Thursday, January 27, 2005

II-5 Yisro Jethro-The Man At The Top

II-5 Yisro Jethro 27 Jan 2005

Torah: Ex 18-20:23
Haftorah: Is 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6


1. Ex 18:1-12
2. Ex 18:13-23
3. Ex 18:24-27
4. Ex 19:1-6
5. Ex 19:7-19
6. Ex 19:20-21:14
7. Ex 20:15-23


Jethro comes to meet the Israelites camping under Mt Sinai.When he arrives in the camp, he discovers a strange thing. Moses is sitting outside his tent arbitrating the complaints of the Israelites. One man; six hundred thousand complaints. "What's this?" asks Jethro as he scans the long line of would-be complainers. Jethro advises Moshe in how to set up a legal system with upper and lower courts that are accessible by the common meat-grinder. Later, Moshe ascends the mountain and returns bringing the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel, establishing the basis of the social system, giving equal space for divine and human relationships.

In Focus:

Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, yes by the results of their very schemes against [the people]. And Jethro, Moses; father-in-law, brought a burn offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses' father-in-law.

Ex 18: 11-12

But Moses' father-in-law said unto him, "The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.

Ex 18:17-18

The man at the top

They stood in line. Moshe's tent was on the opposite side of the camp, so they had to get up before the sunrise to get there before all those others. Really, it seemed injust. So unfair, but that's the way it stood. They were on the fringe, the outer limits of society. By the time they arrived, five hundred others had already taken their place in line. It was really worse than trying to get tickets for the World Cup Playoffs because no seats were guaranteed and after standing in line all day, they might have to return tomorrow. Almost as bad as the Czech Foreign Police when you thought about it.

And yes, the slavery of Egypt was far behind them, but so were the succulent fresh green cucumbers and the sweetness of mint. Here all you could taste for miles was sand. Not a palm tree in sight. What is freedom when you're standing in a desert with the sun scorching your back? What value did all that Egyptian gold have when there was no market for barter and trade, when stomach rumbled with emptiness like battered jeeps sucking out the last drops of petrol from their tanks? They camped across from Mt Sinai, awaiting the latest revelation from their revered (or reviled) leaderwho sat from morning until late at night before his tentflap, arbitrating disputes of the people. "He's the one," they said. "He's the one in charge of this parade. He's the head of the line, the man at the top. He's got the inside information." That's why they stood there for hours after hours until hours stretched from sunrise to sunset into days and weeks to present their disputes.

Until Jethro came.

What did Jethro do? He revolutionized society. An outsider, he immediately saw the obvious flaw: the long lines winding about the camp and the disgruntled children being constantly reminded to stand still. He brought fresh insight with practical advice, advising Moshe to establish upper and lower courts with judges drawn from the rank and file to preside over them. What kind of men? Capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Four definitive qualifications: capable, God-fearing, trustworthy and despising ill-gotten gain. Four qualities that make leaders of men who can stand against tyrants in their time, who will not receive gifts or bribes behind their backs, or arrange kickbacks and government contracts amongst their friends; not those who have hidden investments in the Wall Street Stock Market when they sit on the bench to arbitrate the violations of corporate behemoths; not those who put themselves above the law or believe themselves to be the ultimate authorities; but those who live with an eye towards heaven, knowing that the ultimate hope of man is worms.

Not Moses? No, Jethro, the Priest of the Midianites, did this thing. He heard about the splitting of the sea and the war with the Amalekites from afar and brought Zipporah his daughter and the sons of Moses, Gershom and Eliezer with him to join their father. Gershom because "he was a stranger in a strange land" and Eliezer because "the God of my father was my help and he delivered me out of the sword of Pharaoh," so they were named. It was Jethro, his father-in-law, who advised Moses about hogging all the authority to himself and made him see reason that a culture or nation cannot long survive built around a single ego. Just think of the chaos if Moshe suddenly had sunstroke! As it was we spent days waiting in line trying to settle a dispute over a stolen goat. It was ours, but the neighbors in the next tent claimed that it was their, but we'd recognize its mournful bleating anywhere.

