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Dan Has Questions About Plagues And Stubbornness: Parshat Va'era

01/18/2023 04:40:45 PM


Dan Leemon

At the end of last week’s Parshah, Moshe’s first attempt to get Pharaoh to free the Jewish slaves (only for three days, to go away and worship) has failed.  The slaves have been given more work to do, and are angry at Moshe.  Moshe has asked God, “why did  you send me only to make thing worse for your people?”

This week’s Parshah is titled Va-era, which means “and I appeared”.  God has a talk with Moshe — well, God does all the talking, actually — starting with “and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…and made an agreement to give them the land of Canaan.”  God tells Moshe that God has heard the cries of the slaves and has remembered this covenant.  God tells Moshe to go to the Jews — the children of Children of Israel —  and tell them that God is going to do these things: Take them out from under the command of the Egyptians, relieve them from their labor, free them with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, take them as God’s people, and bring them to the land promised to their ancestors and give it to them. 

- If you were one of the slaves, and Moshe came and told you this, what would you think?  Would you believe him?

- Why is God so specific about what will happen?  Why not just say “you will be free”?

Well, the people do not believe Moshe, and God instructs Moshe to go to Pharaoh a second time and demand their freedom.  Moshe is again dubious, again not sure this will work, again complaining that he’s not a good public speaker.  God tells Moshe to have Aaron do the talking, but that Pharaoh will not listen and God will bring signs — the plagues — to convince Pharaoh.  Moshe and Aaron do as commanded, and Pharaoh refuses to let the slave go as God predicted.  Then comes the first plague, turning the waters of the Nile to blood.  Pharaoh continues to refuse, and God brings another plague:  frogs swarm everywhere, and Pharaoh relents, saying “stop the frogs and the people can go.”   

- Why is God bringing forth plagues upon Egypt?

- All of the Egyptian people suffer during the plagues.  What do you think of this?  Should God only have made Pharaoh suffer?

As soon as the frogs are gone — actually, they die, in smelly heaps, according to the Torah — Pharaoh “hardens his heart” (that is, becomes determined to keep the slaves), and other plagues follow:  Lice infest the country, and Pharaoh’s magicians tell Pharaoh this is the power of God, but Pharaoh will not let the people go. The pattern continues:  Moshe warns Pharaoh of the next plague, the plague comes, Pharaoh agrees to let the people go, then changes his mind when the plague is over.  So the plagues continue:  wild animals are everywhere, all of the livestock become sick, everyone gets boils (nasty sores) on their skin.   God has Moshe tell Pharaoh that God could have just killed him, but is keeping him alive to see God’s power.  The language of the Torah about Pharaoh changes — during the first plagues, we’re told that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” and would not the people go.  But later we read the God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

- What do you think of this decision of God’s?  Why not just kill Pharaoh?

- Why would God “harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that Pharaoh keeps changing his mind?

The next plague is a bit of test.  Moshe warns Pharaoh and the Egyptians that terrible hailstorms are coming, and that they should shelter their animals or they will die.  Some of the people believe God and shelter their animals; some do not.  The hail comes, destroying all of the crops and unsheltered animals.  Once again, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and he will not let the people go.

- Why does God have Moses warn Pharaoh and the Egyptians of the plagues?

- How do you think the Egyptians feel about Pharaoh as the plagues continue?

- Is Pharaoh a good leader?  What should good leaders do in difficult times?

- Why won’t Pharaoh relent and let the people go to worship God?

The conclusion of our slavery in Egypt — and the beginning of the next chapter of our story — starts with next week’s Parshah.  Stay tuned!

Shabbat shalom,



Sat, February 4 2023 13 Shevat 5783