"and I appeared"
This week we are studying Par’sha V’era which spans Sh’mot 6.2 through 9.35. For those that have attended the Pesach Seder over the years, you readily recognize this par’sha contains the bulk of the events we cover in the first part of the Seder.
V’era means and I appeared and is a reference to the fact that not only did Elohim appear to Avraham, Yitz’chaq and Ya’akov as El Shaddai, they also knew Him as Y’H’V’H. Unfortunately, some translations mistranslate this verse and state that our patriarchs did not know Elohim as Y’H’V’H, which is His attribute of mercy. This despite the fact that that verses such as B’reshith 12.7, 18.1-6, 26.2 and 27.20 all clearly establish they knew Him as Y’H’V’H as well.
It is interesting to me that although this week’s and next’s week’s par’sha tell the story of the Exodus from Mitsrayim, both are read some weeks before our observance of Pesach. Why not read them during the time of Pesach when these events actually took place? While we are not told why, I wonder if it is because by studying it weeks in advance it gives us time to study the story of our Exodus in detail so we can better appreciate the Seder and the retelling of the story. With that thought in mind, let’s review some of the things Par’sha V’era teaches us.
The par’sha opens as Elohim declares to Mosheh that He is Y’H’V’H, telling us that He was about to act in His attribute of Mercy. His declaration was in response to two questions Mosheh had just asked Him which are found at the close of last week’s par’sha. Mosheh asked Y’H’V’H;
Why have You done evil to this people?
Why did You send me?
Mosheh explained that ever since he had come to Pharaoh to speak His Name, Pharaoh had only done evil to the Hebrews. He had sent Mosheh to deliver His people, by that still hadn’t happened at all. What was taking so long?
The answer may be found in the promises Y’H’V’H gave Mosheh to give to B’nei Yisrael in Sh’mot 6.6-8. These promises outlined the steps Y’H’V’H would take to deliver them as well as the ultimate goal of their deliverance.
I am Y’H’V’H. I shall bring you out from under the burdens of the Mitsrites
I shall deliver you from their enslaving
I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments
I shall take you as My people, and I shall be your Elohim, and you shall know that I am Y’H’V’H your Elohim
And I shall bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitz’chaq and to Ya’akov, to give it to you as an inheritance. I am Y’H’V’H.
Not only do these promises outline Y’H’V’H’s promises to deliver the Hebrews from Mitsrayim and ultimately bring them into the land of our inheritance, it is an outline of what He promises each of us who become a part of His chosen people. And that raises the first question about these promises: weren’t the Hebrews already His people? Hadn’t Y’H’V’H earlier told Mosheh, I have indeed seen the oppression of My people who are in Mitsrayim, and have heard their cry because of their slave-drivers, for I know their sorrows. And I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Mitsrites…?Sh’mot 3.7-8a That being the case, why did Y’H’V’H have to say He would take them as His people since they were already His people?
The answer lies in the first two promises He gave the Hebrews. He would bring them out from under the burdens of the Mitsrites and deliver them from their enslaving, but what’s the difference? What’s the difference in bringing them our from under the burdens of the Mitsrites and delivering them from their enslavement? Bring you out is translated from הוֹצֵאתִ֣י ho’tze’ti which means to go out or to come out. (From the shoresh יצא). Deliver is translated from הִצַּלְתִּ֥י hi’tzal’ti, which means to take away or to free from control of. (From the shoresh נצל)
While in Mitsrayim, the Hebrews had burdened themselves by assimilating into the culture of Mitsrayim, adopting some of their pagan practices and beliefs. Before Y’H’V’H could deliver them from their physical enslavement, He had to first bring them out from under the spiritual bondage they had burdened themselves with. He hadn’t yet delivered the Hebrews because they had not yet come out from under the spiritual bondage they had taken upon themselves. This would require a series of plagues that would make a mockery of the false gods of the Mitsrites, thus breaking the burden of the Mitsrites from His people.
This also explains why even though He had earlier declared they were His people, Ht would once again have to take them as His people and be their Elohim. He is a jealous El and will not share His place in our lives with the gods men have created to replace Him.
We also see this in Sh’mot 6:13. And יהוה spoke to Mosheh and to Aharon, and gave them a command for the children of Yisra’ĕl and for Pharaoh, sovereign of Mitsrayim, to bring the children of Yisra’ĕl out of the land of Mitsrayim. In this verse Mosheh is told to give the command to come out of the land of Mitsrayim to both Pharaoh and B’nei Yisra’el, but after all the years of slavery and bondage, would B’nei Yisrael really need a command to leave the land of their enslavement?
This command to both Pharaoh and B’nei Yisrael is interpreted on two different levels. To Pharaoh, it was a command to physically allow His people to leave. To B’nei Yisrael, it was a command to spiritually come out - to leave the pagan ways they had adopted from Mitsrayim so they could once again be His people, trusting in Him alone.
It is also interesting that the word exodus is only found one time in many of the English translations and that one time is in the Second Writings, Ivrim 11.22. The reason may be that many students of the Torah see our departure from Mitsrayim not as an Exodus from Mitsrayim (Yetzias Mistrayim), but as a Leaving of Mitsrayim (Yitziah MiMitsrayim); not just leaving behind the pagan ways and practices, but physically leaving the land as well. Unfortunately, not all of the Hebrews did as they were commanded and some retained some of the ways of the Mitsrites.
This should be a lesson for us all. It’s not enough to just turn from sin, we have to leave the world of sin and disobedience behind us as we return to Him.
