Vaera by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Weekly Dvar - Vaera

Vaera (וארא)
Torah: Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

Synopsis: Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh—which one? Ramsses II, Thutmose III, perhaps even Hatshepsut, the Woman Pharaoh—the actual identity is not important to the Torah Narrative, which never gives more details than are considered necessary to tell the Story. The Theme is Clash of the Titans, in this case between Adon-i, God of the Israelites, vs. Pharaoh, god of the Egyptians. Here are some of the Actors, both Major and Minor:


Aaron, Brother of Moses: Everything changed, that day my Baby Brother Moses left the palace and saw an Egyptian Taskmaster beating one of our brethren. He tried to reason with the villain, but to no avail—and he ended up killing the man, in a fair fight. From that point on, he became a proud Hebrew, an Egyptian no more.


He fled, and we did not see him for—how many?—perhaps five years, during which he fled to Midian, that desert village-tribe, and made a life for himself there, marrying Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro, the Village High Priest. He might have lived there, forever, but came back, one day, with a haunted look on his face.


“What brings you back to these parts, Brother?” I greeted him.


“Our God sent me—and you are to be my Spokesman,” he growled at me, briefly, and I was surprised at how he had changed; he had always been quiet, and smiling; it was part of his ability to quickly fade into the background, sort of an Israelite Chameleon, almost. That’s how we get along with our Egyptian lords, bowing and scraping; we know our betters….


“Spokesman for what?” I queried, and he took my arm—gripped it tightly, and I wondered at how my joking little brother had suddenly changed, as if overnight, into a wiry, sunburnt, hawk-nosed, rawboned shepherd, rather than a soft Egyptian courtier, smiling at a lovely Egyptian baroness of the Royal Pharaoh’s Court in which we both grew up.


Moses looked at me—stared me down, actually, until I found it hard to stand and take his gaze. Though he was my younger brother, he seemed older, somehow….


“We are prisoners here in Egypt, Royal Prisoners, but enslaved, all the same,” he whispered fiercely, “and I mean to set us free—you, me, Miriam, and our tribal, Israelite God, who is named Ehyeh-Ahshare-Ehyeh—‘He-Who-Is.’ He Who appeared to me in the Desert in the Heat of the Day, and gave me a Mission to carry out. Are you for us or for our enemies, My Brother Aaron?”


“You know I am with you, Moses,” I stammered, frightened of his intensity.


“Good!” he smiled suddenly, and clapped me on the shoulder, “Then we shall not fail. Come: the game’s afoot.”


He stormed out, leaving behind him a wave of desert sweat and prophetic inspiration—but now, I admit, I have doubts—I have always been the comforter, the negotiator, the Peacemaker in the family, born as I was between two flamboyant, Burning Spirits—my elder Sister, Miriam, the Poet, a Prophet in her own right, a Leader of our Women, a Musician and Dancer—and a fine Public Orator, for I have heard her speak to our People in secret, of Freedom, of a Mysterious Mountain-God, El-Shaddai, whom she heard of in tales dating back to Nana Sarah, long-ago. And now, I have our Baby Brother, our Newly-Born Spark saved from the Fire, our Moses….


But what of me? Who speaks for Aaron?


I am a man who chooses to pray for Peace—


Can we not choose that Path?


Can we not negotiate with this Pharaoh, rather than setting this god-King against our invisible God? War will erupt, for certain; innocents will die, perhaps on both sides….


Could the Egyptians not dwell in Egypt, we Israelites remain in Goshen, perhaps with a wall separating us?


I will give it thought, and perhaps speak to the others… perhaps Joshua, or Caleb, will incline their thoughts my way….


While Moses, my Firebrand Prophet Brother, stalked about Egypt like a man possessed, I went about my Holy Work, more quietly and carefully than he. He speaks of conquering the Egyptian Empire; I work to conquer the hearts of enslaved women and men.



Zipporah, Wife of Moses: And what of me, Wife to Moses? Am I not a Woman, a Leader in my own right? I am the the Proud Ethiopian Daughter of a Priest, First Family of the Desert Tribe of Midian, which was enemy to Israel, and is now their Friend….


Where are you now, my Moses, my Lover, my erstwhile Egyptian Fugitive-Prince? We embraced beneath a stubborn Sinai moon, and you promised me the World.


“I will build you a House in Midian, Zipporah my Sweet, my Desert Princess,” you breathed against my neck, “of stones, not mud-brick. And we will have many children there. I will be Priest in place of your worthy Father Jethro, there, one day.”


I loved you—and you returned my love—until that day, when you came home, stinking of burnt thorns, with a peculiar flame in your eyes, and would not speak to me. You gulped water from our well, and curled up in a corner of the tent, refusing to wash, eating nothing of my dinner, and not speaking to me.


Where did I lose you, in that wilderness, my Moses, my Love? What caused this sudden burst of Melancholy to fall upon you, like a thunderstorm from a desert sky?


I, too, have feelings, Moses! You cannot cast me off, for this Mission of yours….

Perhaps Miriam can help. We are in need of counseling; you will not speak to our boys; they cry for their Daddy.


There is more to life than Work. There is more to life than even your God.


There is your Zipporah, as well. What is left after your holy Work, for me?


Pharaoh, Moses’s Antagonist: How can an Invisible God exist? There are no such things; I know, for I am a god myself. I will battle this Israelite Desert Spirit with all the powers I possess, both magical and physical.


Where are my Sorcerers?


I am the Pharaoh, Son of Ra, the Sun-god. I head the Greatest Empire the Earth has ever known. I alone stand off the Barbarian Hordes who would invade our land. I have smitten the Hittites and the Syrians; I stood at the breach when the Moabites tried to invade, and they fell, full of my arrows…. My Cavalry makes the sea and skies tremble!


Let this Desert-God dare to touch Our Mother Nile; let him fill our houses and granaries with croaking Toads; let filthy Lice infest our People and Beasts alike, Disease penetrate the Skin of our very Bodies. I will stand on my Royal Balcony and brandish my sword against this God, as long as I have strength in my arms….


The Weather is taking a Turn; a Storm of Hail is coming. O God of the Hebrew Tribes! I call You to Wage Open Battle with me!


You Boy! Saddle my horse!


Blow, rain! Come, wrack! If I must die, ‘twill be with Harness on my Back….

Rabbi 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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