Jethro understood the insecurities and needs of a fringe group. He saw the need for decentralized government and speedy reconciliations of petty disputes. Bad enough to be set on from behind by the vicious Amalekites, but we were being reduced to squabbling amongst our own, threatening mutiny already with people grumbling about not having water or enough to eat. They weren't used to all this freedom. People aren't made to sit about doing nothing, especially when their lives had been pre-planned from birth to death, making bricks and building great monuments to mankind. Not so much you can do with sand, even foraging for the animals was sufficiently frustrating to keep most folks complaining.

Jethro did it diplomatically, easing into the topic and then departing once he saw that the solution was in the works. He understood diplomacy, the light touch of giving sound advice without sounding supercilious or rudely condescending. He knew that law, regardless of how sublime, is only words without acessible courts in all seasons and for all people regardless of color, creed or birth. When you're in the midst of a problem, in the middle of a muddle, it's not always to see the way out and that's why it's ever so important to have the voice of an outsider sizing things up to provide the overall perspective. And through his advice, law shifted from the hands of one into the hands of all; the burden of one man became for us, the responsibility of all. The law became our contract with God.


Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline Yisro 5761
"And all the Nation saw the voices and the flames, and the sound of the Shofar, and the mountain smoking, and the nation was afraid, and they trembled, and they stood far away." [20:15]"

Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh would say: Be very, very humble, for the hope of mortal man is worms. Pirkei Avos 4:4

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book. Rabbi Judah HaNasssi Pirkei Avos 2:1

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Yitro: Portable Holiness
My Jewish Learning

Uri Ayalon, Yitro: A System of Justice and the Details of a Moral Life
My Jewish Learning

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Mishpatim: Critiquing our Leadership


Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos Yisro : The Dowry 5760
despising money on the qualifications of judges

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos Yisro: Echoes of Sinai 5761

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green, Dvar Torah Yisro Ten Commandments 5758

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green, Dvar Torah Yisro 5757
"And Yisro the Priest of Midyan heard all that G-d had done for Moshe and Yisrael; that G-d had taken them out of Egypt" (Exodus 18:1). Rashi asks the famous question: What news (in particular) did he (Yisro) hear .."

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah Yisro: The Birth of the Blues 5763

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline Yisro 5758

And when the father-in-law of Moshe saw all that he did with the nation, he said, 'what is this thing which you do with the people? Why do you sit alone, with all of the nation surrounding you from morning to evening?' And Moshe said to his father-in-law, 'because the nation comes to me to inquire of G-d. Because when they have an argument they come to me, and I judge between a man and his friend, and I teach them the statutes of G-d and His laws." [18:14-16

In Suite:

Shemot / Exodus

II-4 Beshelach Ex:13:17-17:16

II-3 Bo Ex 10-13:16

II-2 Va'iera A Plague on You Ex 6:2-9:35

II-1 Shemot Who Made You Boss? Ex 1:1-6:1

Friday, January 21, 2005

II-4 Beshelach In Over My Head

II-4 Beshelach In Over My Head

II-4 SP Beshelach "When he sent" 21 Jan 2005

Torah: Ex:13:17-17:16
Haftorah: Jdgs 4:4-5:31


1. Ex 13:17-18:8
2. Ex 14:8-14
3. Ex 14:15-25
4. Ex 14:26-15:26
5. Ex 15:27-16:10
6. Ex 16:11-36
7. Ex 17:1-16


With the last three plagues, Pharaoh finds his power limited. Regretfully he lets the Israelites go in his grief for his own son, struck down by the last plague of death. The Israelites move out en masse with a pillar of cloud leading them into the wilderness. Morning breaks and the Pharaoh assembles his army for revenge. Within a short time, a cry goes up in the Israelite camp, "Were it not better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness?" Caught between the Egyptian armies and the sea before them, the Israelites give into despair. Moses stretches his hand over the sea and it parts opening a path for an oppressed people to become a nation on the other side.

