Torah Talk on Va’eira 5780
This week we continue the narrative of the truly greatest story ever told, the tale of God and Moses liberating our people from slavery and bringing them to freedom. Our portion of Va’eira continues the dramatic showdown between Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and God. Va’eira is filled with the supernatural: God brings plagues on Egypt that cause untold suffering, not just to lordly Pharaoh but to the ordinary folks living everyday lives.
The stakes rise continually, and in a narrative that builds in power, plagues strike one after the other. Pharaoh several times agrees to free the Israelites, only to repeatedly welsh on the deal. At the end of Va’eira we sense that it’s all building to a climax, which we will see in next week’s even more dramatic tale of the actual Exodus from slavery to freedom.
In our time, we have seen the might and terror of natural disasters, the awesome destruction of volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, and the overwhelming Australian wildfires burning up much of that great continent right now. We understand our own powerlessness in the face of such destruction.
Without comparing the divine role in each, we can still understand the message of our portion: we are not the ones truly in control. That power and command belong only to God. When Pharaoh rails against that simple fact, he is foretelling our own contemporary need to pretend that we are really the ones in charge.
It’s simply not so. When we, like Moses, acknowledge God’s power and control over nature, when we come to understand that it’s all really in God’s hands, we, like Moses, can focus on doing the things that we do have the power to accomplish: caring for the sick, helping the needy, consoling the bereaved, caring for the environment and seeking justice in our own nation and world.