puts to death and brings to life at the same time; God wounds and heals at the same time. And thus the midrash noted, in “all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood,” and later, the blood became water again. (Exodus Rabbah 28:4.)

The Gemara deduced from the use of the word for fish, dagah, in the phrase “And the fish that were in the river died” in that the word dagah applies to fish both large and small. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 51b.)
A midrash taught that the frogs were the most grievous of the ten plagues. The midrash taught that the frogs destroyed the Egyptians’ bodies, as says “frogs . . . destroyed them,” and the frogs emasculated the Egyptians, as says that the frogs would “come into . . . [the Egyptians’] bed-chamber, and upon [their] bed.” The midrash taught that the frogs told the Egyptians that the coinage of their gods was abolished, and the Egyptians’ own coinage — their ability to procreate — was also rendered invalid. The midrash reasoned that as the word “destroyed” in applied to checking procreation in the passage about Onan’s seed, as “he destroyed it on the ground,” so the midrash reasoned that means to convey that the Egyptians’ procreation was checked as well when it says, “frogs . . . destroyed them.” And the midrash deduced that the frogs spoke because says, “concerning the frogs,” and the words for “concerning,” al debar, may also be read, “because of the words of.” (Exodus Rabbah 25:27.)

Thaddeus of Rome taught that Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) delivered themselves to the Fiery Furnace to sanctify the Divine Name in because they deduced from that the frogs of the plague, which had not been commanded to sanctify the Divine Name, nonetheless jumped into hot ovens at God’s behest. So Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah reasoned that people, whom does command to sanctify the Divine Name, should be willing to bear hot ovens for that reason. Thaddeus of Rome deduced that the ovens into which the frogs jumped were hot from the proximity of the words “ovens” and “kneading troughs” in reasoning that kneading troughs are found near ovens when ovens are hot. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 53b.)

The Tosefta deduced from that Pharaoh began to sin first before the people, and thus as indicated by and 8:4, God struck him first and then the people. (Tosefta Sotah 4:12.)

Exodus chapter 8

Rabbi Eleazar taught that when reports that “the frog came up, and covered the land of Egypt,” it was initially just one frog, which bred prolifically and filled the land. The Tannaim disputed the matter. Rabbi Akiba said that one frog filled the whole of Egypt by breeding. But Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah chastised Akiba for dabbling in aggadah, and taught that one frog croaked for others, and they joined the first frog. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

A midrash interpreted the words of “A man’s pride shall bring him low; but he that is of a lowly spirit shall attain to honor,” to apply to Pharaoh and Moses, respectively. The midrash taught that the words, “A man’s pride shall bring him low,” apply to Pharaoh, who in haughtily asked, “Who is the Lord that I should hearken to His voice?” and so, as reports, God “overthrew Pharaoh and his host.” And the midrash taught that the words, “but he that is of a lowly spirit shall attain to honor,” apply to Moses, who in humbly asked Pharaoh, “Have this glory over me; at what time shall I entreat for you . . . that the frogs be destroyed,” and was rewarded in with the opportunity to say, “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread forth my hands to the Lord [and] the thunders shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail.” (Numbers Rabbah 13:3.)

Rabbi Eleazar deduced from the magicians’ recognition of “the finger of God” in that a demonic spirit cannot produce a creature less than a barleycorn in size. Rav Papa said that a spirit cannot even produce something the size of a camel, but a spirit can collect the elements of a larger object and thus produce the illusion of creating it, but a spirit cannot do even that with a smaller object. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 67b.)

Rabbi Jose the Galilean reasoned that as the phrase “the finger of God” in referred to 10 plagues, “the great hand” (translated “the great work”) in (in connection with the miracle of the Reed Sea) must refer to 50 plagues upon the Egyptians, and thus to a variety of cruel and strange deaths. (Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Beshallah 7; Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon 26:6; see also Exodus Rabbah 5:14, 23:9.) And Rabbi Phinehas ben Hama reasoned that as the phrase “the finger of God” in referred to 10 plagues, “the hand of God” in (in connection with Job’s poverty) must refer to 50 plagues. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 116a; see also Exodus Rabbah 23:9.)

Exodus chapter 9

The Pharisees noted that while in Pharaoh asked who God was, once God had smitten him, in Pharaoh acknowledged that God was righteous. Citing this juxtaposition, the Pharisees complained against heretics who placed the name of earthly rulers above the name of God. (Mishnah Yadayim 4:8.)