In Focus:

Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer, for God said, "The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt." Ex 13:17

And they said to Moses, "Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Ex 14:11

The the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward." Ex 14:15

In Over My Head

The quickest way to get to Canaan was to follow the Way of Horus along the Mediterranean, but this was a trade route fortified by the Egyptians against external forces and invaders sweeping in from the Mediterranean, "the Philistines." To go this way would mean direct confrontation with the past on both fronts, with the Egyptians hounding them from behind and the Egyptians before them all the way as well as the intimidation of other hostile tribes.

Instead, They were led southwards where they were caught between the Yom Suf and the rampaging Egyptian Army, moving with one heart as one man according to Rashi's commentary. Viewing their impending doom, the joy of liberation is short. Burdened with all the wealth they could take with them, plus their flocks and their herds and their old and their young, their daughters and their sons, the Israelites could only howl with bitterness, "Why did you bring us here to die in the desert? Aren't there enough graves in Egypt?"

What did they take? The goodwill offerings of the Egyptians who were begging them to leave. Opening the door, the Egyptians shoved them out, fearful of their own death. (Ex 12:33-37) While the Israelites were busily engaged collecting worldly things, Moses went off to fulfill a commitment to one long-forgotten Joseph who wanted his bones interned in Canaan. The contrast of the diverse activities reveals the difference of temperament and faith between Moses and his people. While the Israelites were busily thinking about opening new bank accounts without having first established a national currency or identity, Moses was busy fulfilling a spiritual commitment to the past. He was recovering Joseph's bones which midrash tells us were at the bottom of the Nile. The Israelites were greedy for the flash of gold, looking at the latest Maserati camel model and dreaming about having sleek Jaguar chariots, yet they didn't have the emotional or spiritual depth for independence. A dependent people, they were used to having others organize their days, give them their daily work orders and receive in return their daily cucumbers. Brickmaking is indeed a hard business, but at least they stack up. You can number them, gloat about the quotas fulfilled and complain about the backbreaking labor involved. Whatever pain you suffer, you can blame on the boss over you. This is the mentality of a drone or drudge, but doing something independently? Taking responsibility for oneself? Not at this level of maturity. They followed Moses of their own free will. He even gave a three day seminar about their need for return to their previous state of existence as a people of God.

The two contrast oddly. Yet Moses understands the commitment of the past. Taking thee bones of Joseph didn't mean packing a neat little ossary into his backpack, but accepting the spirit of Joseph, taking on the responsibilities of leadership and vision required for leading a people from slavery into freedom.

But what is freedom? Is it found in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution? Or does it exist on many different layers depending on the viewer's perspective. Traditionally, American history taught that the Puritans arrived on Plymouth Rock to establish a colony for religious freedom. It's a myth. We know they arrived, but the other part regarding religious freedom? Freedom for whom? To establish a new colony where their rules would be strictly imposed on the inhabitants? Is that freedom? Or the huge proportion of indentured immigrants? Does merely escaping an oppressive regime mean you are free? Obviously not, because the Israelites mourn for their secure lives back in Egypt. Sounds crazy, but actually it's not. People are not so much the slaves of their political systems but slaves to the ideology and mentality of being slaves. As someone used to tell me, "You can take a Jew from a ghetto, but getting the ghetto out of a Jew is difficult." It's true, we become prisoners of our own minds and experience. We presume the future must be like the past.

Moses had a hard job. Actually between the rampaging Egyptians and the wailing Israelites, he was in the middle. Whichever way things would go, he could be blamed, but when the tomatoes flew; he stood up. He took Joseph's spirit with him, maintaining faith with man and God, realizing that to leave the past, you do it one step at a time—and then you take the plunge.

"What are you yelling at me for? Tell the Israelites to shove on..." Pretty abrupt instructions. Where to? Well, you know where: into the Yom Suf, into the Ayin, the abyss which we must all pass whenver there is a transformation or change. For each of us, there is a time when we have to turn our back on the rabble behind us, and take the first step into the depth of the unknown sea, the unknown future. Midrash states that Nachsen was the first in and the waters parted. There are many theories of this. Some say that the sheer weight forced the displacement of the waters. If you're a heavyweight, you might like this. Another says, that as they pressed forward, they could not see where their feet landed, the water parted—similar to walking through a field of dense nettles. As you go, there's a swath levelled behind you, but the forefront looks pretty prickly. Others think it happened like a Hollywood movie; but as God puts it, the important thing is forward motion.