In Sh’mot 6.7, Y’H’V’H explained that He was delivering us through His outstretched arm and great judgments (referring at least in part to the plagues) so that we would know that He is Y’H’V’H our Elohim who is bringing us out from under the burdens of the Mitsrites. Again, He makes reference to the burdens, not our enslavement. When we turn from the things of men and the world that we have assimilated into our lives and turn back to Him, He frees us from those burdens. He pardons, forgives, cleanses and takes us back as His people and He wants us to know that He does this for us.
Then, in Sh’mot 13.3 we are commanded to remember this day during the days we are forbidden to eat anything with leaven and when our sons ask what we are doing we are to tell them it is because Y’H’V’H brought us out of Mitsrayim, out of the house of bondage, with the strength of His hand.13.14 Why is it that as His people we tend to only remember His love for us when He has done or is doing something for us? What if Y’H’V’H only remembered us when we were doing something for Him?
Consider the ultimate goal of His promises: I shall bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitz’chaq and to Ya’akov, to give it to you as an inheritance. I am Y’H’V’H.6.8 How many years had the Hebrews longed for that day; to leave the land of their enslavement and enter into a land flowing with milk and honey? And yet, look at the result of all the suffering and plagues. When B’nei Yisrael finally left Mitsrayim after the first ten plagues they numbered about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides the little ones and they were accompanied by a mixed multitude from the nations. Sadly, only two of these six hundred thousand men made it into the land.
Despite the sadness of almost an entire generation dying in the wilderness, there is a message of hope in this as well. All the plagues of Mitsrayim were worth it even if 599,998 of the six hundred thousand men rebelled and failed to make it into the land. This should teach those followers of the Way that we should not be discouraged when it seems that only a few people are truly seeking to follow the way of Y’H’V’H. For the sake of a few, the Light of this world will continue to shine, calling and leading people to the Land of our inheritance.
One final lesson I’d like to cover this Shabbat involves one of the signs Y’H’V’H gave to Mosheh and Aharon as evidence that He had sent them. One of those signs Mosheh and Aharon was given is found in Sh’mot 7.10. Aharon threw his rod before Pharaoh and his servants and it became a serpent. This didn’t impress Pharaoh. He called his wise men and his practicers of witchcraft and they, the magicians of Mitsrayim, threw their rods down and they too became serpents, but Aharon’s rod swallowed their rods.
This raises the subject of magic and those who practice witchcraft. Torah commands that such people are not to be allowed to liveSh’mot 22.18, but what is the definition of witchcraft, or magic? The word translated as magician or sorcerer is מְכַשֵּׁפָ֖ה m’cash’she’pah, and is from the shoresh that means to use imagery to control כשף. Why does practicing magic or sorcery carry such an extreme punishment?
While there are probably several reason, one traditional teaching sheds some light on this subject. In D’varim 18.10-13 we are commanded, “Let no one be found among you who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices divination, or a user of magic, or one who interprets omens or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these are an abomination to יהוה, and because of these abominations יהוה your Elohim drives them out from before you. Be perfect before יהוה your Elohim…”
The concept of being perfect, tamim, before Y’H’V’H is that we walk blamelessly before Him. If we do sin, our t’shuvah is immediate and sincere. It also means that we accept whatever Y’H’V’H sends into our lives with faith and confidence, not fear, complaints or murmuring. We accept that nothing happens in our lives that He doesn’t bring about or allow and trusting that it is for our good and the good of others. We also trust He will see us through whatever it is. We do not put our desires before His desires for us.
One who practices magic tries to do just the opposite. They want to change whatever is before them to suit their purposes. Pharaoh, his advisers and his magicians didn’t want to accept that what they were witnessing was from the Elohim of the Hebrews. They refused to accept His will and release His people and instead tried to make a mockery of what Mosheh and Aharon were doing and telling them. When they could no longer duplicate what Y’H’V’H was doing - when their “magic” failed - they acknowledged it was indeed the finger of Elohim, but refused to humble themselves before Him and obey Him.
From their actions we understand that a magician is a person who displays the desire to change or to oppose Y’H’V’H’s plans or the natural order He established for His Creation. Often without realizing it, magic or sorcery is a challenge that each of us face every day. Do we live with what Y’H’V’H has given us or do try to change it? Do we accept the direction Y’H’V’H is taking our lives or do we attempt to go in some other direction of our own making? Do we do what we think is best for us even if it doesn’t agree with Y’H’V’H’s will? Failing to accept His Way and His will and attempting to create our own way is a form of sorcery, or magic.
Consider the implications of this understanding of sorcery and magic.
To quote from one commentary, The mind-set of living with Y’H’V’H and accepting His plans for us, and not attempting to ‘work around’ His ways and impose our will against His, relates directly to the institution of the Sabbath. In the Hebrew mindset, someone who goes against the natural order Y’H’V’H has established and imposes their own set of rules or their own desires, is, in a sense, attempting to practice magic. They are, in effect, attempting to change the natural order Y’H’V’H has established for something different.
Is the Hebrew understanding of magic correct? Is it more that just hocus-pocus? Is magic, or sorcery, an attempt to change the natural order of the universe that Y’H’V’H has established? That’s a question each one will have to answer for himself, or herself. But if you decide the Hebraic definition of magic is correct, how do you apply it to such things as His appointed times or any of His other laws?
Torah. It is a book of laws and a book of lessons. This Shabbat we have touched on just a few of the lessons of Par’sha V’era, but they have been enough to demonstrate the need to be constantly studying His eternal Word.
Y’H’V’H does not do evil to His people. When you belong to Him everything that happens in your life comes from Him. But to belong to Him you must first come out from under the burdens of this world you have burdened yourself with and follow Him. You have to learn to put His desires ahead of your own and follow Him as the Messiah demonstrated with His life. What do you do next? That’s what we gather every Shabbat to study.
29 Tevet 5776
9 January 2016