Commandments

According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are no commandments in the parshah. (Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Cairomarker, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:93. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is Ezekiel 28:25–29:21. Both the parshah and the haftarah describe God’s instructions to a prophet to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and bring on Israel’s redemption. Both the parshah and the haftarah address God’s judgments (shefatim) against Pharaoh and Egypt. ( ) A monster (tannin) plays a role in both the parshah and the haftarah: In the parshah, God turns Moses’ rod into a monster ( ); the haftarah describes Pharaoh as a monster. ( ) In both the parshah and the haftarah, God attacks the river ( ) and kills fish. ( ) In both the parshah and the haftarah, God’s actions would cause the Egyptians to know (ve-yade’u) God. ( 6, 16, 21.) And in both the parshah and the haftarah, God proclaims, “I am the Lord.” ( )

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

  • Ezekiel the Tragedian. Exagōgē. 2nd Century B.C.E. Translated by R.G. Robertson. In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic works. Edited by James H. Charlesworth, 814. New York: Anchor Bible, 1985. ISBN 0-385-18813-7.
Philo
Josephus

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Pesachim 10:1; Shevuot 5:3; Yadayim 4:8. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 249, 630, 1131. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Megillah 3:21; Sotah 4:12; Keritot 4:15. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 649, 848, 1571. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 10:1. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E.
  • Genesis Rabbah 1:15; 5:7; 18:5; 19:7; 37:3; 46:1, 5; 82:3; 88:5; 92:7; 96, 97. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 1:14, 37–38, 144, 153, 296, 389, 392; 2:754, 816, 853, 898, 929. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael Beshallah 7. Land of Israel, late 4th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:169–70. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-237-2. And Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Z. Lauterbach, 1:166. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1933, reissued 2004. ISBN 0-8276-0678-8.
  • Mekhilta of Rabbi Simeon 2:1–2, 5; 3:1; 15:4–5; 16:1, 4; 19:4; 21:4; 22:6; 26:3, 6; 35:1; 47:2. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai. Translated by W. David Nelson, 5–7, 9–11, 50–51, 54, 56, 78–79, 89, 93, 114, 117, 150, 209. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2006. ISBN 0-8276-0799-7.
Talmud
  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 38a, 54b; Eruvin 83b; Pesachim 53b, 99b; Rosh Hashanah 11b; Megillah 11a; Moed Katan 6a, 18a; Chagigah 13b; Nedarim 51b; Sotah 11b, 43a; Bava Kamma 80b; Bava Batra 91a, 109b–10a, 116a, 117b; Sanhedrin 12a, 58b, 67b, 82b, 90b, 111a; Shevuot 35b; Menachot 68b, 84a; Chullin 134a; Bekhorot 41a. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.

Medieval

  • Rashi. Commentary. Exodus 6–9. Troyesmarker, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 2:53–90. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-027-7.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 1:25; 2:2. Toledomarker, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 46, 86. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
Hobbes
  • Exodus Rabbah 5:14, 6:1–12:7, 23:9, 25:27, 28:4. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman, vol. 3. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Zohar 2:22a–32a. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.

Modern

Mann
  • Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 788. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
  • Ziony Zevit. “Three Ways to Look at the Ten Plagues: Were They Natural Disasters, A Demonstration of the Impotence of the Egyptian Gods or an Undoing of Creation?” Bible Review 6 (3) (June 1980).
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 14. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • John E. Currid. “Why Did God Harden Pharaoh’s Heart?” Bible Review 9 (6) (Nov./Dec. 1983).
  • William H.C. Propp. Exodus 1–18, 2:261–354. New York: Anchor Bible, 1998. ISBN 0-385-14804-6.
Obama
  • Barack Obama. Dreams from My Father, 294. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-8277-3. (Moses and Pharaoh).
  • Bernhard Lang. “Why God Has So Many Names.” Bible Review 19 (4) (Aug. 2003): 48–54, 63.
  • Jeffrey H. Tigay. “What’s in a Name? Early Evidence of Devotion Exclusively to Yahweh.” Bible Review 20 (01) (Feb. 2004): 34–43, 47–51.
  • Marek Halter. Zipporah, Wife of Moses, 245–49. New York: Crown, 2005. ISBN 1400052793.
  • Lawrence Kushner. Kabbalah: A Love Story, 78. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7679-2412-6.

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