Sometimes we feel really swamped, the waters are over our heads and we can't see our feet beneath us. We feel that we are sinking. We scream, our despair fills the air with moans, "twice or thrice more blessed is he who dies beneath the walls of Troy..." Sometimes we get very lyrical about the good old days when the rainwater leaked through the roof of the old flat and the bathtub fell through the floor--- We are desperate slaves of the past, fearful of tomorrow

And sometimes, God leads us the circuitous path around through the south into the Yom Suf simply because we haven't the maturity to engage in direct conflict with our own enslavement to the past. We need to pass through the abyss to understand who's really in control.


I-12 Vayechi Gn 50: 22-26 Joseph's Death

II-4 Beshelach Ex 13:19 Moses recovers and takes the bones of Joseph

Rabbi AronTendler, Rabbi's Notebook: How Did Pharaoh Do It?

Kolel, Beshelach 5762

"The Israelites have finally left Egypt. God does not lead the Israelites along the closest route to the Land of Israel, which is through territory occupied by the Philistines. Rather, the people are lead in the direction of the Yam Suf - the Sea of Reeds."


Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Beshelach: What are you yelling at me for? 2002
from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
indepth look at Rashi's commentary regarding the yelling

Kolel Beshelach 5764 / 7 Jan 2004

"So the Israelites follow Moses and his God only to wind up between the approaching Egyptian chariots and the abyss ..."

Yanki Tauber, Beshelach: Exodus Part II
two parts of freedom

Yanki Tauber, Beshelach: The Four Factions
four world views about world crisis

Rav Frand, Beshelach: Everyone Needs Attention 5763
on the relationship of vay-ehi and vai

Rabbi Elihayu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Backseat Driver
on the difficulty of splitting Red Sea, finding a shidduch and parnasah

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Beshelach 5757
"This weeks parsha, Beshalach, begins with the possuk (13:17) "Vayehee, and it was, when Paroah sent the nation". We've mentioned before that the word 'vayehee' connotes sorrow..."

Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Beshelach Was It Really Fair-Oh? 5763

Rabbi Aron, Rabbi's Notebook: Freedom Revisisted 5761

Rabbi Aron, Rabbi's Notebook, Illusion of Independence 5759

Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Beshelach: Heaven Sent 5762
with a section considering the relationship of TuB'Shevat and Beshelach

Friday, January 14, 2005

II-3 Bo Locust Fly From Here

II-3 Bo Locust Fly From Here

5. II-3 Bo " Come" 14 Jan 04

Torah: Exodus 10-13:16
Haftorah: Jer 46:13-28


1. Ex 10:1-11
2. Ex 10:12-23
3. Ex 10: 24-11:3
4. Ex 11:4-12:12:20
5. Ex 12:21-28
6. Ex 12:29-51
7. Ex 13:1-16


Negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh continue: The last three plagues, Locusts, Darkness and Death of the Firstborn, descend upon the terrified Egyptians. Pharaoh temporarily relents when his son dies. The Israelites get ready to shift as they celebrate their first Passover. Israel's redemption appears through the darkness settling over the land. Darkness sympbolizes spiritual blindness, the despair of an enslaved people or those overburdened by the injustice of the world.

In Focus:

Moses replied," We will all go, young and old; we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord's festival."
Ex 10:9

Locust Fly From Here

Moshe is incorrigible. He returns once more to Pharaoh.This time, Moshe warns of an impending plague of locusts that will devour whatever survived through the last seven plagues.

"What is the purpose of that?" Can the Pharaoh do anything about an impending plague that derives from a natural source? Moses puts it bluntly, "How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let my people go so that they may worship Me." Ex 10:3

Pharaoh questions his motives. Perhaps Moses will abscond with the slaves. He bargains. They can go on condition that the children stay behind. Moses departs and the locusts arrive.

