Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: V'aeraV'aera

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Determining our Destiny

By Michael Chessen

Whereas the book of Exodus opens with an account of the physical proliferation of the Jewish people, this week's reading of V'aera begins to document our spiritual molding into God's chosen people. Lest one mistake the term "chosen" for "superior", the Torah's narrative clearly demonstrates that our transformation from slave nation to serving as a light unto all nations is not a matter of biology, but the spiritual vision of God. This is to proceed according to four essential steps: I will take you out of Egypt, I will save you, I will redeem you(from the spiritual depths of your bondage) and I will take you as My chosen people. Among numerous other symbolic traditions which we have observed for over three and a half millennia on the "festival of our freedom", this four step process finds symbolic resonance in the four cups of wine which we drink during our Passover Seder.

En route to the fulfillment of God's promises, we witness the step by step destruction of Egyptian civilization by way of the ten plagues. This process commences in V'aera, the second reading of Exodus, and invites comparison and contrast to the destruction of all known civilization as documented in the second reading of Genesis, Noah. When God brings on the Great Flood, He does so with no prior warning save for the spectacle of Noah building the Ark over the course of several modern generations. In advance of Egypt's destruction, however, God, through His servants Moses and Aaron, issues quite a bit more than merely "subtle" hints.

Our rabbis and commentators observe that not only do the plagues constitute a richly symbolic "measure for measure" comeuppance for the numerous sufferings which the Egyptians inflicted upon the Jewish people, but Pharaoh is allowed to "dig his own grave" by choosing to have his heart hardened. The concept here is that God assists any individual in fulfilling the goals one sets for one's self, be they the spiritual reward of the saint or the punishment incurred by the tyrant.

The idea of spiritual destination as a question of will finds expression well before the onset of the plagues when God refers to the Promised Land not as a "yerisha" (inheritance), but as a "morasha" (heritage) (Exodus 6:8). The difference between these is that while the former is merely the right of birth, the latter is only the merit of active input.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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