Saturday 5th January 2019 28th Tevet 5779
Parashat Vaera by Rabbi Paul L. Saal, Shuvah Yisrael, Bloomfield, CT
Exodus 6:2 - 9:35; Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21; Rev 16:1-21
It has been said that the life of Moses can be seen as three distinct movements, forty years each. Moses spends the first forty years thinking he is somebody. He has fallen by providence into the royal court of Pharaoh and is raised as a prince of Egypt while his people, the Jewish people unknown to him, suffer.
In the second act he discovers that he is nobody. In a rather extended midlife crisis he winds up down and out, tending sheep in the wilderness among the tribes of Midian. But it is in the third forty years of Moses’ life that he discovers what Hashem can do with somebody who accepts he is nobody.
Parashat Va’era begins as Parashat Shemot ended, with Moses returning to the presence of Hashem, pleading petulantly. Moses had been sent to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelite slaves. But instead of releasing them, Pharaoh takes away their straw for brick making and they are absolutely outraged. Moses asks the Holy One how he might expect Pharaoh to listen to him, when even the children of Israel seem totally uninterested in his leadership. Moses goes so far as to accuse God of being unfaithful. “My Lord, why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name he did evil to this people, but you did not rescue your people” (Exod 5:22–23).
What appears to be an absolutely audacious indictment of the Holy One by Moses may actually be a sign of his maturation as a leader and as a Hebrew.
By most normal measurements of success, Moses would seem to be on a continual downhill spiral. He has gone from prince to outlaw, to sheep farmer, to dissident, to rejected and dejected labour leader. But something unique is happening in Moses. Instead of fleeing Egypt forever, Moses returns to the presence of Israel’s God to plead the case of a people that he has oddly identified with since his youth (2:11). As Moses is returning to Egypt to confront Pharaoh, his wife Zipporah circumcises their sons with a flint knife, a material act of identification with the covenant between God and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This timely interruption to the narrative suggests that Moses no longer sees himself as an appointed deliverer from outside the community of faith, but now as a fully enfranchised member of the family of Israel. In other words, Moses has come to recognize and appreciate his heritage and his task.