A deified King, Pharaoh is a god with absolute authority. Although his ministers perceive a lose-lose situation, insisting on concession, "How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?" (Ex 10:7), yet Pharaoh does not. Again, Pharaoh begs reprieve; only send the locusts away. Take the children, but leave their flocks behind. Negotiations break off. The new refusal incurs the plague of darkness, palpable as a woolen blanket, laying over the land.

Could Pharaoh reverse a natural plague or avoid it? Was Moses merely the advanced public warning system? The conflict is between the two different types of social structures and power bases. Pharaoh represents absolute autonomy. The leader of his country, he expects obedience regardless of the damage inflicted on his country and its economy. Concession involves loss of face and admission of fallibility. Moreover, the entire hierarchal Egyptian social structure would crumble, dependent on the strict control of authority. Religious and political authority were not shared, but tools to control society. An effective tool, religion, exerts psychological control over ignorant people. Fearful and susperstitious, society is easily intimidated by religious authority that threatens with terrors beyond death and supernatural repercussions. Focusing heavily on the cult of the dead, the rites in ancient Egyptian society were held in secret of a few people, having tremendous power over the political authority within the social structure. Even in contemporary society the interplay between religion and politics is highly influential, determining the outcome of social laws and political candidates. Consider the public furor over issues such as gay marriage or abortion. Such issues are not approached rationally, but through the manipulation of emotions causing psychological insecurity and anxiety within the public forum. "If gay marriage is allowed, it will degrade real marriage," but the question is never asked or answered what "real marriage is" or whether marriage is a contract between two people rather than the public with a couple.

Consider the centuries of control over education and literature imposed by the Catholic Church with its lists of banned books and censorship, methods of inquisition and torment? Even well-balanced, intelligent people were persecuted if they did not subscribe to the Square World Theorem or submit to the Papal authority. In comparison to Medieval Europe, Egypt was a small pea-patch over which the Pharaoh's scepter held sway over life and death

Or did it?

Moses appears, demanding release of the Israelites to worship their God. The social structure is in direct opposition of Pharoah's with an invisible God with a cryptic name, "I am whoever I choose to be," and a religion that is democratic without hierarchy. The education of each child is as important as that of any priest.. Anyone can approach God with a sacrifice, even foreigners. Human sacrifice is forbidden; infanticide is an anathema, as the blood of every living creature is sacred to God.

Pharaoh demands obeisance to man. Moses insists on acknowledgement of God. Pharaoh sees only the immediate: the loss of chealp labor. Moses predicts the loss of the future cash crops with consequential disasters of famine. Pharaoh sees himself as powerful; but Moses sees the infinite might of the unseen God.

Could Pharaoh escape the plague of locusts? Only if he humbled himself and made teshuvah. Like many who relish control—relinquishing control usually comes through loss of control rather than wisdom of repentence.

Moses stands before Pharaoh with a contract in his hand on behalf of every Israelite. Rabbi Pinchas Winston writes of the four languages of redenmption and the seven terms of promise:

"Vehotzaisy--I will lead you out (of Egypt);
vehitzalty--I will deliver you (from any type of servitude);
vega'alty--I will redeem you
valakachty--I will take you (as My people). (Shemos Rabbah 6:5)

...However, the rabbis also speak about "seven terms of promise," which include the four terms of redemption and which add:

vehayissi--I will be (your G-d)
vehaivaisy--I will bring you (to the land)
venotatti--I will give (the land to you) "

Rabbi Pinchas Winston,, Perceptions, Vaera: Freedom-Speak 5759
Ex 6:6-8

Moses understands his role, not as the Big Cheese on Top, but as the emisssary, presenting the terms of a contractual relationship. When the Israelites depart, they are not becoming a liberated group of anarchists. They are exchanging rulers and social systems, from a human dictatorship to a democracy with tort law, where the law supersede human authority and limitations through divine intervention, balanced between Justice and Mercy, reflected in the names of God.


