Parshah Va’eira: Spring Will Come

Judaism teaches that God is not only the creator of the universe, but is also involved in
our daily lives, in the form of Divine Providence. God plans every event that occurs to us (with
the exception, I believe, of great tragedies), even though we retain our free will. Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak of Berditchev teaches that every blade of grass in the field, every leaf on the trees, has
its own guardian angel standing behind it and urging it, “Grow! Flourish!” How much more so is
God present in our own lives. It all goes back to how God appears in the Exodus story, as a
Power active in human history. Here, God utters the famous “four statements of liberation,”
showing how God will go about freeing the Israelites from Egypt: “I will take you out of Egypt;
I will save you from Pharaoh; I will redeem you from slavery, and I will take you to be My
people.”

Seen in this light, the struggle between God and Pharaoh (who was regarded by his
people as divine) becomes an epic battle between gods—on the one hand, a cruel, self-centered,
xenophobic tyrant; on the other, the God who not only created heaven and earth, but is deeply
involved in their fate. It is no accident that Moses’s first meeting with Pharaoh is by the Nile,
Egypt’s chief goddess, benefactor, and source of life—supposedly, the god-monarch was in the
habit of visiting the river early in the morning to perform his physical needs, and had to do so
long before any of his duped subjects arose to greet the day: a god never needs to go to the
bathroom, you see.

When Pharaoh refuses to recognize the Israelite God as genuine, and demands that Moses
display his credentials as a legitimate prophet, God commands Moses to start out small, in a way
which the Egyptians can comprehend: He transforms Moses’s shepherd’s crook into a serpent,
a trick easily matched by Pharaoh’s sorcerers, until Moses’s staff swallows theirs, a conjuror’s
trick, but symbolic of the drama to follow—and, perhaps, a distant echo of a long-ago Pharaoh’s
dream, of seven lean cows devouring seven fat ones.

The first seven plagues follow, all of which can be explained as ordinary natural events.
What makes them miracles is their timing, designed to show how God controls all heaven and
earth, with Moses as His prophet and catalyst. Plague follows plague in a ghastly procession,
inflicting pain and suffering on the Egyptians, but Pharaoh will not yield. Thinking of himself as
an immortal god-king, he is too entangled in his own pride and arrogance to set the Israelites free
and restore the welfare of his subjects.

Why does this parsha sound so much like Pesach/Passover in January? It is a promise
which God makes to us in the dead of winter, telling us that spring will eventually come. In the
meantime, God challenges us to find holiness and spirituality in our daily lives and activities: let
nothing we do, no deed we perform in this world, be devoid of God’s spirit. There must be some
spiritual element in every one of our activities, every one of our human interactions. Through
serving God and carrying out God’s plans on earth, we become most human and humane.

David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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