"Say therefore to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you [vehotzaisy] from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you [vehitzalty] from their bondage. I will redeem you [vega'alty] with an outstretched arm and through extraodinary chastisements. And I will take you [valakachty] to be My people, and I will be [vehayissi] your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you [vehaivaisy] into the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I will give [venotatti] it to you for a possesssion, I the Lord."

II-2 Va'iera, Ex 6:6-8

II-5 Jethro, Jethro Ex 19:7-19 "All the people answered as one saying, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." v.8

Moses brings the proposal to the people and they agree to become the people of God

II-5 Jethro, Ex 20: 5-6, "For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon fourth generation of those who reject Me; but showing kindness unto the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments."

ntroducing the new social legislation established on Mount Sinai or Horeb

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vaera 5759

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Vaera: To Sinai and Beyond 24 Jan 04

Kolel, VaYera 24 January 04
on the attributes of names

Rav Kook, Breishith: Creation of the Universe - Twice
Shemu'ot HaRi'iah 8, Breishith 5690 (1929)


Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Perceptions: Freedom - Speak

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green, Parsha Insight: Heavy Heart

Rabbi Avraham Fischer, Bo:Defining the Service of God
My Jewish Learning

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Taking the Children Along

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Point of Return 5760

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Out Like a Light 5762

Rav Kook, from Orot, Lights: Redemption an ongong process

Friday, January 07, 2005

II-2 Va' eira A Plague on You

4. II-2 Va'iera "And I appeared" 7 Jan 05

Torah: Exodus 6:2- 9:35
Haftorah: Ez 28:25-29:21


1. Ex 6:2-13
2. Ex 6:14-28
3. Ex 6:29-7:7
4. Ex 7:8-8:6
5. Ex 8:7-18
6. Ex 8:19-9:16
7. Ex 9:17-35


God reveals His mission for Moses to return to Egypt and lead the children of Israel to freedom. However, the winning their release will not come easily. Moses must be a diplomat extraordinaire when confronting Pharaoh. The commitment between man and God is a mutual contract, reminiscent of marriage. The first seven plagues come to pass, touching every aspect of human life as Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge that he is not in control of the universe.

In Focus:

Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, "O Lord, why did you bring harm upon this people? Ever snce I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people and still You have not delivered Your people. Ex 5:22-23

God spoke to Moses and said unto him, "I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make myself known to them by my name HaShem." /Adonai (YHVH) Ex 6:2

A Plague on You

Pharaoh comes into a direct collision course with God. Pharaoh, himself, is worshipped as a god, causing problems to relinquish power. He's like the wagging tail claiming to hold the dog still.

Maimonides (Guide to the Perplexed, Part I Ch LXIII) derives the name El Shaddai from "dai" interpreting the name to mean, "he who is sufficient". What is different between the relationships of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that of Moses? God says to Abraham, "Pack your bags and leave," and he does. Not any of them question the identity of God. Each has a personal relationship that does not extend outside of his family or clan. Abraham intervenes in the War of Kings to save his nephew, Lot; but he allows Lot to go his own way in the choice of land settlement and domestic affairs. Abraham argues personally with God to save Lot from the destruction of Sodom.

Moses, though, grew up in the Pharaoh's palace, accustomed to the ritual pomp of the god-king. Although he identifies with the hardship of the Israelites, he does not have the same kind of relationship of the patriarchs. He doubts, questions and challenges God. "What should I say to the Israelites?" He receives an intranslatable cryptic answer of unknown pronunciation that roughly translates as "I am who I shall be", playing on the different interpretations of the indicative verb and its infinitive. Moses is left without a convenient handle to use when interrogated by his new people.

Rabbi Pinchas Winston also explains that the verbs have different meanings:

"Our parsha begins: "Vay'dabare Elokim el Moshe, vayomer eilav: 'Ani Hashem' {And Elokim spoke to Moshe and said to him, 'I am Hashem [6:2]." There is a distinct difference between 'speaking' and 'saying'. There is also a distinct difference between 'Elokim' as a name of G-d and 'Hashem' as a name of G-d.

'Vay'dabare {spoke}' is to speak harshly, 'vayomer {said}' is to speak gently. 'Elokim' represents the Attribute of Justice, 'Hashem' represents the Attribute of Mercy. "
(, Parsha Insights, 5759 rabbi Yisroel Ciner below)

The two names reflect a balance between Justice and Mercy. Justice without some Mercy is not just—it is revenge or retaliation, but without sensitivity. Mercy without some Justice can be maudlin emotion, becoming easily overwhelmed. Both are requisite to change the situation. The Israelites also need to suffer a bit more hardship in order to long for their redemption and release. When things are too comfortable, or when people become submissive to their harships; they will not accept responsibilities for themselves. In contrast, Pharaoh does his job with the delusion that he is god. Like many other administrators, teachers or parents, he believes that the tighter he hangs onto the reins of control, the better control he has. Only a wise person knows that to have control, control must first be relinquished.

Moses forewarns the Pharaoh before he descends into the Nile. The first three plagues establish God's dominion over the world. The first, a natural phenomenon, the River Nile, is transformed into a supernatural event. In becoming blood, Pharaoh is reminded of the grisly infanticide, presenting him with the grim reality of his own mortality... He has no control. Water represents life and spiritual purity. Contaminated water brings sure death. Nothing can long survive. Pharaoh's power is strictly limited to human intercourse. Over nature he has little or no control, and less over death. The Egyptians are reduced to digging wells everywhere --the activity of Isaac in his old age. (Gn 26:18) Digging wells symbolizes man search for spirituality, seeking the source of life in God. They uncover more contaminated water, repesenting false beliefs.

The second, frogs, is a natural event multipying naturally. Frogs are everywhere: in Pharaoh's bed, his kitchen, his dining-room, pantry and oven. Inescapable. Harmless, frogs represent the ridiculous, odious and reprehensible, catching flies with tongues twice the length of their bodies. In classical literature, frogs cariacaturize. Pharaoh sees himself a frog, croaking commandments, but filled with hot air. What is a frog but a noisy bladder? A pin can pop a frog. So it is with Pharaoh. Frogs are amphibious, but so is he. He believes there is a God; but not one that affects his existence. He wants his bread buttered on both sides. The frogs drive him crazy. They affect his sanity and bring chaos into his organized society. They are something evasively small, but cause a twenty-four hour raucous caucus.

The lice or gnats are at best annoying, bringing with them destruction through infection, erpersenting the microbes and viruses that travel insidiously as well as invisibly, destructive to human and animal health.

Does Pharaoh really have control? No, but like the miser hoarding his gold, he likes to think so. Power misapplied is only self-destructive. Pharaoh doesn't get the message.

Moses complains about the confrontation with Pharaoh and his apparent ineffeciency to release the Israelites from bondage immediately. However, he doesn't understand that people must first want personal responsibility to accept freedom. They are not ready to upchuck their homes and go into the Great Unknown. They have accepted the burdens of their lives. It's so much easier to complain, than take the initiative and responsibility to change. Often we can limit the amount of slavery and drudgery we endure in the eternal brick factory, but we like complaining.


"Moses said to God, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me,"What is his name?" what shall I say to them? And God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh." Ex : 13-14

"Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has appeared to me..." Ex 3:16

"I am," He said, "the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he ws afraid to look at God. Ex 3:6

The Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you... Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him..."
I-3 Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-4


Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Vaera 5761
on the development of Moshe's leadership

Rabbi Tendler Lifeline Vaera 5758

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, The Source and Sorcerers
about the first three plagues—blood, frogs and lice

Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Perceptions: Freedom – Speak 5759
upon the different verbs, four languages of redemption

Tali Loewenthal, Freedom in Five Dimensions

Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vaera 5759
on saying and speaking, on names

Dovi Scheiner, Frogmen chabad

Yanki Tauber, It's Only Natural

r Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Vaera: Hidden Identity
a drash on ibn Ezra and the Shabbat host

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Vaera: A Real Human Being
a drash with the Baal Shem Tov